Ten Miles Square


June 12, 2012 8:42 AM Media Bias in Journalism and Public Relations

By Andrew Gelman

One point I’ve tried to make in discussions of media bias is that journalism is part of the larger communications industry. It is my impression that the news media lean left but the public-relation industry leans right.

I was reminded of this by two stories in the newspaper today:

Syria’s Assads Turned to West for Glossy P.R.

Newspaper as Business Pulpit

Traditional newspapers make their money by attracting big audiences, often with left-wing populist stances. Public relations makes money by getting hired by rich people, often to push a conservative agenda. The correlation is not 100%—-you have Fox News on one side and various liberal-leaning public relations outfits on the other—-but I think when considering media it’s useful to think of the larger industry that includes news and also P.R.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.


  • RalfW on June 12, 2012 6:13 PM:

    Wow is just a sloppy drive by hit.

    "Traditional newspapers make their money by attracting big audiences, often with left-wing populist stances."

    That may, may have been true a generation ago. But as anyone who has been even marginally awake in the last decade or so has seen, newspapers have veered right in search of a dwindling, aging audience that they perceive is more conservative.

    My press-watching suggests that the major papers have moved right but less slowly than the Fox-dominated news culture has, and that the left is all but in a silent wilderness these days.

  • SteveT on June 12, 2012 7:04 PM:

    I was a professional journalist for a couple of years. Ironically, I left the profession because I found that I wasn't able to maintain the professional detachment and impartiality necessary to do the job well. I am now a small business owner and create my own advertising.

    For several decades, the bias of the journalism profession has not been either liberal or conservative. The real bias of the journalism profession is toward defending "conventional wisdom" -- especially "conventional wisdom" that the journalism profession itself has created.

    Consider the "conventional wisdom" that Republicans are "strong" on defense. Journalists continue to default to that idea, in spite of the catastrophic incompetence that Republicans demonstrated in running the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Journalists have created the "conventional wisdom" that Sen. John McCain is an "expert" on foreign policy. But they had to bend themselves into pretzels to defend that nugget of "conventional wisdom" when, as a candidate in 2008, McCain made a series of ridiculous misstatements, even confusing Sunni and Shia Muslims several times.

    Journalists also continue to defend the "conventional wisdom" that Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility, ignoring the fact that deficits have exploded under Republican presidents and the fact that the current Republican budget plan for reducing the deficit actually makes the deficit larger.

    I would love to see a statistical analysis of Mr. Gelman's contention that "Traditional newspapers make their money by attracting big audiences, often with left-wing populist stances." It seems to me that "traditional newspapers" all but ignored the Occupy Wall Street movement that changed the national economic debate from deficits to inequality. "Traditional newspapers" paid little attention to Wisconsin's recall election -- at least until it looked like Republicans would win. About the only place to find "left-wing populist stances" is MSNBC and internet sites like the Washington Monthly.

    If "traditional newspapers" are trying to attract the largest possible audience, wouldn't they avoid "left-wing populist stances" that would completely alienate the conservative portion of the population?

    And how does Mr. Gelman define "often" -- three times per year?

    Mr. Gelman makes a several statements with no numbers to back them up. I would have expected a self-described professor of statistics to include some, you know, statistics.

  • good2go on June 19, 2012 5:09 PM:

    Attention Washington Monthly: An article from 1963 has appeared on your web site.

    I don't know in which alternate universe Mr. Gelman resides, but on earth as we know it, this article is nuts.

    News media owned by defense contractors and other enormous, very conservative corporations are left-leaning?? No, they're not. They support their bosses' opinions, or they're out. They know this. Hence the right-leaning, brainless, fact-free pap that's ground out daily in the newspapers and on television.

    I, by the way, was part of the PR industry (80s and 90s) and knew quite a few journalists. All have left because of the pressure to write what they're "supposed" to write, or because of the amount of information that's censored (did you ever hear of Abe Rosenthal? Maybe? A little, even?).

    Again, this is plain crazy, and Gelman goes on my sloppy thinker list.