The method was to use words that have political message, ie death tax vs estate tax, and check their appearance in news media (but not op-ed pages). From the introduction:
Our first finding is that newspapers actual slant is close to the profit-maximizing level on average. Consistent with Groseclose and Milyo (2005), we find that the average newspapers language is similar to that of a left-of-center member of Congress.
However, we estimate that the profit-maximizing points are also left-of-center on average, perhaps because of demographic differences between readers and non-readers of newspapers, and we cannot statistically reject that the distributions of actual and ideal slant have the same mean.
So basically the news media is echo-chambering the political slant of their market, which happens to have the money to buy their goods (and attractive to their advertisers). This appears to be center-left political leanings that are the wealthier consumers of paper news media.
They also found that the owner of the news organisation does not make a difference on the slant. So the market is more important than news leadership in determining content.
This quote got posted on dailykos as proof of Fox News bias:
Fox News viewers supported George Bush over John Kerry by 88 percent to 7 percent. No demographic segment, other than Republicans, was as united in supporting Bush. Conservatives, white evangelical Christians, gun owners, and supporters of the Iraq war all gave Bush fewer votes than did regular Fox News viewers.
They have hit their target market perfectly. There was a market for Republican media and they have that market wrapped up. Fox News is obviously biased IMO, their target market demands that they are! If they aren't - they lose their market.
This isn't an issue IMO as their are plenty of other media outlets to get political news from. I am not in the target market obviously, but then again I am not in Air America's either.
It is also not unique to TV or Cable, the most popular form of blog is the echo-chamber where red-meat can be thrown for instant and unchallenging gratification; '$poli(thug|tard) is teh stoopid' or as johnny called it, "people violently and aggressively agreeing with each other"
I suspect it might be a mistake to attribute this slant to politics. The news media is a reflection of their audience, they don't guide so much, as reflect. When there was the run up to the invasion of Iraq, the news media was behind it all the way, but so was most of their audience.
Now there is Iraqi stalemate, Bush is in the 30% range and it is a case of all pile on Bush. When he had a 90% approval rating the media would not touch him, because the public didn't want them to; now, he is unpopular and the media will happily reflect that.
These are the same cycles I see on the celebrity magazines when I buy groceries. If Britney is popular the stories are positive, if she is unpopular, then they are negative. Often they are made up and fabricated to reflect what the public thinks. Rather than a barometer of politics, the media can be used as a good empirical marker to determine what the public is thinking as the media follows their market, not vice-versa.
Anyway; interesting empirical study of newspapers.
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