15 November 2011

Book Review

Left Turn by Tim Groseclose

There are two major premises to this book.  The first is that liberal bias can be measured quantitatively.  The second is that media bias has a distortive effect.  The latter claim is easily proven, as the media itself claims to be able to influence people.  Indeed that’s the underlying premise of commercials, as Neil Postman has noted.

The former premise is trickier to argue, mostly because whatever argument that exists is going to be inherently tautological.  In order to determine how liberal a member of the media is, one must first define liberalism and then find a way to quantify it.  The validity of the resulting argument is entirely contingent upon the acceptance of the definitions.

If, in Groseclose’s case, members of the media refuse to accept the definition of “liberal” that Groseclose offers, then his point is null.  Fortunately, the media has seemed to accept his definitions and methodology, so he can appeal to their authority.  This doesn’t make his case logical by any stretch of the imagination, but it does make it compelling.

Really, the value of Left Turn is entirely contingent on whether one accepts the terms and propositions the book offers.  I would imagine that all conservatives and most liberals would accept the terms the book offers, which is what makes Left Turn so wonderful: it hoists liberals on their own petard.  Groseclose’s methodology is so sound that if liberals accept the book’s definition of liberal, they will find that the book’s conclusions are perfectly sound.

On its own merits, though, the book doesn’t actually prove anything, since its entire argument is conditional.  (“If you accept this definition, then you must conclude this…”)  This is hardly science.  Indeed, it is utterly subjective in scope.

As such, Left Turn is nothing more than an entertaining diversion that can be used to great effect among those who claim either that the media has no bias or that their bias doesn’t matter.  Beyond that, it’s nothing more than a computer model that says whatever its programmer has told it to say.

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