Salon Uses Laughably Narrow 'Fake News' Study to Deny Obvious Liberal Media Bias

January 6th, 2020 4:30 PM

Paul Rosenberg devoted 3,000 words in the left-wing Salon to refuting the indisputable liberal bias of the press: “Not fake news: Major study finds no 'liberal bias' in media -- but there are other problems -- Yes, the media is liberal -- but there's no 'gatekeeping bias.' If anything, journalists have become too cautious.”

That "Not fake news..." bit is ironic, given that the counter-example Rosenberg highlights is actual “fake news,” not content analysis, as my colleague Tim Graham pointed out. Still, Rosenberg was obliged to make some concessions to the conservative case.

Complaints about press bias are as old as the press itself, but in recent decades, conservatives have pushed one complaint above all other: The media is biased against them because it is overwhelmingly staffed by liberal journalists. A new study, forthcoming in Science Advances, provides the strongest evidence ever that they’re half-right -- but only the least important half: Yes, reporters overall are significantly more liberal than the general population. In fact, almost one in six are more liberal than Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, based on who they follow on Twitter. But no, that doesn’t matter -- even for the most liberal cohort of them...

Rosenberg, given an early peek, did concede the undeniable, along with the study authors:

Even though “journalists are dominantly liberal and often fall far to the left of Americans,” the paper itself was emphatically clear in its conclusion:

In short, despite being dominantly liberals/Democrats, journalists do not seem to be exhibiting liberal media bias (or conservative media bias) in what they choose to cover. This null is vitally important -- showing that overall, journalists do not display political gatekeeping bias in the stories they choose to cover.

That is a suspiciously narrow methodology.

In a way, that’s not that surprising: Journalists place a high value on objectivity and balance.

Oh really?

Rosenberg bragged about the odd methodology, which involved creating actual “fake news.”

“We created a fake state legislative campaign," Hassell explained. "We created an email account that purported to be from an individual in the community who was going to announce his candidacy for state legislature. Then we posed as a staffer for that campaign and sent an email to every single individual asked to participate in the survey,” Hassell explained.

Under those odd restrictions, the researchers discerned no bias. Besides the silly test, note that the professors studied local papers, not the national  outlets people think of when they think of media bias against Donald Trump or fealty toward Nancy Pelosi.

They did find that reporters on Twitter follow far-left accounts far more than they do right-of-center accounts. That is certainly suggestive, though not definitive, evidence of liberal slant.

Rosenberg pivoted from the study to show his own bias, bringing up an article he wrote defending Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from Washington Post fact-checking. (He wasn’t the only one to freak out over the rare fact-check on the darling of the far left.)