Monday, September 13, 2004

Now there is proof of media bias on economic news. John Lott and Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute (Full disclosure: my older daughter is a research assistant for Mr. Hassett) have done a study looking at how the media headlined news about economic data during different presidents' administrations.
The two economists combed through 389 newspapers and A.P. reports contained in the LexisNexis database from January 1991 through May 2004, during the administrations of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. They picked out headlines about gross domestic product growth, unemployment, retail sales and orders of durable goods and classified the headlines' depiction of the economy as either positive, negative, neutral or mixed. Then they crunched some numbers.

They found that Mr. Clinton received better headlines than the two Republican presidents. Even after adjusting the data to compensate for differences in economic performance under the three presidents, the Republicans received 20 to 30 percent fewer positive headlines, on average, for the same type of news, they concluded.

For instance, they said, the unemployment rate in the Clinton administration averaged 5.2 percent, only three-tenths of a percentage point less than it has under George W. Bush. But while 44 percent of Mr. Clinton's headlines on unemployment were positive, only 23 percent of President Bush's headlines on the subject have been upbeat.

They found that as a group, the nation's 10 largest newspapers and The Associated Press were even more skewed. According to the researchers, this group gave Republican administrations 20 to 40 percent fewer positive headlines than those given to Mr. Clinton, on average. Among the top 10 newspapers, they said that all except The Houston Chronicle had a pro-Democratic leaning, though the margin for error in their calculations was too large to be meaningful for most of them individually.

Of course, the New York Times has to add in their own bias by trying to slime both researchers instead of dealing with the information. Read at the end of the story. And one quibble they have is that the researchers looked only at the headlines. But face it. How many people read deep into an economic story? The headline is what they remember and what gets reported on TV. Perhaps this study can serve as a shot across the bow so that headline writers will be more objective from now on. Sure, it could happen. Couldn't it?And you can read the actual research here.