There has been a fair amount of blog buzz about the interesting and graphically-gorgeous Media Matters study “Black and White and Re(a)d All Over:The Conservative Advantage in Syndicated Op-Ed Columns.” The Media Matters team, lead by Senior Fellow Paul Waldman, pretty much shreds the GOP claim of liberal bias in the print media, at least as far as op-ed columnists are concerned. (And, in recent years GOP presidential candidates have gotten the most newspaper endorsements on editorial pages) The conclusion should not come as too much of a surprise to those who read op-eds widely. But some of the blog commentary about the study raise some interesting questions. In The Plank, TNR’s Josh Patashnik asks, for example:
…The real question then would be, if nearly one in two Americans identifies as “moderate”, why are only two of the top ten columnists in America centrists?
…a liberal op-ed editor may be quite hard on other liberals, who don’t sound, to him, like they’re saying anything new. Conversely, he could be quite easy on conservatives, because even their basic arguments are, to him, analytically fresh and innovative.
…maybe opinion columns have little measurable economic value (does anyone really believe Washington Post circulation would change in either direction if they sacked Krauthammer and hired Rosa Brooks away from the LA Times?) and basically exist to put forward ideas that newspaper owners find congenial.
And Tapped’s Kate Shephard speculates:
…complex arguments don’t generally make for the same hard-lined, concise, and easy-to-read column fodder that our ever-more-dumbed-down mainstream media tend to favor. Conservative columnists tend to lean on the most basic, unexamined, talking-point-specific arguments – quick, easy to digest, appealing to reader’s basest instincts. Liberals tend to explore the issue and construct a case for the merits of their arguments, which fewer and fewer papers have the space for, and fewer and fewer readers have the attention span to get through.
Here’s another question: Since Dems kicked butt in the ’06 elections, might that mean that conservative columnists, or even op-ed columnists in general, have little influence on swing voters? Or would Dems have done even better if there was more political balance in op-eds?