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. He hit the elusive sweet spot that many media outlets covet, but few actually bother to pursue.
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 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 10 — 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.
As excerpted at the time by the Powerline blog, Groseclose wrote:
… What if we could magically remove the metaphoric glass and see, face-to-face, the average American, once his political views are no longer distorted by media bias? What would we see?
The answer, basically, is Ben Stein.
Yes, the actor, author, commentator, and former host of Win Ben Stein’s Money. More specific, the person whom we’d see is anyone—like Ben Stein—who has a Political Quotient near 25. 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.
Two other people whose PQs are approximately 25 are Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller. They are significantly more conservative than the average American voter, whose PQ is approximately 50. But they are significantly more liberal than politicians like Michele Bachmann or Jim DeMint.
As my results show, if we could magically eliminate media bias, then the average American would think and vote like Stein, Miller, O’Reilly, and others who have a PQ near 25.
Todd acknowledged on Wednesday that O’Reilly was not the most conservative host on Fox News, but that misses the more fundamental fact of O’Reilly’s centrism. It explains O’Reilly’s appeal — and also explains why he was often criticized by conservatives, and often scolded them in return. He was the elusive center.
Of course, to acknowledge that would be to devalue the media’s scalp in this case — and to admit the media’s own bias, which they prefer to ignore.
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