Thursday, December 22, 2005

UPDATE: MSM No Longer Liberal

As it turns out, that UCLA media-bias study I recently blogged about was scathingly critiqued by a far more qualified authority than myself about a year and a half ago. UPenn linguist Geoff Nunberg took aim at the study's two major problem areas ("its concept and its execution") and exposed serious flaws in both. The whole thing is worth a thorough read, as is Groseclose and Milyo's response.

Although Nunberg's analysis was excellent overall, I found one aspect of his approach slightly troubling. Early in the post, he excoriates the study's authors for operating under the assumption that value-free research is impossible:
In fact, their method assumes that there can be no such thing as objective or disinterested scholarship -- every study or piece of research, even if published in so august a scientific authority as the New England Journal, can be assumed to have a hidden agenda, depending on which side finds its results congenial to its political purposes.
As I understand it, considerable debate still rages over the question of whether or not scholarship can be separated from the values held by the individuals who generate it. I would say that it applies particularly to the current research given the subjective nature of media bias issues. Nunberg appears to agree with this perspective throughout his investigation of G&M's work but then adds the following blanket dismissal to the end of his post:
It seems a pity to waste so much effort on a project that is utterly worthless as an objective study of media bias.
I interpret the above statement as implying that Nunberg believes the objective study of media bias to be impossible (i.e., that any study on the subject would carry the indelible taint of its authors' ideological predilections). If this is true, not only does it render his foregoing analysis irrelevant, it also virtually obliterates the point of discussing media bias at all. Groseclose and Milyo's research was from its inception doomed to be riddled with fatal errors, and no one else should bother trying to correct them because the general enterprise is flawed to the core. Moreover, both sides of all media bias debates can from now on be summarily repudiated as inherently subjective and partisan guesswork. If this is truly what Nunberg means, I think the contention demands much more than a one-sentence assertion.

I'll discuss other critiques of the UCLA study in my next post.

Further Update: Groseclose and Milyo take Nunberg to task for his critical errors in their response, which I'd like to recommend again for its attention to detail. The controversy continues . . .