Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Saturday, May 11, 2002
 
Once More Into the Breach

Edward Boyd has answered my post below discussing his response to Nunberg's response to Goldberg. Ain't blogging great?

I think there is some validity, but also some weakness, to both his criticisms. For his first, the essence of my response certaintly stands even if the Journal is a poor choice of a counter example. Probably the best then would be the Washington Times, which does have at least the aspiration to be a major national daily, and often is. Similar tests could be run on regional papers which are strongly liberal or conservative in slant.

Incidentally, I don't have Lexis access myself, so I can't do any of the possible searches I'm discussing.

On the 2nd point, I agree that the Republicans he has selected are more prominent than the Democrats, and this accounts for most of the large gap in total listings. I'm not convinced that the difference is large enough to account for all of it; again, this would be quite hard to test. Incidentally, I don't think Janet Reno would be appropriate to test against Ashcroft, even if, as two Attorneys General, there is a natural parallel. Most of her career was as a prosecutor, and there really is little basis on which to describe her as a liberal, however much the anti-Clinton forces targeted her. Hillary Clinton might be a better choice here - she is more clearly liberal, although until recently she had no voting record to show it. In her first year as a Senator, her ADA score was a solid 95.

I also played around some more with Edward Boyd's numbers and came up with the following table:














LiberalsRatingCountLabel Pct
Harkin92 3/212 1.42%
Kennedy88 58/1010 5.74%
Boxer 96 22/370 5.95%
Frank 99 13/177 7.34%
Wellstone 99 36/203 17.73%
ConservativesRatingCountLabel Pct
Lott5 38/1291 2.94%
Armey1 13/436 2.98%
DeLay1 52/589 8.83%
Ashcroft3 269/2166 12.42%
Helms3 79/581 13.60%


Incidentally, the total number of conservative labellings is 451, not 441 as given by Zonitics. The media is actually 2% more biased than Edward thought!

This table suggests several points. One is that the conservatives listed really are at least a bit more ideological than the liberals. The 'deviation' - the distance between perfect scores of 0 or 100 and the actual scores totals 13 for the conservatives and exactly twice that, 26, for the liberals.

More striking is that for each party there is a huge gap between individual figures on labelling. This gap is far larger than the gap between the parties - 363% between the most and least labelled pachyderms, and over 1000% on the donkey side. So which names you choose for your list has a huge outcome on the result, and the same test on different politicians might well produce a radically different answer.

Ideology doesn't seem sufficient to explain these results. Maybe Helms really is more conservative than Armey or Lott, but not by this kind of margin. And Wellstone, the most labelled figure of all, is really no more liberal than Frank. I suspect that Frank is labelled as liberal less frequently simply beause he was the first openly gay Congressman, so gets to wear that label instead of the liberal one.

I believe that laziness is a more characteristic sin of the media than bias, liberal or conservative, and this list seems to confirm it. Kennedy and Helms are seen in Washington as Mr Liberal and Mr Conservative, so they are labeled as such 4 times more often than Harkin and Armey, who have marginally more ideological voting records. It's so much easier to write a story about a person or an issue that just says the same thing that everyone else has said a thousand times before. And since you're just repeating the conventional wisdom, nobody is likely to accuse you of bias. I would wager that Feingold is more often described as a 'maverick' than a liberal, although his 98 ADA career score makes him a very solid lib. I never see McCain labeled as a conservative, although his lifetime quotient (9) puts him in with solid cons like Largent (8), Quayle (10), and Graham (9), significantly right of Shelby (23), Stevens (21) and D'amato (23). (These numbers are through 2000, and McCain's votes last year tilted sharply to the center.)

Several bloggers have recently noticed lying in ponds, a web site that analyzes partisanship of different pundits. Some seem to particularly like the fact that Paul Krugman is rated as the most partisan pundit, and Krugman bashing seems to be a popular activity in the blogosphere lately. I have no problem with the site, but I can see two problems with their methodology.

Consider the following statements:

Although President Bush promised when campaigning to use the entire Social Security surplus for deficit reduction, he has not done so in office.

Senator Wellstone regularly consumes crack and ecstasy while partying with hookers, and is usually high on one or both when he staggers to the Senate floor to vote for another tax raise.

The first is stated in moderate language and is demonstrably true. The second is slanderous, filled with loaded language, and a complete fabrication made up for the occasion. By the lying in ponds analysis, each statement would count as one negative reference, and a column containing both would be considered balanced. The site doesn't really attempt to distinguish between facts, opinions, and outright lies, just between praise and criticism.

Also, the method considers a negative comment about a Republican as being effectively pro-Democratic. So a conservative criticising a Republican from the right would make his total score less partisan, even if he was entirely negative about Democrats. The same applies, of course, for a columnist criticising Democrats from the left.



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