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June 28, 2004

The Economics of Bias

Bruce Bartlett has given some thought to the economic aspect of liberal media bias. This isn't representative of the breadth of the piece, but it begins to formulate a response to the economic "proof" that the media isn't too liberal:

Economic theory says that conservative news outlets should have come into existence to serve that market. However, Prof. Daniel Sutter of the University of Oklahoma points out that there are severe barriers to entry into the news business that make it very difficult to start a new newspaper or television network, thus allowing liberal bias to perpetuate itself.

Another answer comes from a study by Prof. David Baron of Stanford. He theorizes that profit-maximizing corporations tolerate liberal bias because it allows them to pay lower wages to liberal journalists. By being allowed to exercise their bias, they are willing to accept less pay than they would demand if they were in a business where bias was not tolerated. Conservatives are perhaps less willing to pay such a financial price.

I'm not so sure about that last sentence. To my limited experience, there are plenty of conservative writers who would pay that price were the offer on the table. Baron's point, it seems to me, is more of an extension of Sutter's. The bias is ingrained among the newsie folks, and the business folks let it remain thus not just because it enables lower wages, but perhaps more because a battle between the administrative and content departments would be hugely disruptive. (I'm sure there is also aversion to shifting an outlet's "voice" too quickly.)

ADDENDUM:
Chris Muir's got cartoon commentary related to this topic.

Posted by Justin Katz at June 28, 2004 7:47 AM
News Media
Comments

It would appear that the recent internet experiment blows the economic proof of no liberal bias out of the water. On the internet, where start-up costs are minimal, there is a vast universe of conservative media (by my observation, outweighing the liberals). Thus, it appears that the entrance cost, not the availability of a fair balance of viewpoints in the marketplace, is what prevents more conservative "mainstream" media.

Posted by: c matt at June 29, 2004 5:54 PM