Distrust in the media and media usage

Really interesting post by Jonathan Ladd at the Monkey Cage looking at how media consumption patterns vary by levels of trust in the news.  First, though, he compares 2000 to 2010.  Pretty amazing to see how much this has polarized in a decade.  By 2010 partisan viewing habits had diverged quite dramatically from 2000:

He’s got another set of charts looking at viewership by trust level which he describes and then shares his conclusion:

Dividing people this way reveals that those who distrust the media are a good deal more likely to choose their news consumption in ways that confirm their predispositions. Moving from those who do not perceive a lot of media bias to those who do, Republicans go from being 9 percentage points more likely to watch network news to Democrats being 9 percentage points more likely to watch. The gap between Democrats and Republicans in their CNN viewership grows from 5 to 22 percentage points. The partisan gap in NPR listenership grows from 5 to 13 percentage points. The gap in PBS News Hour viewership grows from 7 to 13 percentage points. And the partisan gap in MSNBC viewership grows from 4 to 24 points. Among those who do not perceive a lot of bias, 56 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats watch Fox at least sometimes, a 19 percentage point gap.  But among those who perceive a lot of overall media bias, 75 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats watch Fox, a 42 point gap.

To summarize, people who distrust the institutional media learn about the political world differently. They are more likely to resist messages attributed to the institutional media that they encounter. But they also tend to be exposed to different messages than those who trust the media. They disproportionately choose media outlets that provide information reinforcing their partisan predispositions and are less likely to choose outlets they see as politically hostile. Together, these patterns contribute to partisan differences in perceptions of reality.  [emphasis mine]

Of course, while no single source truly reflects objective reality I think there’s a fair amount of empirical evidence that NPR comes dramatically closer than Fox News and that Fox viewers are truly living in their separate– and sadly, all too often, false– reality.

Photo of the day

So, April has been Autism awareness month, so on the last day I’ll link to Alan Taylor’s set of Autism-themed photos.  This is my favorite:

An autistic child cuddles a pony during a training session in a club in Paris, France, on November 8, 2003. (Reuters/Philippe Wojazer)

Lots of kids with autism really love horseback riding due the sensory input involved.  Alex certainly loves it, but I’m not sure any more than his brothers (Sarah still needs her first time upon a horse– hopefully soon).  Here’s Alex on a horse from a while back:

The ultimate asymmetry story

I got an email from a friend (and reader) yesterday with the subject, “the article you have been waiting for.”  I knew exactly what he was talking about– this fabulous essay by Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein about the major sub-theme of this blog– the current partisan asymmetry.  And, just so we’re clear, Mann and Ornstein are no shrill partisans, but highly-respected, long-time scholars of Congress.  Heck, Ornstein works for AEI.  Lots and lots of good stuff in here.  If you read one thing I link to this month, it should probably be this.   Anyway, some of my favorite parts:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

And I have to highlight the following paragraph for special love:

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

And there’s plenty more good stuff:

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented…

On financial stabilization and economic recovery, on deficits and debt, on climate change and health-care reform, Republicans have been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship. In the presidential campaign and in Congress, GOP leaders have embraced fanciful policies on taxes and spending, kowtowing to their party’s most strident voices.

And the concluding paragraphs should be pasted up on the wall of every national political reporter:

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support.

Amen!!  Fabulous essay.  Really– read the whole thing.  And, just because you really can’t show graphs like this too often, I’ll conclude with this:

I feel like I should have this chart laminated on a card to pull out every time one of my students says something like, “well, both parties…”

Inequality of opportunity

Of course, in talking about the myth of self-made men, we are really talking about the idea of equality of opportunity.   Jonathan Chait had two recent posts that deal with this point in very compelling fashion.  First:

The conservative line, articulated by such figures asArthur Brooks and Paul Ryan, makes a sharp distinction between equality of outcome, which is thoroughly evil, and equality of opportunity, which is the highest ideal. (Almost everybody opposes equality of outcome — what they oppose is virtually any steps by government to reduce inequality of outcome.) “Equal opportunity versus equal outcomes, very different political philosophy,” says Ryan.

In practice, the attempt to draw a distinction between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity collapses immediately. The number one thing parents try to do with their money is to buy better opportunities for their children. A new Brookings paper this week describes how having a more expensive home translates to better schools. The mere fact of being surrounded by richer, better-prepared students is itself an advantage. This is something we all know, of course. When you have kids, your goal is either to live in an expensive neighborhood with good public schools, or to be able to spend directly on expensive private schooling. It’s one of the things Romney himself knows — hence his comment that “one of the things [George Romney] wanted to do was provide for me and for my brother and sisters.”

Of course he did! And that is the point. The advantages George Romney transmitted to Mitt Romney include not just intelligence, height, good looks, and a stable upbringing, but a fancy private education at Cranbrook and a lot of money.

The conservative rhetoric about inequality has been attempting to sustain the pretense that Romney is merely defending his business success and the larger principle of merit. But of course, he’s also defending his own upbringing and the larger principle of inherited privilege. The fact that he did so without anybody noticing shows the degree to which, far from being “very different” things, these are one and the same.

Relatedly, Slate’s Daniel Politi points out this recent Romney nugget:

At a speech at Otterbein University in Ohio, Romney talked about how the owner of sandwich chain Jimmy John’s got started by borrowing $20,000 from his father.

“We’ve always encouraged young people: Take a shot, go for it. Take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business,” Romney said.

Democratic activists quickly pounced on the remark as another example of how the presumptive Republican nominee is out of touch.

“Only someone who paid for college by selling stock given to him by his CEO father would just casually assume students could go borrow $20,000 from their parents to deal with the economic challenges they face,” a spokesman for the Center for American Progress Action Fund tells the Associated Press.

Hooray for the founder of Jimmy John’s and more power to him, but most Americans do not have parents they can borrow $20K from to start a business.   That’s not equality of opportunity.  Somebody with the same idea and poor parents isn’t going to succeed in the same way.

Finally, Chait points out how Romney’s delusional sense of equality of opportunity is related to a very odd conception of fairness:

Romney has to couch the implications of his argument carefully, but the underlying logic is perfectly clear. He believes that fairness is defined by market outcomes. If Romney earns a thousand times as much as a nurse in Topeka, it is solely because his character, education, or hard work entitle him to that. To the extent that unfairness exists, it is solely the doing of government: clean energy, laws permitting union dues, overpaid government employees, and so on. Aside from unfairness imposed by government, poverty is attributable to the bad choices or deficient character or upbringing of poor people.

Now, I’m all for a  genuine equality of opportunity.  I have no interest in trying to mandate an equality of outcome.  But I do think that the modern Republican and Romney’s vision of equality of opportunity bears little relation to ideas of equality or opportunity.  I also think that the evidence is fairly overwhelming that many Americans do not have the same opportunity to succeed, through no fault of their own.  Heck, are my kids way better off by being my kids than by growing up with a broken family in Southeast DC?  You betcha!   For that matter, it doesn’t matter how smart and diligent I may be, if I was born in Sudan, I wouldn’t be comfortably writing this blog right now.

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