20 Cato J. 431 (2000-2001)
Can the Media be so Liberal - The Economics of Media Bias

handle is hein.journals/catoj20 and id is 439 raw text is: CAN THE MEDIA BE So LIBERAL? THE
Daniel Sutter
The Challenge to the Presumption of Bias
Many conservatives charge that the national news media exhibit a
liberal bias, despite surface appearances of impartiality. Charges of a
liberal bias essentially require the existence of a news cartel. Is the
structure of the news industry capable of sustaining a cartel? A liberal
news cartel requires collusion among news organizations and con-
straint of maverick outlets. Cartels are always vulnerable to defection.
Indeed, many critics who accuse the media of a liberal bias are likely
skeptical of the ability of businesses to maintain stable cartels without
government assistance. Competition usually forces firms to cater to
their customer's preferences. Yet critics allege that all major national
news organizations present the same biased coverage, which is more
liberal than the median voter. A liberal media represents a failure in
the news market.'
The documentation of media bias has become something of a cot-
tage industry since Edith Efron's (1971) pioneering study. Critics
accusing the media of either a liberal or conservative bias make use of
surveys of working journalists, content analysis of stories covered, and
anecdotes about stories killed or not pursued to make their case.2 But
a conclusive measure of political bias in the news has been elusive.
That the Media Research Center and Fairness and Accuracy in Re-
Cato Journal, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Winter 2001). Copyright 0 Cato Institute. All rights
Daniel Sutter is Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Oklahoma. He thanks
Tyler Cowen, Joe McCarrity, Marc Poitras, Bob Tollison, and a referee for helpful comments
on earlier drafts.
'Charges of liberal bias typically concern the national news media, including the television
networks, the major weekly newsmagazines, and leading papers like the New York Times
and Washington Post. These organizations comprise only a portion of the news industry.
Other portions of the industry, notably talk radio and local newspapers, have been accused
of a conservative bias. Liberal bias in the national news market is of concern since the
national media have a greater impact on the political agenda than these other outlets do.
'See Bozell and Baker (1990) and Baker (1994) for a sample of the types of evidence of
liberal media bias.


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