David R. Henderson  

Media Bias and the L.A. Times

I Lived to See the Future... The Horwitz Challenge...

Bryan Caplan's and David Boaz's comments on media bias remind me of an incident that happened almost two years ago. Ralph Vartabedian called me to get my take on the members of President-elect Obama's economic team, particularly Christina Romer and Larry Summers. I answered his questions. At no time did he ask me my ideology. Here's his article.

So I wrote him the following:

Dear Ralph,
I saw your piece. I'm not a conservative. I notice also that not only did you get my ideology wrong but also that I'm the only economist to whom you ascribed an ideology. What gives, Ralph?

He replied:
Dear David,
I thought your comment about Summers and Romer came from a viewpoint of significant concern about what the Obama Administration was going to do, so I used the reference only as an indicator that you are critical of at least Summers. As for the conservative label, I based that on a couple of points...clearly Hoover is known as a conservative organization and I have honestly never known anybody in it who was a liberal. I believe you were on the council of economic advisors under President Reagan, no? You seemed pretty critical of the liberal members of Obama's team and our data base at the Times indicates you are a registered Republican there in the Monterrey area. I can give you a call later today.

I replied:
Dear Ralph,
Those are all relevant techniques for figuring out my ideology--if I'm dead. Given that I'm alive, another way is to ask me.
Also, couldn't you use those same techniques to discern the ideology of Blinder and others you cited? And yet you didn't.

Later that day, he did call me. He said he felt apologetic. I persisted and asked him why he didn't ascribe an ideology to the other economists quoted, who clearly had ideologies. He explained that I was the only one quoted who was critical of the Obama team.
"Did you hear what you just said?" I asked. "Only those who are critical are given ideologies."
"Yes, I get it," he said.
That's why I didn't blog on it. I thought maybe he really did get it and I didn't want to reduce my probability of being interviewed again. Twenty months later he still has not called for another interview. My guess is that by simply confronting him about it, I reduced my probability to close to zero.

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TRACKBACKS (1 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/3867
The author at Fahreunblog in a related article titled Relevant techniques for figuring out my ideology--if I'm dead writes:
    E' abbastanza noto che un po' in tutto il mondo i giornali presentino una "distorsione a sinistra", รจ il cosiddetto "liberal bias", difficile da misurare ma facile da constatare. Recentemente David Henderson ha toccato con mano ancora una volta questa [Tracked on August 19, 2010 10:07 AM]
COMMENTS (14 to date)
scott clark writes:

You may have reduced your probabilty of more interviews from him down to zero, but have you seen him change his ways? Does he persist in labeling conservatives while giving liberals no such label?

Matt R. writes:

One of the things that bugged me the most was him using the fact that you served on the CEA under Reagan to show that you were a conservative.

My understanding is that the CEA staff jobs are mostly technical jobs that any good economist can do regardless of ideology. If memory serves me correctly, Larry Summers and Paul Krugman both served in the CEA under Reagan.

David R. Henderson writes:

@scott clark,
Good question. I don't know the answer.
@Matt R.
Good point. Yes, Larry, Paul, and I were colleagues. Also, Hoover has a whole lot of registered Democrats. I was shocked that he admitted his reasoning to get to his conclusion, when the simple alternative would have been to call or e-mail.

Walter Bliss writes:

I loved that David. You said it so well. I will look for more of your writings.

Roman Lombardi writes:

" You seemed pretty critical of the liberal members of Obama's team"...so which members of Obama's team aren't liberal? This is faulty rationale on his part...There aren't any members of his team that aren't "liberal"...

Daniel Klein writes:

Great post, thanks.

mdc writes:

" You seemed pretty critical of the liberal members of Obama's team"

The sub-text here shocks me: being critical of Obama means you're ideological, but being in favour of Obama makes you somehow unbiased/non-partisan? Because Obama is Objectively Correct and has no ideology?!

david writes:

I've come to view the extent of liberal bias as something that will simply hasten the demise of the traditional media outlets.

Alex J. writes:

"a central tenant of Democratic economic thinking."


Bob Murphy writes:

I think what bothered me the most about his attitude was that he assumed an economist was either "Republican conservative / Democratic liberal."

What if I'm a Maoist? What if I love Murray Rothbard?

It would be as if he wrote, "David R. Henderson, a Protestant," and then you asked why, and he said, "Our records indicate that you don't go to the Catholic Church down your state."

Bob Murphy writes:

...down your street.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

What about drug-legalizer Joseph D. McNamara from Hoover? Is that "conservative"?

Wilasho S. Tincem writes:

This may be related to the Pew study regarding political labeling and ideology from awhile ago. Many Democrats describe themselves as "moderate" while others rate them as liberal. So it could be be that when a liberal journalist looks at a liberal organization, it doesn't mentally have a label attached, so it doesn't have a label in the final article.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

And they say that we live in an echo chamber.

The radical's first job is to assume the position of centrist while damning one's opponents as fringe wierdos.

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