Sunday, November 4, 2012

Using science to detect bias in the news

From time to time I listen to the NPR - I normally do this when progressive right-wing radio (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Mark Levin) is either off the air, or there is a commercial. And I normally notice the left-wing bias of the reporting quite easily. I remember back in 2008, NPR reported about the epic struggle between Obama and McCain. First, NPR reporter with Obama campaign presented Obama's side - the future president was extensively quoted (at least 2-3 minutes of his speech was run uninterrupted, with the usual theme of evil republicans, president Bush, and how Obama would solve all the problems). Next was the NPR reporter with McCain's campaign. He also quoted McCain's speech - and it lasted something like 10 seconds - McCain speech was limited to his greetings to the audience. It is also a rather normal thing for NPR, when quoting Romney, to put him in context (i.e. quote the Democratic rebuttal), while Obama's quotes are left unchallenged.

I am too lazy to search for transcripts from NPR, so instead I decided to concentrate on CNN - a supposedly mainstream, middle of the road news agency. In order to provide scientific proof of the mainstream media bias, I will compare two recent articles from CNN, which can be found on their site today and which are run concurrently. I will use statistical analysis to compare the reporting on both candidates - and I will let science to show if the conservative claims about liberal bias hold water.

Both articles were written to answer essentially same question:
If Romney takes the White House and If Obama wins a second term

Article #1, A Romney presidency: 'Bringing people together' faces reality check
Analysis: The subtitle itself questions if Romney is honest about his claims that he will bring people together. But it would be more beneficial to look at statistics of who is quoted in the article. It starts with a quote from Romney, 58 words. It then refers to unnamed Romney's critics who believe he is lying (35 words), who also quote Romney out of context to demonstrate his insincerity (17 words). After this, the article quotes a Romney supporter, who attempts to fight back the critics, (72 words). This is followed by a quote from someone from a self-described independent (28 words).  Reid's former spokesman Jim Manley is given his chance to threaten Romney if he tries to push for conservative agenda (57 words). A self-described independent Widmer then proceeds to attack the Tea Party (20 words). After that, another quote Romney, 50 words in all. The article ends with a short quote from Romney strategist, 22 words.

Romney: 108 words (not counting out-of-context quote by Democrats - 17 words)
Romney supporters: 94 words
Independents: 48 words
Democrat critics: 92 words

Article #2, Second Obama term would confront fiscal crisis before inauguration
Analysis: While the subtitle for Romney called into question his sincerity, the Obama article accentuates the difficulties that president Obama would have to overcome.
The article starts with quote from a Democrat who claims that Romney and Ryan "fake compassion". This claim is immediately put in context of evil republicans (13 words). It then proceeds with a account of fiscal difficulties that lie ahead. David Axelrod gives his criticism of the Republican party (54 words). It then quotes Obama (45 words), immediately followed up with a quote from Obama's policy director (30 words). Senator Durbin, a democrat that gives his opinion, (43 words), and some unnamed democrats (19 words). After some indirect quotes from democrats, Durbin manages to put in another 18 words. Barack Obama comes back on the stage with 28 words, and Durbin again (15 words). Obama's strategist kicks in 84 words explaining Obama's agenda for illegal immigration reform. Some unnamed democrats add 16 words of wisdom. President Obama, not to be outdone, offers his opinion about Republicans (57 words), with David Axelrod finishing it (56 words). Unnamed Democrats add their support for the president and their disdain for evil Republicans (122 words). Mitch McConnell (Republican) is quoted (23 words) to show his past disagreement with Obama.  The last quote in the article is from Obama's adviser, 33 words.

Obama: 130 words,
Obama supporters: 503 words
Independents: 0 words
Republican critics: 23 words

Comparison between articles
In the article about Romney, GOP/DNC quote ratio was 2.2
In the article about Obama, DNC/GOP quote ratio was 27.5.

Statistical Conclusion: CNN bias in quoting is about 10:1 in favor of Democrats.

GM, Chrysler and Boeing

The latest political scandal is Romney's attempt to blame Barack Obama for GM and Chrysler attempt to drastically increase their facilities outside of US. Italian owned Chrysler is moving its Jeep production to China according to Bloomberg report, while according to Forbes, GM is outsourcing its production to Mexico, Russia, India and China. It was left unsaid that NASA is now outsourcing its manned space program to Russia, while its work is now limited to 3 main tasks (neither of which have anything to do with space). According to the head of NASA:

"When I became the NASA administrator -- or before I became the NASA administrator -- he [Barack Obama] charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science ... and math and engineering,"

While the Obama's NASA debacle is not talked about much, Romney's comments about Chrysler and GM outsourcing were challenged directly by Obama, his friends in the media as well as GM's and Chrysler's management. The main argument made by Obama, et al was that massive investments overseas by the bailed out car companies did not effect the Americans workers and thus cannot be called "outsourcing".

Yahoo diligently quotes Barack Obama attacking governor Romney:

"When you try to change the facts just because it's convenient to your campaign, that's not change.Trying to massage facts, that's not change," Obama told a lively crowd of about 2,800 supporters here at the Franklin County Fairgrounds.
"We've been seeing this out of Gov. Romney and his friends over the last few weeks right here in Ohio," the president continued. "You've got folks that work at the Jeep plant who've been calling their employers worried, asking, Is it true? Are our jobs being shipped to China? And the reason they're making these calls is because Gov. Romney's been running an ad that says so. They said, That's not true. Everybody knows that's not true. The car companies have told Gov. Romney to knock it off."

One peculiar thing about Obama's defense of GM/Chrysler's outsourcing is its inconsistency with the previous decisions by his administration. Apparently, Obama believes that if a company opens a new factory outside US, and does not cut any facilities in US, then there is no outsourcing. Yet, in 2011, when Boeing decided to extend its manufacturing capabilities to "right of work" South Carolina, and invested there 750 million dollars, the Obama administration immediately filed a lawsuit against Boeing. The reason for this swift action was apparent - Obama-friendly union of Boeing workers was in the middle of negotiations with the Boeing management, and they needed some help from their friend in the White House. And what could be better than a threat by the Labor Department to shut down Boeing's expansion to South Carolina? In the end, under the threat of losing billions of dollars, Boeing offered the unions  much better contract than they could expect otherwise:

On Wednesday night, the union announced that 74 percent of its 31,000 Boeing workers in Washington State had voted to ratify a four-year contract extension that includes substantial raises, unusual job security provisions and a commitment by Boeing to expand aircraft production in the Puget Sound area,”

It's quite clear that Obama and the media would treat an expansion of a private business to other parts of US as "outsourcing" - if such understanding may benefit unions contributing to Obama. And this is a legal decision by the Labor Department, even if the expansion includes the United States territory. But when it concerns the businesses friendly to Barack Obama, then the same theory does not hold water, particularly if it can hurt Obama's chances for reelection.

So, my dear leader, when an Obama supporter asks you about Romney's talk about GM and Chrysler outsourcing, don't forget to mention the curious case of the Boeing corporation.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What this presidental election is about: Paul Krugman speaketh

Among liberal intellectuals, Paul Krugman is a man in his own category. On one side, he is a Nobel Prize laureate for his work on international trade, professor of economics at Princeton, and a NYT columnist. He is also famous for being a paid consultant for Enron, a energy giant that declared bankruptcy in 2001. For the last few decades, Paul Krugman became known for his unabashed advocacy of the left-wing causes (welfare socialism, anti-Israel jihad and affirmative action). His articles in the NYT became a source of pride for partisan liberals - and embarrassment for the left-wingers who haven't yet subscribed to the maxim "ends justify the means". The NYT own public editor publicly acknowledged that:
Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.

 Serious non-partisan economists like Robert Barro and Edward Prescott express quite evident contempt for Paul Krugman and don't even consider him to be a professional macro-economist. There are, of course, plenty of right-wing bloggers who entertain themselves by attacking Krugman's multiple straw men and distortions. Here is one nice article mocking the Enron consultant, entitled "Why Paul Krugman Doesn’t Like Us. And Vice Versa".

But while the economics professor with perpetually frightened eyes (look at any of his photos) is wrong about practically everything, still, from time to time he writes things that are undeniably correct - and I suspect that he later regrets telling the truth. I was particularly impressed with one of his latest articles about the meaning of the 2012 presidential election. According to Krugman:

Voters are, in effect, being asked to deliver a verdict on the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society, on Social Security, Medicare and, yes, Obamacare, which represents an extension of that legacy.

He goes even further with a rather interesting assertion:

Will they [American people] vote for politicians who want to replace Medicare with Vouchercare, who denounce Social Security as “collectivist” (as Paul Ryan once did), who dismiss those who turn to social insurance programs as people unwilling to take responsibility for their lives?

Of course, since the article was published on September 30, 2012, Paul Krugman was under the arrogant impression that Barack Obama would be re-elected,  and he was worried if people's would be followed.

If the polls are any indication, the result of that referendum will be a clear reassertion of support for the safety net, and a clear rejection of politicians who want to return us to the Gilded Age. But here’s the question: Will that election result be honored?

Paul Krugman then proceeds to advice Obama not only to continue, but accelerate the failed policies: spend more, borrow more and ignore the coming bankruptcy of the entitlement programs. The professor rejects the need for any type of compromise with Republican party and violently objects to an idea of reforming Social Security. He ends the article with a stern warning to Barack Obama:

This election is, as I said, shaping up as a referendum on our social insurance system, and it looks as if Mr. Obama will emerge with a clear mandate for preserving and extending that system. It would be a terrible mistake, both politically and for the nation’s future, for him to let himself be talked into snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Of course, Paul Krugman does not spend any time on discussing the other possibility - that Obama would lose. It's a common joke that economists prefer to weight different options and possibilities. It's quite obvious that Paul Krugman is blind to any alternatives to his worldview. But I hope that the readers of my blog have a somewhat more complex view of the universe, so we need to look at the possibility that Mitt Romney will be elected president. And in this case, Krugman's claims will definitely hold water - it will be a referendum on the "New Deal and the Great Society, on Social Security, Medicare and, yes, Obamacare", and if he wins, Romney will be given the authority to dismantle the entire liberal structure which is choking American economy. So, Dear Reader, please, save this article for November 6th, and don't forget to send it to your liberal friends. Directly from the horse's mouth - American people voted against liberalism. The question is - will liberals honor the will of the people if they lose? And a more important question is - if Romney wins, when will Krugman write an article proclaiming that Romney has no mandate?