We’ve all heard that the media is biased. Those who make that argument typically point out (as proof) to the high percentage of reporters are registered Democrats. I’d like to argue that the high percentage of reporters that are registered Democrats is not a sign of bias, and might be just the opposite, in fact.
Here’s the annual growth in real GDP per capita over the length of each administration beginning with Ike.
(Data from the BEA’s NIPA Table 7.1. Note… growth rates calculated from the year before a President took office to his last full year in office. Thus, for Ike, growth rates were calculated from 1952 to 1960. Exceptions were made for incomplete terms… thus growth rates for JFK were calculated from 1960 to 1963, for LBJ from 1963 to 1968, for Nixon from 1968 to 1974, and for Ford from 1974 to 1976. The data and calculations have been uploaded into Google Docs.)
Now, if you think I’m cherrypicking, NIPA table 7.1 has data going back to 1929. Here’s the same graph extended that far. (Note… because the folks who argue media has a liberal bias also like to say that the economy only recovered from the Great Depression as a result of WW2, I’ve broken FDR’s term into two: FDR 1 is the term from 1933 to 1940, and FDR 2 is the term from 1941 to 1945.)
Let’s say these weren’t graphs showing the annualized real GDP per capita growth rates over the length of each President. Let’s tell a different story. When cancer patients are treated with chemotherapy, it kills off production of their white blood cells, and because these cells are used to fight off infection, chemotherapy drains patients and makes them more likely to get infections. Now, say there are two schools of thought for how to deal with this problem, the “red” school of thought and the “blue” school of thought. If the graphs above showed the average change in the number of white blood cells of patients who had undergone either the red or blue program, would your first assumption, on looking at those graphs be: “gee, any reporter who specializes in medical issues who gets cancer and asks his doctor to put him through the blue program must be biased”? Sure, there could be mitigating circumstances, but unless there was some funny business with how the tests were designed or conducted or the data was collected in some odd way, most of us would be more likely to assume if there was something wrong, it would be among those reporters who developed cancer and nevertheless requested the red program to supplement their chemotherapy.
My point… maybe most reporters are not familiar with the numbers. They haven’t seen these graphs. But they are still somewhat close to the action. And they’re better educated about what is going on than the average person. Perhaps if there are more of them that are registered Democrats than registered Republicans, there is a good reason for it.