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January 12, 2006


I sense an irritated column from Alterman where he complains about you questioning him again...

i noticed that, too. Same stuff from Paul Waldman: mixes legit criticism with non sequitur.

it seemed so crass, and unnecessary. Alterman and Waldman both had some good points, critiquing method.

but then this strange, apparently (to their minds) causal link: received money from conservative groups, therefore whores who just sell results for money.

Groseclose presented his paper at Duke, and got a lot of criticism. But it never occurred to me that he didn't believe the results, on the merits.

IMHO Eric Alterman has a point. There is a Dutch saying which can be parafrased like: 'You speak the words of the person whose food you eat'. Or as in Upton Sinclair's famous quote: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

I have yet to see a mention of the real flaw of this study: the study's authors measure news sources' bias relative to the average member of Congress. That's just fine... if you're trying to figure out if the news is biased to the left or right of the average Congressman. But it *doesn't* necessarily tell us if a news source is biased to the left or right of the average American *citizen.*

I would submit that, in fact, the average member of Congress is more conservative than the average American citizen.

Example: Republicans currently dominate the Senate: 55-44 (with 1 independent). Does that mean that Senate Republicans represent the majority of voters? Actually, no. Over the last three Senatorial elections (2004, 2002, and 2000... the three elections which have, together, assembled our current Senate), Democrats have beaten Republicans by nearly 2 million votes.


This electoral fluke (a function of Democratic votes tending to amass in urban areas) is unaccounted for by the study's authors when they assume the average member of Congress to be an ideological proxy for the average American, nor is it addressed by the study's compensation for the disproportionate representation that the Senate gives to low‑population states.

Additionally, the study's assumption necessarily presumes that the American citizenry's political spectrum spreads no wider to the left or right than Congress's political spectrum happens to spread. I would submit that, in fact, there's a substantial political Left in this nation that is completely unrepresented by any Senator or Congressman. Example: Ralph Nader garnered 3% of the presidential vote in 2000 from the American hard-left (and, of course, that 3% doesn't include those voters who agree with Nader ideologically but voted for the more mainstream candidate for fear of "wasting" their vote.). Are those 3% of the voters truly represented, ideologically, in Congress? Are there 16 members of Congress (3% of 535) who are as truly, genuinely liberal, issue-for-issue, as Ralph Nader? I would say no.

Additionally, remember that low-propensity voters had a lesser say in choosing their Congressional representiatives (their ideological proxies, this study presumes) than did high-propensity voters. Non-voters, of course, had no say at all. And, of course, these two underrepresented-in-Washington demographics (low-propensity voters and non-voters) tend to be, relatively, poor and young, and are more likely to belong to an ethnic minority than are the (relatively) richer, older and whiter high-propensity voters who actually elected this Congress.

Finally, the average Congressmember is older, whiter, and *much* more affluent than the average American citizen. Additionally, the average Congressmember is much more likely to be male and heterosexual than the average American citizen.

For these reasons, and for others, I dispute the assumption that the average member of Congress is an ideological match for the average American citizen. And I thus repeat: to the extent that this study measures anything at all, it only measures a news source's bias relative to the average member of Congress, as opposed to the the news source's bias relative to the average American citizen.

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