Monday, September 22, 2008

Do Popular News Sources Lean Left?

Do you ever wonder why the public has a misunderstanding about Constitutional concepts such as the separation of church and state? Many people seem to get much of their knowledge and opinion from mainstream sources, such as our larger newspapers. My local paper has articles from the AP, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. The latter just ran a political cartoon slamming the McCain/Palin campaign. That in itself is not noteworthy, especially if the paper ran cartoons poking fun at both sides. This particular cartoon, in my opinion, stepped well over the line by making fun of Gov. Palin's religion and putting a curse in God's mouth. It shows Palin speaking in tongues on the phone to God. On the other end we see God complaining about the call and saying it is a "Dam right wing politician spouting gibberish."

Somehow I don't expect to see as large a step across the line of good taste in slamming Sen. Obama. All the news sources mentioned above have a leaning on the left side of center (that is understatement in some cases). When the same sources cover, and syndicate to papers across the nation, some of the issues about First Amendment rights that may not be P.C., would we expect them to be neutral?

Do you think that statement is unfair? Do you consider the popular news sources to be mostly fairly balanced? I just tried a simple test. My premise is that when a story uses the term "left-wing" or the term "right-wing" the terms are not meant to be compliments. Whether or not that is true, another factor may come into play in stories. If I lean hard to the left, I may not consider a very liberal source to be left-wing; they are simply "normal" in my eyes. But a source that is conservative would strike me as being right-wing.

So my test was to search popular newspapers (plus a couple of online-only sites) for those two phrases. Then I counted the results. The chart and graph of the results are below. As you can see, the only site that returned more results for "left-wing" than for "right-wing" is the site of Rush Limbaugh, who is universally recognized as a conservative (including by himself). The other sites seem to show a liberal bias to a greater or lesser degree.

It is also an interesting hobby (and lesson) to observe your local newspaper's style. If there is a headline/sub-headline about a scandal involving a politician, notice whether they mention the politician's party. In my local paper, it is almost a sure thing the party is mentioned for Republicans and not for Democrats. Also, in stories that involve so-called "think tanks" notice how the paper labels them. For example, the Heritage Foundation is usually called "the conservative Heritage Foundation" but other sources quoted in the same article that are liberal will not usually be labeled as such.

So keep that perspective in mind when you see articles dealing with First Amendment issues. If you source is liberal, they are more likely to be suspicious (or even hostile) to religion in the public sphere.

Results of searches for "left-wing" and for "right-wing" (click image to see larger version):

Source Data:

News SourceLeft-WingRight-Wing
Washington Post29%71%
L.A. Times32%68%
New York Times36%64%
USA Today41%59%
Washington Times44%56%
Rush Limbaugh60%40%

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