Friday, November 30, 2007

Partisan Columnists: #1 Coulter, #2 Krugman


Lying in Ponds is a website that tracks and ranks the Democratic and Republican biases of a selection of regular political columnists. The top graph above for 2007 shows that Paul Krugman is the most partisan liberal columnist and Ann Coulter is the most partisan conservative columnist.

Lying in Ponds tries to draw a fundamental distinction between ordinary party preference and excessive partisanship. The presence of an excessive partisan bias transforms journalism into advertising, too distorted and unreliable to be useful in any serious political debate. Political parties are a healthy, essential part of American democracy; excessive partisanship is not. The methods used here are an attempt to quantify only partisanship, and are not intended as a more general guide to the quality of a columnist.

For example, an analysis of columns in 2007 by Ann Coulter shows that she has had 463 negative comments about Democrats, and only 10 positive comments (about a 46:1 ratio). Paul Krugman has had 603 negative comments so far this year about Republicans, and only 31 positive comments (almost a 20:1 ratio). In comments about Republicans, Coulter's positive comments outnumber negative comments by about 2.5 to 1, and Krugman's positive comments about outnumber negative comments by about 3.5 to 1 (see bottom chart, click to enlarge).

According to Lying in Ponds, "A partisan pundit is one whose opinions nearly always break down along party lines. Assuming that it's unlikely that a partisan columnist is actually formulating the party platform, then the partisan columnist's opinions must therefore derive from allegiance to the favored party or hostility to the other party rather than from independent thought. The views of pundits who are excessively partisan cannot be taken seriously, because their ulterior motives or uncontrolled biases are certain to frequently contaminate their judgements."

Conclusion: Don't take Krugman and Coulter too seriously.

5 Comments:

At 11/30/2007 8:32 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Can Lying in the Pond be taken seriously?

Perusing the site makes me at least think differently...

 
At 11/30/2007 8:54 AM, Anonymous ZH said...

While I agree with the conclusion of the study, I take some issue with the methodology of using positive and negative comments. For example, the list puts David Brooks as a slight Democrat partisan, althoug he is prety much by his own admission a right of center moderate. Maureen Dowd is more of a partisan Democrat than the rankings show, except that she frequently criticizes Democrats for not being far enough to the left. Peggy Noonan on the right is more of a partisan Republican than these rankings give her credit for, but she frequently criticizes Republicans for not being enough to the right on many issues, which make her appear to be less partisan in these rankings. Instead of just measuring positive and negative comments, they should also see in which "direction" the comments are positive or negative, as well as analyze the actual contents of the articles.

 
At 11/30/2007 9:41 AM, Anonymous Alex A said...

I don't think I've ever seen anyone specifically cite an Ann Coulter piece as an authoritarian source on anything...but I've seen plenty of people cite Krugman.

But then again, Coulter is a lawyer and, outside of his op-ed pieces and blog space in the NY Times print and website, Krugman is a widely respected and established economist.

I think a better bottom line would be to say that we shouldn't take Krugman's op-ed pieces or "Concience of a Liberal" blog entries too seriously as authoritarian sources of information. As with Coulter's columns, they're certainly good starting points to get the discussion flowing, but shouldn't be taken as absolute fact.

 
At 11/30/2007 9:43 AM, Anonymous wright said...

A rather silly study. A simple count of positive vs negative comments about one party or the other really doesn't say much about bias. What about truth vs falsity? If one writer says something that is negative but true about a democrat and someone else says something that is negative and false about a republican, the comments would register the same, but are they equally partisan? Is a false statement to be recorded on equal footing with a true one? There are a lot of writers who have been shown to be consistently wrong on the facts, and several of them show up on this list, mostly on the left. I think an analysis of this would be interesting - of the top ten on either side, what is the count of false or misleading statements, and in which direction do they lean?
Nor does this study measure tone. Compare the viciousness of Bob Herbert with the humor of Mark Steyn, for example. Coulter and Krugman are both consistently over the top, so I guess they're a wash, but it seems to me that, generally speaking, the writers on the left are much nastier in tone than the ones on the right.
Even this study shows that among the top ten, the left has 8 writers who score 30 or more points on the bias-o-meter, where the righties number only two.
This study is poor in the same way much of our discourse, political and otherwise, has become poor - simplistic and shallow, emptiness posing as profundity. Pretty much a waste of time.

 
At 12/03/2007 9:17 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"This study is poor in the same way much of our discourse, political and otherwise, has become poor - simplistic and shallow, emptiness posing as profundity. Pretty much a waste of time"...

Good call wright!

 

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