Bill O’Reilly’s Secret: He Was a Centrist, Not a ConservativeAnd we know this is true how exactly? Science!
The mainstream media are celebrating the ouster of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, with CNN offering virtually wall-to-wall coverage. But they are overstating his political importance. MSNBC’s Chuck Todd called O’Reilly a “leader” in the conservative movement, which is more wishful thinking than reality.
In truth, the secret of O’Reilly’s success was that he was a centrist.
Professor Tim Groseclose (formerly of UCLA, now of George Mason), who is the best authority on political leanings in the media, used data analysis in Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind in 2011 to show that not only were most media outlets left of center, but also that public opinion was further left than it would have been were it not for the media’s effect. On a scale of 0 to 100 — zero being most conservative, and 100 most liberal — the true center of the American public, absent media influence, was around 25, Groseclose argued. And O’Reilly, on the same objective scale, registered as exactly that: 25.Except, um, O'Reilly wasn't measured on an "objective scale," as Groseclose admitted in his book:
The Political Quotient is a device that I construct to measure political views in a precise, objective, and quantitative way. A person’s PQ indicates the degree to which he is liberal. For instance, as I have calculated, the PQs of Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) are approximately 100. Meanwhile the PQs of noted conservatives Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) are approximately 0.And, in fact, when you get to the book's endnotes, Groseclose admits that he pulled this rating for O'Reilly (and Miller) completely out of his ass:
Two other people whose PQs are approximately 25 are Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller.
(Groseclose also gave a 25 rating to Ben Stein, who's so centrist he blames Charles Darwin for the Holocaust.)
Which is not to say that Groseclose does much better when he relies on hard numbers rather than"my estimate ... based on anecdotal research." He labels Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi as maximally liberal. In fact, in 2012, the last year when both were in the House, National Journal ranked Pelosi the 66th most liberal House member and Frank the 79th. This was based on 118 votes in the House. Perhaps surprisingly, 79 members of the House were more conservative than Bachmann; that ranking makes more sense when you see some of the names ahead of Bachmann -- Mike Pence, Steve King, Todd Akin, Devin Nunes, Trey Gowdy, Darrell Issa, and Joe "You Lie" Wilson.
I don't trust Groseclose's methodology in any case. As Paul Waldman explained when the book was published, Groseclose's method of ascertaining media bias is convoluted and preposterous:
... Groseclose and [co-author Jeffrey] Milyo attempted to "measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets" based on the frequency with which various think tanks and advocacy organizations were cited approvingly by the media and by members of Congress over a 10-year period. In order to assess media "bias," Groseclose and Milyo assembled the ideological scores given to members of Congress by the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action; examined the floor speeches of selected members to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were cited by those members; used those citations as the basis for an ideological score assigned to each think tank (organizations cited by liberal members were scored as more liberal, whereas organizations cited by conservative members were scored as more conservative); then performed a content analysis of newspapers and TV programs to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were quoted. If a news organization quoted a think tank mentioned by conservative members of Congress, then it was said to have a conservative "bias." ...If you can't wrap your head around that, just look at some of the results Groseclose and his partner arrived at for think tanks and other organizations:
In other words, the study rests on a presumption that can only be described as bizarre: If a member of Congress cites a think tank approvingly, and if that think tank is also cited by a news organization, then the news organization has a "bias" making it an ideological mirror of the member of Congress who cited the think tank. This, as Groseclose and Milyo define it, is what constitutes "media bias."
* National Rifle Association of America (NRA) scored a 45.9, making it "conservative" -- but just barely.Also:
* RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization (motto: "OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS. EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS.") with strong ties to the Defense Department, scored a 60.4, making it a "liberal" group.
* Council on Foreign Relations, whose tagline is "A Nonpartisan Resource for Information and Analysis" (its current president is a former Bush administration official; its board includes prominent Democrats and Republicans from the foreign policy establishment) scored a 60.2, making it a "liberal" group.
* American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), bête noire of the right, scored a 49.8, putting it just on the "conservative" side of the ledger.
Their odd categorizations led to some startling conclusions, including the result stating that The Wall Street Journal has more "liberal bias" than any news outlet they surveyed.In other words, Groseclose and Milyo are incompetent hacks.
Want to know whether O'Reilly was a conservative? Let's go to a 2012 Pew survey:
The regular audiences for Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly continue to be dominated by conservatives: About seven-in-ten or more of each of these audiences describe their political views as conservative, compared with 35% of the general public. And while Republicans comprise just 24% of the public, they make up half or more of the regular audiences of these three news outlets.
Conservatives, do us a favor: Don't attempt science. This is what happens.