Adventures in Journalistic Rigor with the “California Review”
By Taylor Marvin
UCSD’s California Review has an article that discovers — surprise — that UCSD’s campus newspaper The Guardian leans left. In pretty unconvinced by the basic metric of the article — attempting to score Guardian articles by their political bias is inherently subjective and dependent on the author’s definition of conservatism, and I’m confident that I could repeat author Gabriella Hoffman’s methods and prove The Guardian to be a mildly right-wing paper. Also, the revelation that the student-run paper of a caucasian-minority, University of California campus that draw most of its students from Democratic counties leans editorially left isn’t exactly worthy of a Pulitzer. Most politically-active UCSD students tend to the left, so it isn’t surprising that The Guardian’s writers do as well. If the California Review’s editors want to advance a conservative perspective within The Guardian’s editorial content, they should join The Guardian. Given the UCSD student body’s appreciation for on-campus publications, I’m sure The Guardian could use the enthusiasm.
The California Review’s metric for ranking left vs. right leaning articles is particularly ridiculous. Since when do conservatives have a monopoly on “fiscal responsibility?” Has Ms. Hoffman never heard of the Reagan or second Bush administrations? Couldn’t I claim that, given the mainstream and throughly disproven Republican position that national tax-cuts raise revenue, that pro-fiscal responsibility editorials lean left? It gets worse. An “anti-Islam” slant is conservative, rather than just bigoted? Being “pro-military” is ranked as conservative, which probably explains all the Democrats in Congress who don’t support the troops. And I’m sorry, if you disparage “alternative lifestyles” in 2011 you look like a bigot, and also someone who doesn’t realize it’s 2011. Please. The phrase “alternative lifestyles” is only acceptable if you’re a mid-1960s parent worried about your son becoming a hippie. The best part? The sample size: “At least 305.” That’s statistical rigor.
Update: Ms. Hoffman’s response can be found here. What’s unfortunate is that while I don’t dispute her core thesis that the Guardian tends to the left, her method of demonstrating this is entirely unconvincing. Editorial slants and political beliefs in general are so hard to quantify that bias is extremely difficult to demonstrate in anything by the most obvious cases, which, combined with her loose definition of a liberal bias, substantially weakens The California Review’s argument.
Update II: And wait, I call The Guardian “right-wing?” I though it was obvious I was arguing that Ms. Hoffman’s method was subjective enough that another author using the same procedure could claim The Guardian is a conservative paper, not that The Guardian is actually right-wing. I’m also going to steal the name “The Prospect,” it’s much more important sounding than what we have now.
Update III: Interesting. When I first viewed the California Review piece last night at about 10:00pm, it prominently displayed a disclaimer by the editor reiterating the author’s views were her own and not necessarily those of the publication as a whole. As of 8:00am this morning this disclaimer has been taken down.