How right-wing are journalists on economic issues?

Henry Farrell writes:

…there’s plenty of survey evidence (Jonathan Chait discusses this in his recent book) that journalists tend to have somewhat right-of-center views on economic issues.

From my experience:

1. Journalists are likely to be far more cosmopolitan (pro-free trade, pro-immigration) than is the general public.

2. Journalists are more likely to be suspicious of corporations and indeed more likely to be suspicious in general.  People lie to them every day, repeatedly and often without shame.

3. Journalists are more likely to think that "good government" is in fact possible, if perhaps difficult to achieve.  If they were complete cynics, they would not become underpaid journalists. 

4. If anything, it is the odd mix between cynicism and idealism that defines the journalistic political point of view.

5. Most journalists work in a declining sector — newspapers or TV — and this does not augur well for their belief in progress and the virtues of economic growth.  They are not well-positioned to enjoy "creative destruction."

6. Not many top journalists are "far left Democrats."  But most are Democrats.  I also do not think many journalists would endorse the economic proposals of the rational wing of the Republican Party, say Greg Mankiw or Martin Feldstein.  Journalists are likely to think those proposals do not show enough concern for the poor.

7. Journalists tend to favor visible stories and neglect invisible opportunity costs and invisible hand mechanisms, which often but not always puts them against the side of the market.

8. Chait cites evidence that journalists are more likely to support cuts in Medicare and Social Security.  This comes on p.142 though it does not seem to be matched to a particular footnote.  I am willing to hear more but I am not convinced.  I wouldn’t be shocked if a Pew survey showed such responses, but when push comes to shove the self-image of "defender of the downtrodden" is more important to many journalists than "advocate of fiscal responsibility."

In sum, the left-right spectrum is not the best way to understand the economic views of journalists.  But, when it comes to economic issues, it is hard for me to put journalists on the right side of that line.

Addendum: I am indebted to Russ Roberts for a useful conversation on this topic, though of course he is not responsible for these views.


Very insightful summary, and I ought to know. I would only add my subjective impression that most journalists are downwardly mobile--they come from families of equal or (usually) higher income, and this sense of living on less while hobnobbing with the rich and powerful has a strong influence on their outlook, which is by and large unduly pessimistic except for an undying faith, constantly betrayed, in government regulation to solve problems. The downward mobility is especially pronounced in places like NY, LA and Washington, where real estate is so expensive--and the media are so important.

It's also worth noting that the biases of individual journalists are unlikely to be the same as those of journalism in the aggregate. While an individual journalist, or even the majority of individual journalists, may be sympathetic to a things-will-work-out people-will-muddle-through view (eg free trade), only the journalist who thinks that there are crises and stories to be found will end up publishing. We should expect journalism to always be more strident and activist that journalists are.

In #2 you get it wrong. It should read "Journalists lie to people every day, repeatedly and often without shame." In addition, journalists are only marginally better than politicians who always lie without shame. For additional evidence, please read online newspapers from Spain and South America.

IMHO it does not matter what Journalists economic beliefs are because they are driven by the sensational and that leads to attack on corporations which attracts eyes. This bias toward sensational always leads to calls for more government intervention even when they expose government the idea is to reform it or make it bigger.

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and thus clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." -- H.L. Mencken

One could say: the whole aim of Journalists is to keep the populace alarmed – and thus clamorous to tune in a 11 for the full story -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

Michael Vassar-

Please tell me the names of the members of the rational wing of the Democratic Party. I assume that you are referring to members of the national government.

"Journalists tend to favor visible stories and neglect invisible opportunity costs and invisible hand mechanisms, which often but not always puts them against the side of the market."

Speaking as a journalist, this, in my experience, is the biggest problem.

In my experience -- some 10 years removed from newspapering -- staff at smaller publications are more politically heterogenous.

But the bias in favor of storylines is universal.

I linked to Kling's linking of yours at this post, commenting on the Washington Post's piece on Stoneridge today.

An addendum: so much of journalism constitues of the find problem/fix problem narrative, and the "leave things as they are and things will gradually and imperceptibly improve through a poorly understood -- even 'invisible' -- process" doesn't fit the narrative very well.

-->Journalists rightly know that
most people do not have good motives, and so are skeptical of markets and economic freedom.<-- And, of course, that is famously 180 degrees off. It is the free market that drives people who do not necessarily have "good" motives to do things that help society as a whole. See _The Wealth of Nations_ by Adam Smith.

Journalists tend not to challenge the status quo, or if they do, they do it through using the linguistic and conceptual structures provided by a distinct alternative set of views.

Few journalists have the financial incentives or freedom or background to absolutely start afresh with their thinking and writing.

In the business sphere, few challenge received wisdoms. This has the effect of adding to booms and busts. But in this, they are just the same as anyone else, just more visible.

Disclosure: am a financial journalist.

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