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.