Archive | August, 2011

Assumptions Built into the Proof of Media Bias

I appreciate Tim Groseclose’s reply below, but I fear his response only makes me more skeptical of the reasoning he uses. I’m going to hide most of my post “below the fold” because I don’t want to steal our guest’s thunder.  (It’s his guest-blogging stint, not mine!)  But for those interested, I’ll explain a bit below why I don’t think the argument adds up. [...]

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An Update on My UCLA-Admissions Controversy

In my post yesterday, when describing Chapter 6 of Left Turn, I discussed an L.A. Times article about UCLA admissions.  I noted that the article had a liberal bias—not because of any false statements but because it omitted some important true statements.  In general, it reported many facts that liberals would want people to learn but omitted many facts that conservatives would want people to learn.

One of the facts that it omitted was the following:

  • Students who apply to UCLA are aware of the politically-correct, pro-affirmative-action attitudes, and in order to exploit them, a large number of minority students reveal their race on the personal essays that they write in their applications.

For this post, the key phrase in the above passage is “a large number of minority students reveal their race.”  When I wrote the initial draft for the chapter, sometime in late 2007, I originally wrote that “most” minority students (as opposed to “a large number”) reveal their race.

I didn’t know whether it was accurate to write “most,” but I had seen lots of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it was .

The first piece of evidence was revealed to me in 1991.  I was in a serious relationship with a black woman, who was about to apply to grad school.  At first, she didn’t want any schools to give her affirmative action.  But when it became time actually to send out the applications, she became worried that she might not be accepted to any of the schools in which she was interested.

She consequently abandoned her insistence that she not receive affirmative action.  “I don’t care,” she joked to me one day.  “Just make me a token.  I just want to be accepted to at least one of the schools.”

“But how will they [...]

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My Response to Prof. Kerr’s Reply to My Response

I think my and Milyo’s results in many ways support and are consistent with the points that Prof. Kerr made.

To see this consider this fact:  As surveys show, in a typical election, Washington correspondents tend to vote 93-7 for the Democrat.

It happens that the district that contains Berkeley, California voted about 90-10 for Obama.  Thus, the district votes very similarly to Washington correspondents, and if anything it votes slightly more conservatively than Washington correspondents. Accordingly, if the sole goal of journalists were to persuade people, then their reports would sound approximately like a speech by Barbara Lee, the House representative from Berkeley, California. Lee’s PQ is approximately 100.  Thus, if the sole goal of journalists were to persuade, then their average Slant Quotient would be about 100.

Instead, according to my and Milyo’s results, the average Slant Quotient of mainstream news outlets is about 65.

Meanwhile, if the sole goal of journalists were to inform people—and to inform them in a centrist way (that is, to choose the facts that a centrist would think are the most important)—then they would report with an SQ of 50.

My results suggest that journalists adopt a weighted mix of the two goals—with about 2/3 of the weight on informing and 1/3 of the weight on persuading. [...]

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Fourth Amendment Rights in Stolen Computers

A few readers have flagged a new district court decision, Clements-Jeffrey v. City of Springfield, that raises an interesting Fourth Amendment question: When does a person have Fourth Amendment rights in the contents of a stolen computer? A few decisions have held that a person doesn’t have Fourth Amendment rights in the contents of a stolen computer when they know the computer was stolen: That seems correct to me, as the Fourth Amendment requires some legitimate relationship between the person and the space searched before allowing the person to have Fourth Amendment rights there. See, e.g., Minnesota v. Carter. The trickier question raised in Clements-Jeffrey is what result if the person didn’t know the laptop was stolen. Put another way, what is the mental state required to retain Fourth Amendment rights in stolen property?

A bit about the facts. The plaintiff in this case is a 52-year old substitute teacher who bought a laptop for $60 from a 9th grader at her school. She used the computer to communicate with her long-distance boyfriend, and exchanged sexually explicit communications with him. Unbeknownst to her, the laptop had surveillance software installed on it and monitored her private communications. It turns out that the computer had originally been purchased by a school district, which had installed the surveillance software to help locate the laptop if it was lost or stolen. The computer had been stolen, and then sold eventually for $40 at a bus station to the 9th grader who then sold the laptop for $60 to the teacher. The school then had the company that ran the surveillance tool fire it up and intercept the plaintiff’s communications, which it turned out were with her boyfriend and involved some rather compromising images. She sued, alleging Fourth Amendment and statutory claims.

There’s [...]

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The Compleat Lawyer

“No man can be a compleat Lawyer by universalitie of knowledge without experience in particular cases, nor by bare experience without universalitie of knowledge; he must be both speculative & active, for the science of the laws, I assure you, must joyne hands with experience.”

–Edward Coke, Preface to A Book of Entries (1614). [...]

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Hurricane Irene:

As many of you know, I spend my summers (and as much time as possible in other seasons) up at our place in southern Vermont (Marlboro, to be precise). And as everyone knows by now, we got creamed by the storm on Sunday. It was an astonishing and awe-inspiring experience to go through — I’ve posted a video that I took during the height of the storm showing the condition of the (one) road that leads from our house, and one of the “little stream” that runs just behind our house, that will give you some idea of what it was like.

[ Update — for some reason the video links above didn’t work for everyone. Here are the YouTube links for the video of Butterfield Road, and the video of the stream out behind our house]

As a friend of mine put it, it makes you think a lot about physics. It’s just water, earth, and gravity … a combination of an astonishing amount of rain, steeply sloped hillsides, and ground that was more-or-less completely saturated even before the storm hit. To give you an idea of how much water we’re talking about, take another look at that video of the stream behind our house. This little brook – much too small to even have a name — would, ordinarily, in late August, have a trickle of water in it, at most. The watershed that feeds it covers an area of around 5 square miles — one of thousands of such little watersheds feeding into little streams in southern Vermont (all of which feed larger streams, which feed larger streams, etc.). Five square miles is about 22 billion square inches. Eight inches of rain (which is about what we got) falling on that one little watershed makes [...]

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“A New York Times Reporter Tips His Hand”

That’s the title of a post from Heather Mac Donald (Secular Right); here’s an excerpt, though you should read the whole post:

In the course of a column blasting media entrepreneur Steven Brill’s new book on the school reform movement, New York Times reporter Michael Winerip inadvertently sets out his economic assumptions. A revelation of an entire world view does not get any more crystalline than this. (Regarding education, Winerip almost equally tellingly criticises Brill for not showing enough respect to teachers and teachers unions.)

Winerip lists several of Brill’s sources — the “millionaires and billionaires who attack the unions and steered the Democratic Party to their cause” — then adds:

I expected Mr. Brill to explore why these men single out the union for blame when children fail. If a substantial part of the problem was poverty and not bad teachers, the question would be why people like them are allowed to make so much when others have so little.

Who exactly is doing the “allowing” here? In Winerip’s world, people earn, keep, and invest money only by the sufferance of some greater authority — presumably the government, which implicitly decides how much they should be “allowed” to make. What if I decide that Michael Winerip is making too “much when others have so little”? Winerip’s income undoubtedly dwarfs that of a teen mother on welfare in Harlem. Why should he be “allowed” to make so much? My guess is that Winerip feels that his income is at best commensurate with his labors, if not inadequate to those labors. Yet there have been plenty of governments in recent human history — the Cultural Revolution comes immediately to mind — for whom Winerip’s income and class status would be a clear sign of bourgeois decadence and injustice, requiring radical

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The Tenth Amendment and Sovereignty

Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center writes: “The Tenth Amendment, like all other Amendments, is a binding part of the Constitution that should be fully respected…. [But w]hen the states ratified the Constitution, they renounced their status as fully-independent sovereigns and endowed the federal government with enumerated but substantial powers.”

Kendall is correct. Anyone, tea partier or not, who claims that the states retain full “sovereignty” after 1789 doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Kendall’s next sentence, however, doesn’t follow at all: “The Tenth Amendment does not give tea partiers, or anyone else, a constitutional basis for rolling back critical laws that protect Americans’ health, safety, and retirement security.”

Through the New Deal period, it was accepted that the states did retain an important element of sovereign power inherited from the British Parliament, the “police power.” The scope of the police power was subject to much debate, but it was typically thought to at least conclude the power to protect and promote state citizen’s health, safety, and morals. Progressive types argued that promoting the public’s “welfare” was also part of the police power.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Clause provided the federal government with the power to regulate commerce among the states. The scope of this power was also disputed, but there was a consensus that the Clause could not have provided the federal government with a “general police power,” because the states (and “the people”) never delegated, and would not have delegated, that aspect of sovereign power to the federal government. And then the Tenth Amendment reminds us that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution” remain with the states.

If the states HAD delegated the general police power to the Federal Government, then the liberty of contract cases of the pre-New Deal period [...]

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Case Study of an L.A. Times Article

Part 2 of my book is entitled “A Distortion Theory of Bias.”  It begins with Chapter 6: “Lies, Damned Lies, and Omitted Statistics.”  The following are the first several paragraphs of the chapter:

In the previous chapter I applied an economic signaling model to the media.  In particular, I suggested that the news reports of a journalist are similar to the “messages” that the “sender” in such a model reports to the “receiver.”

For such an application to be appropriate, however, a particular principle must be true:  The journalist must be more informed about the particular news topic than her readers or viewers are.  Rarely, I suggest, will this principle not be true.  Journalists, at least usually, read lots of background material and interview many key observers to make sure that it is true.

Sometimes, however, it won’t be true.  That is, if you are lucky, there will be a rare moment or two in your life, where you read or watch a news story, and you know at least as much about the story as the journalist knows.  Usually, for this to happen, you must be one of the participants in the story, or, due to special circumstances, a very close observer.

“A Startling Statistic at UCLA”

Such an occasion happened to me on June 3, 2006.   “A Startling Statistic at UCLA” was the headline I read that morning on the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

The article noted the low number of African Americans who would enroll as freshmen at UCLA that Autumn; it implied that the applications process was stacked against them; and at times it hinted—mainly through quotes of some far-left  students and other observers—that the problem was that UCLA faculty and administrators did not have sufficient desire for racial diversity.

At the

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$60,000 Damages for Blogging the Truth About Someone, Intending to Get the Person Fired

I blogged about the Johnny Northside case (Moore v. Hoff) when the verdict came down, but there’s now a moderately detailed trial court opinion refusing to set the verdict aside. Here’s an excerpt from a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article about this latest development:

The jury ruled last March that [John] Hoff’s scathing blog post amounted to actively interfering with [Jerry] Moore’s job at the U, even though Hoff’s statements were true when he linked Moore to high-profile mortgage fraud.

The jury awarded Moore $35,000 for lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress….

Moore, former executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council, was hired in early 2009 at the U’s Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center to study mortgage foreclosures.

When Hoff found out about the hire, he wrote a post accusing Moore of being involved in a “high-profile fraudulent mortgage” that was one of several resulting in a 16-year prison sentence for former real estate agent Larry Maxwell. Moore was not charged in that case.

Hoff took partial credit for Moore’s firing in a later blog post, to which Moore responded with his suit.

As I wrote in March, people are constitutionally entitled to speak the truth about others, even with the goal of trying to get them fired. (The tort actually requires either knowledge that such a result is practically certain or a purpose of producing such a result, but I take it that here the allegation is that Hoff wanted Moore to get fired.) The First Amendment constrains the interference with business relations tort, just as it constrains the infliction of emotional distress and other torts. See NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982); Blatty v. New York Times Co. (Cal. 1986) (speech constitutionally protected against a libel claim is also protected against an interference with business [...]

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Why Do Politicians Cite Think Tanks?: A Reply to Groseclose

Many thanks to Timothy Groseclose for confirming that I understand the basic methodology of the paper underlying his book. Here’s my follow-up question, if I may: Am I right that the paper assumes that politicians cite think tanks for the same basic reasons that journalists cite think tanks? Put another way, am I right that the paper assumes that you can compare journalist-citations and politician-citations because they measure the same thing?

If I’m right, that assumption seems problematic to me. Here’s why. Journalists see their goal as informing their audiences. They cite think tanks to inform their audiences about what is happening. They want to get the reasonable range of views on a topic, so they cite think tanks that reflect what they see as the reasonable range of views.

Politicians cite think tanks for a different reason. Politicians make speeches and issue press releases to persuade rather than to inform. As a rule, politicians will cite think tanks if and only if they can find a think tank that said something that supports the politician’s view. To maximize the persuasiveness of the argument, the politician will cite the think tank that is the most respectable source that said something echoing their view. And of course think tanks occasionally exist to fill that role: If a powerful person or group needs someone respectable-sounding to say X, they will fund a person who sits in an office as the Executive Director of The Center for American Goodness to reliably say X to whoever will listen.

If I’m right about these differences, then comparing journalist-citations and politician-citations seems a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Of course, I would imagine the two correlate somewhat. It’s easy to see why. If a journalist has very liberal views, they will probably see the range [...]

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My Reply to Orin Kerr

Professor Kerr:  Everything you said is exactly right.  Except, technically that was the methodology of my QJE paper with Milyo, not necessarily the methodology of my book.

My book uses three (and if you count Ch. 14, four) methodologies.  Only one of those is the QJE-article methodology.

Here is a copy of the QJE paper.  In case anyone has a copy of my book, I describe that methodology in Ch. 13.

For readers who want a less technical description of the methodology of the QJE article, here is a critique by Geoffrey Nunberg.  And here is a response by Milyo and me. [...]

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Trying to Understand the Methodology of “Left Turn”

As a welcome to our guest-blogger Tim Groseclose, I’m hoping he won’t mind my effort to try to understand the methodology of the study behind his book Left Turn. As I understand the methodology, the main idea is to compare citations to think tanks by two groups, politicians and journalists. The study begins by looking at what think tanks politicians cite as authority, and uses that to get a sense of the ideology of different think tanks. It then looks at what think tanks are cited as authority by journalists at different media sources. A newspaper or TV channel is liberal if it tends to cite think tanks that are cited by liberal politicians — liberal as judged by their votes in a series of chosen legislative matters — and it’s conservative if it tends to cite think tanks that are cited by conservative politicians. So the basic conclusion of the book, that the media has a liberal bias, is rooted in the finding that most journalists cite more liberal think tank and fewer conservative think tanks than does a centrist politician. Put another way, the media is biased because when it looks for experts to quote as authority, it tends to favor liberal experts over conservative experts more than does a centrist politician.

Am I right about that, or even close? Sorry to ask such a basic question, but I don’t feel I can comment on Groseclose’s argument before I understand the methodology of the study he conducted. [...]

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Non-Extremist American Muslims Worried About Extremism Among American Muslims

The Pew Center has an interesting new report on Muslim Americans. Some items from it:

1. The report estimates the Muslim population of the U.S., at 2.75 million, rather below the 5-to-7 million estimates that some have given and consistent with the “high-side estimates” from the 2001 National Opinion Research Center survey.

2. The overwhelming majority of American Muslims rejects political violence against civilians (81% say “Suicide bombing/other violence against civilians is [never] justified to defend Islam from its enemies,” compared to only 19% in the Palestinian territories, 38% in Egypt, and 60% in Turkey), and have very unfavorable views of al Qaeda (70%).

3. The rejection of al Qaeda actually seems to be considerably higher among foreign-born Muslims than among black native-born Muslims, who I assume have very little connection to the Middle East. (I take it the great bulk of black native-born Muslims come from families who have been in America for a long time, though a few might be the children of African immigrants, from instance from Nigeria or Somalia.)

Among the foreign-born, 75% have very unfavorable views of al Qaeda (9% have somewhat unfavorable, 3% have favorable, and 14% say “don’t know” or refuse to answer). Among black native-born Muslims, only 56% have very unfavorable views of al Qaeda (21% have somewhat unfavorable, 11% have favorable, and 12% say “don’t know”). The difference seems statistically significant at the 95% level, despite the high margins of error for these subgroups. Non-black native-born Muslims are in-between, at 62% very unfavorable (15% somewhat unfavorable, 10% favorable, 13% “don’t know”), though I don’t think that those differences are statistically significant.

4. The overwhelming majority of American Muslims also supports women’s participation in business life and political life. When asked whether they agree with “women should be able to work [...]

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An Unplanned Response to Comments about my book, Left Turn

If I had followed my plan for guest blogging, my second post would have discussed (i) my resignation from the UCLA admissions committee, (ii) when I resigned, why I suspected that UCLA—in violation of Prop. 209—was using race as a factor in admissions, and (iii) how an L.A. Times article distorted the truth about UCLA, race, and admissions.  I’ll discuss those topics later, maybe this afternoon.

Except here is one detail I want to give now.   Before resigning, I attended the Martin Luther King Day celebration at my daughter’s elementary school.  At the celebration, Mrs. Baker, my daughter’s teacher explained: “Just as we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, we shouldn’t judge people by the color of their skin.”

My post yesterday, as well as my book in general, seems to have touched a few nerves.  I’m now ready to respond to some of the comments about that post.  Here goes.

Ted says:

Uh. Does anyone expect a book titled Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind is going to contain legitimate and honest research? I mean, it might, but I don’t think any one would expect it to do so, and more often than not, they would be correct.

If you were serious about the issue, and wanted to actually prove a point via research and analysis, you title the book Media Influence: How Media Bias Affects Consumers’ Beliefs and Actions. That’s something I might read if I wanted to learn something, but judging from the comments so far, that’s not the book that Prof. Groseclose wrote.

Mrs. Baker’s comments, I think, were wise not just in regard to race, but also literally in regard to how one should judge a book.

As for judging the book by the comments of VC readers, I’m [...]

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