Leaning newspapers

The Times economics column reports on a fascinating University of Chicago study (PDF here) that finds that the political leaning of a newspaper — and, yes they do lean — is influenced by the political makeup of its audience rather than that of its ownership. That’s a nice way of saying that papers pander to the politics of the public they serve.

The Times columnist, Austan Goolsbee, then makes an utterly illogical leap: “If slant comes from customers, then the views of the owners and the reporters do not matter. We do not need to fear that some partisan billionaire will buy up newspapers and use them for propaganda.”

Let’s keep in mind, first, that the slant is relative: this paper is more liberal or conservative than that, but that does not speak to the slant of the industry (and I’m not trying to measure that, only to make the logical rebuttal). More important, none of this means that a partisan mogul owner could not or would not use a paper as his bully pulpit.

Indeed, the New York Post challenges the findings singlehandedly: it’s a conservative paper that sells big in a liberal market and it’s conservative because it is its owner’s bully pulpit. Witness today.

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  • New York is a big town, and there are lots of conservatives in and around it. The Post know its audience.

  • Tom

    Richard is right, and they also were the kings of linkbait before it was called linkbait.

    Growing up in NY you saw the masters of the emotional headline. They know how to push buttons to get the commuter to drop a dime (quarter, 50 cents, dollar) at the newstand.

    Bloggers who play the linkbait game could learn a thing or two watching the post and the news in action.

  • David

    Simply amazing how the warblogger daddy has chosen to ignore the Iraq war now that it has gone to hell. What happened private Jarvis of the 101st Keyboarders Brigade? How come you have chosen to ignore the whole Iraq mess after just a year ago you were telling everyone how things would be getting better?

    Now that General Freidman has come out and said that:

    “We need to set a date, a clear and defined date, circled on the calendar, for us to leave there.”

    Will you do likewise Pvt. Jarvis?

  • The conclusion about “maximizing sales” seems flawed, though I don’t know if that comes from the paper itself or just the analysis. Witness the success, as you point out, of the right-leaning New York Post in left-leaning NYC – or, for that matter, the Wall Street Journal or, to a lesser extent, the NY Daily News. And note the circulation problems of the left-leaning Los Angeles Times in left-leaning LA. Is the LA Times’ slant exactly where it needs to be to maximize circulation? I haven’t seen a strong case for that.

  • If Universities were accredited on the intellectual rigor of the stuff published by their faculty, rather than by the number of books in their library and the number of teaching assistants, then the University of Chicago would have been un-accredited 40 years ago.

    The crap that they put out is so mind boggling that it is a wonder that anyone listens to them. Since when are universities supposed to have a political agenda? I blame it all on Milton Friedman. Not only did he promote bogus economic theories, but his wacko libertarian ideas infected all the social science departments as well.

    The faults with the methodology are glaringly obvious.

  • hey

    Some of the commenters don’t know how to form a coherent thought.

    But do keep attacking empirical economics for not following the qualitative TRUTH that Galbraith and Keynes pronounced. Preach it comerade Feinman!

  • Yeah, all that Milton Friedman dude ever did was win the stinkin’ Nobel Prize in economics, which is, as we all know, a big conservative plot to rob us of our precious bodily fluids by fluoridating the water.

  • I’m not going to get into a Milton Friedman discussion, except to note a couple of minor points.

    1. The economics “Nobel” prize is, in fact, not a Nobel Prize, but a misnamed prize given by a Swedish bank. It’s like the Oscars, a bunch of people in a trade group get to pat themselves on the back.

    2. Friedman’s monetary policies are no longer “operative” they were abandoned during the Volcker tenure as counter productive. You can look it up. William Grieder documents this in his book “Secrets of the Temple”.

    3. Friedman’s social ideas are pure libertarian bunk. However, there is no arguing with libertarians since they have found the one true religion. I heard Friedman say on his last Charlie Rose interview: “Private industry can do anything that government does at half the cost”. Statements like that are so absurd that one has to question anyone who follows Friedman as to whether they have ever really studied his social philosophy.

    Why libertarians are so passionate about their Utopianism is a puzzle to the rest of the world. The one saving grace is that no government pays any attention to their ideas. The right does use them as a smokescreen to cover the actual rapacious policies they put in place. So a bunch of “think tanks” come out with “studies” which prove that the world is better off if we have unlimited economic freedom. As in the freedom for the Walton family to collect $80 billion and not have to pay any estate taxes on it.

    If you want to discuss these issues in depth there are many better blogs to do so. There is a discussion on just this topic going on right now at the TPMcafe site, for example.

  • Jeff, you should know better. Yes, NYC is duly considered a Democrat stronghold, but that does not, in any way, make it a “liberal” city. It hasn’t been remotely such since “Flop Sweat” David Dinkins got his walking papers in 1993.

  • Which came first the chicken or the egg on Sulzberger’s face?

    Every word of that socialist rag is propaganda.

    Incredibly, here they’ve taken to spin their spin.

  • Delia

    I agree with Robert (on the general idea) — academia wondering off from the objectivity goal is even scarier than the press doing that (maybe we need to deal with ideology the same why we deal with religion — they seem to be very similar at the fundamental level: you just need to *believe* and… stop thinking!) D.

  • Hasan Jafri

    Ha! Jeff, it’s interesting it took The University of Chicago, of all the bastions of “conservative thought” to contrive this argument. “Newspaper slant” is an oxymoron like “military intelligence.” Newspapers, especially print newspapers of the twentieth century variety, lie down, roll over and play dead these days. Their slantin’ days are hist-o-ree.

  • Andy Freeman

    Actually, the study only found that media use the terminology favored by its readership.

  • Yeah Freeman.

    And the terminology is not favored by those who used to be part of the readership.

  • The study makes the fundamental logical fallacy of inferring that coincidence implies causality.

    One can just as easily draw the conclusion that readers go to those media outlets which support their prejudices. A paper or opinion magazine plants its flag in one camp or the other and those who want to hear what they say from that perspective rally around.

    Certainly the history of media in the 20th Century bears this out. Luce and Hearst made their political positions known at the outset. Publishing was the means to promote their preferred policies. We see the same thing these days in the blogosphere. Markos started dailyKos to promote his agenda of getting Dems elected.

    Krempasky, et al, started Redstate to support the Republican agenda. They then attracted true believers (and is some cases banned opponents).

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  • thunderbolt fan

    Most of the NYers I know who read the Post do it for a laugh– you know, Page Six, Peyser rants, Weekly World News worthy headlines, etc. They read the NY Times for the news and the Post for a chuckle.

  • thunderbolt fan

    Most of the NYers I know who read the Post do so for a laugh– you know, Page Six, Peyser rants, Weekly World News worthy headlines, etc. They read the NY Times for the news and the Post for a chuckle.

  • FreeElectron

    The author fails to appreciate that in many American cities, there is only one major newspaper. I live near St Louis and must subscribe to three other, daily newspapers to get a balanced view of the local news. The national news is available via cable/satellite TV but as “all politics is local”, I am woefully underserved by the local, fourth estate.

  • The “chuckle factor” should not be discounted at all — my father, a liberal-leaning union rep, watches Fox News almost exclusively to get his news on television. Why? Because by raising his hackles they get him engaged and keep him entertained.

    Weirdly enough my father-in-law, a Greek immigrant so far to the left of the political spectrum that calling him a Communist isn’t that far off, does exactly the same thing!

    • Oscarphone

      They go where the news is accurate. The reason Fox rises in the ratings is because the left hollers about it so much that it catches the interest of normally non-Fox viewers. They go there, find that the news is accurate and reasonably fair, and stick around thereby doing the exact opposite of what the left wants. Just like all the leftist policy decisions.