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Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind Hardcover – July 19, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

  1.   What Are PQs and How Do They Reveal Media Bias?
 
“COME ON. POLITICAL science isn’t really a science,” said my friend Dawson Engler one day, trying to goad me.
Engler, one of the country’s premier computer scientists, is currently a professor at Stanford, where his specialty is operating systems. He has constructed his own operating system … twice.
He is the type of person who succeeds at nearly anything he tries. Born in Yuma, Arizona, during high school he placed second in the “Teenage Mr. Arizona” bodybuilding contest. After graduating from Arizona State University, he enrolled in the highly prestigious computer-science PhD program at MIT. It is unusual for a PhD student to publish a paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Yet Engler published eight while a doctoral student. Shortly after Stanford hired him, for a brief period he dated one of the actresses from Baywatch.
When Engler goaded me, both of us held positions at MIT, and he knew that my position was in the political-science department. At MIT, which is filled with “real” scientists and engineers, you often hear quips like Engler’s. So when he made it, I was prepared.
“Look,” I said. “We can both agree that if you can graph something, then you can describe it mathematically.”
“Yeah,” said Engler.
“And people, all the time, talk about politicians being left wing or right wing.”
“Okay,” said Engler.
“And so if a position is left wing or right wing, then you can graph it.… Which means you can describe it mathematically.… Which means it’s science.”
Engler smiled. I don’t think I really convinced him, but he didn’t goad me any further. At least in my mind, I’d won the day’s debate.
*   *   *
WITHIN POLITICAL SCIENCE a small industry exists to do the “science” that I described to Engler: to calculate precise, numerical measurements that describe the liberalness or conservativeness of politicians. In fact, at the time Engler made his quip, I was working on such a project. Indeed, the political quotients that I describe in this book are based on that research.
A person’s PQ is a number, generally between 0 and 100, that describes how liberal he or she is. I have created a Web site, www.timgroseclose.com/calculate-your-pq, which allows you to compute your own PQ. I have computed PQs for members of Congress by observing their record on roll call votes.
By answering the following ten questions,1 you can get a rough approximation of your PQ. When you answer the questions, try to put yourself in the shoes of the members of Congress and decide how you would have voted at the time that the politicians considered the measure. For instance, some people feel that the “Cash for Clunkers” program was not as successful as they hoped or thought it would be. Accordingly, when you answer the question related to this program—as well as when you answer the other questions—think about your opinion of the issue when it was considered in Congress, not necessarily about how you feel about it now.
 1.    On January 29, 2009, the Senate passed the SCHIP bill (State Children’s Health Insurance Program). The bill would provide matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children. The funds would be limited to families with incomes less than three times the federal poverty level. The cost would be offset by increasing the federal tax on cigarettes from $0.61 to $1.00 a pack. Democrats voted 58–0 in favor of the bill; Republicans voted 8–32 against the bill.2
a. I would have favored the bill.
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have opposed the bill.
 2.    On February 26, 2009, the Senate passed the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act. The act would create a House district for D.C., and simultaneously create an additional House district in Utah. The Utah district would be subject to change or elimination by future censuses. The act would give D.C. one vote in the Electoral College, however it would not give D.C. representation in the Senate. Democrats favored the bill 56–2; Republicans opposed it 5–35.
a. I would have favored the bill.
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have opposed the bill.
 3.    On April 1, 2009, the House passed a bill that would limit the bonuses of executives if their company received TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds. It granted authority to the secretary of the treasury to set standards for such executive compensation, including determining what is “excessive compensation.” Democrats favored the bill 236–8; Republicans opposed it 11–163.
a. I would have favored the bill.
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have opposed the bill.
 4.    On April 30, 2009, Senator Richard Durbin proposed an amendment to the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act. His amendment, titled “Prevention of Mortgage Foreclosures,” was sometimes called the “cramdown” provision. According to the provision, if a homeowner’s income was low enough (less than 80 percent of the median income), then a bankruptcy judge could reduce the level of the interest and principle that the home owner owed on a mortgage. Democrats favored the amendment 45–12; Republicans opposed it 0–39.
a. I would have favored the amendment.
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have opposed the amendment.
 5.    On June 18, 2009, the House considered a major appropriations bill. Jerry Lewis, a Republican from California, introduced an amendment to the bill that would bar funds from being used to shut down the Guantánamo Bay prison. The amendment would have acted against an executive order that President Obama had issued to close the facility. Democrats opposed the amendment 39–213; Republicans favored the amendment 173–3.
a. I would have opposed the amendment (that is, I would have favored shutting down Guantánamo).
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have favored the amendment.
 6.    On June 26, 2009, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the main provision of which was to create a “cap and trade system.” Under the system, energy producers would be allotted a cap on the pollutants they could emit, but they could buy credits from other energy producers if they wanted to emit more pollutants. Or, if they emitted less pollutants than their cap, they could sell some of their credits to other producers. The bill set a target of reducing emissions to 83 percent of the 2005 level by the year 2050. The act also included several billions of dollars for incentives for businesses to invest in green technologies. Democrats favored the bill 210–43; Republicans opposed it 8–169.
a. I would have favored the bill.
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have opposed the bill.
 7.    On July 31, 2009, the House passed the “Cash for Clunkers” bill (officially named “The Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program). It provided $2 billion in vouchers to people who traded in an older, less fuel-efficient car and bought a newer, more fuel-efficient car. Democrats favored the bill 238–14; Republicans opposed it 78–95.
a. I would have favored the bill.
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have opposed the bill.
 8.    On August 26, 2009, the Senate voted on the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Democrats favored her confirmation 58–0; Republicans opposed it 9–31.
a. I would have favored her confirmation.
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have opposed her confirmation.
 9.    On November 8, 2009, the Senate considered an amendment proposed by Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to the “Obamacare” health bill. His amendment would have barred federal money to be used to pay for an abortion. Further, federal money could not help pay for any health plan that covered abortions. The Democrats opposed the amendment 7–52; Republicans favored it 38–2. (Technically, the vote was on a motion by Barbara Boxer to table the Nelson amendment.)
a. I would have opposed the amendment.
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have favored the amendment.
10.  On December 15, 2009, the Senate voted on a provision to allow U.S. citizens to import prescription drugs. Most important, it would have allowed citizens to order prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies, which often sold the drugs at lower prices than U.S. pharmacies did. (The provision was the Dorgan amendment to the Reid amendment to the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act.) Democrats opposed the measure 28–31; Republicans favored it 23–17.
a. I would have favored the provision.
b. I can’t decide.
c. I would have opposed the provision.
Give yourself ten points for each time that you answered “a,” five points for each “b,” and zero points for each “c.” Next, add up the points. That is approximately your PQ.
One feature of the PQ is that it is constructed from roll call votes in Congress. This means that simply by noting how members of Congress voted on those roll calls, I can calculate their PQs, and you can compare your PQ to theirs. The following are the PQs of some well-known politicians.
PQs and Media Bias
Perhaps the ...
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Review

With knowledge there is victory and power. This book helps Americans learn the truth and discover how we are being manipulated by the mainstream media. It is hard to understate how brilliant and insightful Left Turn is. It is, I believe, one of the most important books ever written about American politics. (Congressman Paul Broun, M.D. (R-Ga.))

I'm no conservative, but I loved Left Turn. Tim Groseclose has written the best kind of book: one that is firmly anchored in rigorous academic research, but is still so much fun to read that it is hard to put down. Liberals will not like the conclusions of this book, which in my opinion, is all the more reason why they should want to read it. (Steven Levitt, Professor of Economics, University of Chicago, and co-author of Freakonomics.)

This book--an evolution from the pioneering article in the 2005 Quarterly Journal of Economics by Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo--uses a clever statistical technique to construct an objective measure of conservative or liberal bias in news coverage. This method and those now adopted by other serious researchers show clearly that most U.S. news outlets lean left. Most frighteningly, we learn that the media bias actually affects the ways that people think and vote. (Robert Barro, Professor of Economics, Harvard University, and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution.)

This book serves up the most convincing evidence for media bias I have seen, ever. Tim Groseclose is the leading academic scholar in the area, but this is a smartly-written book which every person can read for enlightenment and also for pleasure. (Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics, George Mason University, and co-author of the internationally acclaimed economics blog, MarginalRevolution.com.)

In writing this book Professor Groseclose has done a great service for our country. (Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.), (Lt. Col. U.S. Army, ret.))
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312555938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312555931
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. R. Kanavy on July 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Note: Normally, when discussing a book with political implications, I attempt to present an opinion tailored to the sensitivities of members of each major political party concerning the work in question. In the case of Left Turn, I have forgone this formula due to the objective presentation of the book and the value it serves despite political affiliations.

The Author:

While reading this book, I experienced one constant mantra of thought: Dr. Groseclose is an unequivocal expert on the subject of media bias and relating politics. This book is not the construct of a sharp-tongued political analyst, but rather the work of an experienced and astute-observer utilizing a strong skillset in scientific reasoning and advanced calculation. When reading the author's biography, you will discover that Groseclose is a generally conservative professor of political science at UCLA and a visiting professor at several Ivy League universities. Those of us, who have been to university, know that such creatures (non-liberal university academics) are about as common as unicorns, leprechauns and a no-strings-attached weekend at a vacation timeshare. This facet alone might be reason enough to read Left Turn, but fortunately I can provide a few more motives.

Left Turn:

Left Turn, while written by an openly conservative author is riddled with examples, statistics, empirical data and careful-research in a valid effort to underscore the science of political science.
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Format: Hardcover
*Left Turn*, by Tim Groseclose, is a kind of alien artifact because there is not a single hint of rancor, hostility or disrespect toward those with whom he, assuredly, politically disagrees. Instead, this book is a refreshment for the intellect.

At the outset, Dr. Groseclose declares his political disposition: he is a conservative. However, his private views are rendered irrelevant by his research effort of many years. Most of his colleagues are left of center, yet they all share a devotion to scientific accuracy and good faith.

As a political scientist and economist, Dr. Groseclose's academic accomplishments are impressive. His research is data-driven, brought to life by mathematics, and has been critically- and well-received by his peers.

His book outlines his research. Specifically, Dr. Groseclose explains how he arrives at a numeric value identifying an individual's or organization's position in the political spectrum. Remarkably, 1. the author is able to establish this identification over a range of time; not merely a point in time; and, 2. his research yields an absolute value of political identification, and not a relative one (e.g, Fox News relative to MSNBC). The implications and effects of these discoveries are then addressed by the author.

The organizations given scrutiny, unsurprisingly, comprise news media sources--both print and electronic. It will no doubt be irritating to liberals that Dr. Groseclose's research shows most media to be slanted to the left. And, of course, some conservatives will find validation in the author's conclusion, while judging it as ridiculously obvious. Such reactions would miss the point, I think, because what Dr.
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Building on a seminal Quarterly Journal of Economics article, in this book, Professor Tim Groseclose outlines considerable evidence for left-wing bias in the US media and, perhaps more importantly, argues that the bias tilts the US political system to the left.

When, in the middle of the last decade, Professor Groseclose and his co-author provided innovative quantification of leftward bias in the US media, the thesis was controversial, eliciting extensive (and often mean-spirited) reaction toward the authors. Since then, however, Groseclose's argument has become more widely accepted. Indeed, Hillary Clinton's campaign advisors noted (probably validly) extensive media bias toward now-President Obama in the 2008 primary campaign.

Indeed, "now-President" is the key phrase in the last sentence. Not only is the media biased, but that bias matters, i.e., has affected political outcomes in this country. The importance of media bias is the central thesis of "Left Turn" and the methodological enhancement relative to Professor Groseclose's earlier research. He introduces what he terms "the media lambda," a fancy way of suggesting the leftward pull or power of a biased media.

"Left Turn" is not an excessively equation-laden exegesis (though it has very extensive end notes and references). Instead, it is built on anecdotes of how the media matters, i.e., changes the nature of the policy debate and, ultimately, government policies. The heroine of the book is Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Katherine Kersten, a rare conservative media member who broke the story of the "John Doe" litigation in which passengers on an airplane were sued by Muslim imams for reporting concerns about behavior the passengers perceived to be unusual and possibly threatening. As a result of Ms.
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