Newspapers follow bias not cause it

Please note this well:

Gentzkow and Shapiro have studied this question in the US. Using an objective (if imperfect) measure of bias, they found that newspapers closely match the political biases of their potential readers, as measured by votes cast in the 2004 presidential election, and by the source of campaign contributions to each party. No doubt the causation runs both ways, but one striking result is that the proprietor’s identity seems to make no difference to the bias. The media barons tell us what we wish to hear.

Newspapers reflect our own prejudices back to us, not cause them.

The reason The Sun sells well is because millions of people like a bit of working class populism leavened with tits. The reason Socialist Worker does not sell well is because there are, contrary to general appearances among the population I admit, very few entirely insane idiots with cash money.

16 thoughts on “Newspapers follow bias not cause it”

  1. Ah, I think it’s safe to say there’s a feedback. Propaganda usually doesn’t work by implanting new ideas, it intensifies feelings you already have. Like, turning a low level dislike of Jews that goes back centuries into an intense hatred, or a mild romantic love of the countryside into a fanatical one.

    When Beaverbrook famously told that parlaimentary committee that he ran newspapers “for propaganda” he wasn’t talking out of his arse.

    Each side reinforces the other; readers and newspapers get ever more hysterical and detached from reality. That’s how the Daily Mail ended up like it is.

    A good example is the paedohysteria which that feedback turned rapidly from a general dislike of kiddie fiddlers into an apocalyptic societal terror. You can’t exhonerate Rebekah Brookes from that, can you? That’s how the scumrags on both political sides work; grab a dial and turn it up to 11.

  2. During the NoTW saga, what’s been interesting is the assumption that the “rightwing” (i.e., popular) press somehow corrupts or befuddles its readers, who would otherwise – obviously – embrace leftist thinking and volunteer to pay more tax, etc. People who assume this presumably imagine that leftwing ideas are by definition natural, inarguable and self-evidently correct, and any reluctance or deviation must be due to third party interference. Those damned proles are voting The Wrong Way. Dark forces must be at work.

    But as Christopher Hitchens noted, “When reporters speak so easily of the great influence exerted on politicians by Murdoch’s papers, what they really mean is by Murdoch’s readers. His only real knack lies in knowing what they want.” However, blaming Murdoch’s customers for making certain choices wouldn’t sit so well with insinuations of false consciousness and egalitarian pretensions generally. Instead, it’s better to depict them as dupes in need of saving through greater state control. By people who care and who know what’s best.

  3. On the subject of tits: even when reporting an atrocity the tox-dadger rises to the challenge of proving its innumercacy:

    ” …buying six tonnes (four tons) of fertiliser ..”.

  4. “imagine that leftwing ideas are by definition natural, inarguable and self-evidently correct, and any reluctance or deviation must be due to third party interference”

    Hence the prevailing debating technique of the Guardianistas at CiF:

    Guardianista: “Markets are evil. Speculators kill people by raising food prices.” [234 recommends]

    Tim: “No they don’t. I shall explain […]” [4 recommends]

    Guardianista: “Your [sic] a right-wing Tory troll. I win!” [557 recommends]

  5. Kay Tie,

    It’s a standard leftist template: a belief that other people – say, non-Guardian readers – don’t know their own minds and don’t really want what they say they want or choose to pay for with their own money. This belief in proletarian false consciousness – a self-flattering assumption if ever one existed – is aired regularly in the pages of the Guardian. See Laurie Penny, Tanya Gold, Madeleine Bunting, etc. Or Bidisha, who claims that people who disagree with her “have no politics.” There being no legitimate political views except her own.

    We’re supposed to believe that people – those people over there – are mere dupes of social expectation and canny advertisers, with no real volition or responsibility for their actions. And so something must be done On Their Behalf. Neil Kinnock and George Monbiot both suggested that the state should have much greater control over the media. Juan Cole, himself an absurd dissembler, wanted to ban Fox News for “polluting the information environment.” And Sue Marsh, a contributor to Sunny’s Hundal’s Liberal Conspiracy, told her readers: “I’ve never understood why we allow our print media to support a particular political viewpoint.”

    Why “we” allow, indeed.

    For all the egalitarian pretension, it doesn’t exactly suggest a relationship of equals. More like that of a pet and its owner.

  6. SadButMadLad said: ” To feed that desire meant that newspapers had to resort to even more extreme mesasures to get the info that the readers wanted.”

    “had to”? Given the close associations between the media and people who have things to sell like albums, books, stories and crap there is ample gossip that can be obtained in return for a fee perfectly legally.

    Listening in to the voicemails of the cad or tart of the week was far, far cheaper and easier than paying money to said cad or tart for a tell all exclusive interview.(As the cad or tart wouldn’t readily want to talk about the gossip that was being obtained the figures would necessarily have to have been large.)

  7. “Why complain about the lefty BBC if it has no effect?”

    Because I have to pay for it while it utterly dominates broadcasting and crowd out or crush alternative voices.

    My complaint about the Guardian was founded on the taxpayer funding of it (via public sector job advertisements) not its crowding out of other sources.

    The Indy, on the other hand, can stew in its own juices (as indeed it is doing, thanks in no small part to Johann Hari and David Rose).

  8. It’s an interesting question of where people get their ideas from ( Ian B ). I’ve just been involved in a running debate on my work intranet over proposed changes that could bring some large job losses. I have been trying to explain why I think these changes are both necessary and inevitable but obviously with a lot of people worried about their futures it’s an uphill task, I don’t mind if others disagree with me but what is rather depressing is how they just don’t seem to understand my arguments. Granted this could be because I’m not explaining them properly but I don’t think so, even when I go back and point out where someone has misinterpreted me they just make the same points again and many are convinced there is some dark motive behind it all and worst of all a lot think that the prime objective of a business should be to preserve jobs. I’d call this the Guardian Light worldview and it’s very prevalent ( and why the condems will probably lose the next election ). In this case there’s no dialectical process going on with the press it’s just a case of fear turning into a refusal to look at facts, a version of confirmation bias I suppose. I think you can certainly explain a lot of the apparent influence of the press on this process.

  9. As usual, the excellent David Thompson* nails it. The idea of ‘false consciousness’ is perhaps the most pernicious and slippery of Leftist memes. It’s remarkably refractory to sense and reason. It has the property of being un-falsifiable. One could almost call it the Mandy Rice Davies defence: “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” You can’t counter it. And it is as much a disease among its adherents as among the body politic in general. Obama is in real, genuine political crisis at the moment not so much because his policies are so woefully misguided but because he sees the poll numbers and thinks the problem is one of explication and presentation. The poor, benighted masses must be shown the merits of his policies, and then they will shout Hosannah! and the scales will fall from their eyes etc. etc.. The false consciousness idea is so appealing to the Left simply because it is a one-size-fits-all explanation of why the populace is generally so highly resistant to their ideas. It doesn’t do them any favours. When someone like me, who can claim at least some modicum of intelligence, is derided as an ignorant, brainwashed analphabet, my more mulish side surfaces. I refuse to be belittled by my intellectual inferiors simply for refusing to adhere to their beliefs.

    Oh, and [email protected]&6: hee hee. Muphry is a right sod, isn’t he?

    * whose blog I assume you are reading: I cannot recommend it highly enough as it is one of the most edifying things on the Internet

  10. It is an idiosyncratic view to regard MSNBC as “moving to the left” in contrast to Fox’s “rabble rousing”. I see little evidence for MSNBC reporting rising above the level of partisan hysteria. And in confirmation of the thesis, Fox dominates the US cable news market, while MSNBC’s viewship could be all invited to come round for a party together.

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