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Budget Spin

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Budget Spin

A liberal study finds left-wing bias in Gotham’s papers. Summer 2004
Arts and Culture
New York
Economy, finance, and budgets

Liberal media bias in New York City is so pervasive that even liberals can’t help noticing it. That, at least, is the lesson of a recent study by the liberal Drum Major Institute, which found that press coverage of the city’s post-9/11 budget crisis tilted way to the left.

Released this spring but ignored by the press (for obvious reasons), the report contended that the city’s four biggest newspapers—the Times, the New York Post, the Daily News, and Newsday—did a lousy job covering the city’s budget woes, focusing too much on political “inside baseball” and not enough on the budget’s impact on ordinary New Yorkers. But the study, authored by North Carolina State University professor Robert Entman, also turned up, in the 1,111 articles it surveyed, a heavy bias toward big-government, high-tax solutions to the budget crisis, at the expense of solutions that would require shrinking city government. “Taken as a whole,” Entman writes, “the newspapers’ portrayal of the budget crisis suggests a widespread desire to protect the city government’s programs.”

Budget stories, the report discovered, quoted on average five people favoring proposals for more taxes and spending for every one person who rejected such measures. News stories on the possibility of re-imposing the city’s commuter tax, for example, presented 22 people advocating the hike and only seven against it. Articles on proposals that the state boost spending on New York City had 27 opinions for, zero against.

These patterns aren’t surprising, given the newspapers’ sources. City officials offered the majority of comments, and they overwhelmingly gave thumbs-up to higher taxes. But the papers also turned disproportionately to others likely to favor taxing and spending over cuts—quoting 45 city workers and union officials and 33 representatives of liberal advocacy groups, for example, but just five business people.

The study shows that the New York Post—often accused by other journalists in the city of trumpeting a conservative agenda in its news pages—had the most balanced coverage. Yet even the Post articles had more quotes supporting than opposing the idea of protecting city programs from budget cuts.

In a note appended to the report, Drum Major Institute president and former mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer urged papers to humanize their budgetary coverage, making it less narrowly political. We’ll add that the press might want to make its budget coverage less narrowly ideological, too.

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