Left Versus Right - Which Side Is Really Meaner, Liberals Or Conservatives?
    By News Staff | February 11th 2011 10:27 AM | 16 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    When the shootings in Arizona occurred, various pundits in the media jumped on 'right ring radio' and 'culture of hate' (meaning conservative news programs) despite the fact that the shooter was not political and did not even watch shows like Fox News.

    If your prism is left, you tend to view even the center as the right, so mainstream media can be somewhat forgiven for demonizing all qualities they dislike as being right wing (it happens in science also - various scientists and bloggers have no idea there are left wing anti-science positions but can recite entire volumes of anti-science right wing issues) but is it really the case that the right is 'meaner' than the left?   

    They're both pretty mean, say social scientists at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences, but they say that while 'outrage' talk is endemic among commentators of all political stripes, it is more prevalent on the political right, and is overall more prevalent than it was even during the the war in Viet Nam and the Watergate scandal.   

    Now, first you have to calibrate social science a little.   There is no objective measure of 'outrage talk' in the science sense readers here will accept as valid, so instead Tufts Assistant Professor of Sociology Sarah Sobieraj and Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Berry basically watched TV, listened to the radio and read political sites (take that for what you will, since their bias is unclear) for what they call 'outrage talk' in leading talk radio and cable news analysis programs, political blogs and newspaper columns. 

    The term 'outrage talk' refers to a form of political discourse involving efforts to provoke visceral responses, such as anger, righteousness, fear or moral indignation, through the use of over-generalizations, sensationalism, misleading information, ad hominem attacks and partial truths about opponents.     If you are left wing, think
    Michael Savage.  If you are right wing, think Keith Olbermann.

    Their examination of both ideologically conservative and liberal content revealed that outrage talk, often infused with hateful terminology and imagery, is pervasive, not just an occasional emotional eruption.    During a 10-week period in the spring of 2009, four researchers reviewed evening cable TV, national radio talk shows, ideological political blogs and mainstream newspaper columns for 13 variables, such as insulting language, name calling and mis-representative exaggeration. Researchers also judged overall tone of each sample and proportion of outrage language.

    Almost 9 out of 10 cases sampled, or 89.6 percent, contained at least one outrage incident. One hundred percent of TV episodes and 98.8 percent of talk radio programs contained outrage incidents, while 82.8 percent of blog posts incorporated outrage writing. In some cases, outrage speech or behavior occurred at a rate of more than one instance per minute.

    Who's Meaner: Progressives or Conservatives? 

    When it comes to inflammatory language, was one side really worse than the other during that 10-week period? Yes, they claim: "Our data indicate that the right uses decidedly more outrage speech than the left. Taken as a whole, liberal content is quite nasty in character, following the outrage model of emotional, dramatic and judgment-laden speech. Conservatives, however, are even nastier." 

    Their analysis of media during that 10-week period found them seeing the political right engaging in an average of 15.57 outrage acts per case, while the left engaged in 10.32 acts per case.    However, as Sobieraj and Berry noted, although the left and right do not use outrage equally, they use it in ways that are remarkably similar. 

    "Whether it's MSNBC's Keith Olbermann spitting out his coffee because of some conservative transgression or radio host Michael Savage venomously impugning the character of immigrants, cable television, talk radio and blogs overflow with outrage rhetoric, and even mainstream newspaper columns are not above the fray," they said.

    It isn't just television and radio.   They found outrage language is now common among the nation's leading newspaper columnists also.    But is it different now, or do older people in journalism and the population simply romanticize the past?    Sobieraj and Berry studied 10 widely syndicated columnists during 10-week periods in both 1955 and 1975. They chose these dates to see if the tumultuous period of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War protests and the Watergate scandal led to greater outrage in newspapers at that time. They found the answer was no.

    "Outrage is virtually absent from both the 1955 and the 1975 columns, in contrast to the columns of 2009 which contain, on average, nearly six instances of outrage per column," said the Tufts scholars. "The titans of American journalism in 1955 and 1975 remained restrained in their language despite the impassioned politics of protest."

    Interestingly, this calmer period in journalism had a swing toward both right and left in that time.   Journalism in the mainstream media was primarily right until the mid-1960s and then swung to the left yet the outrage talk remained low, likely due to the consistency of editorial policy which helped level out the personal commentary.

    The researchers blame today's model of outrage-oriented political commentary on content providers facing an incredibly competitive environment who are desperate to attract audience members and advertisers.    If Rush Limbaugh is successful, it must be because of 'outrage', product planners insist, so they hire people of both sides to be more outrageous.

    Citation: Sarah Sobieraj, Jeffrey M. Berry, 'From Incivility to Outrage: Political Discourse in Blogs, Talk Radio, and Cable News ', Political Communication, Volume 28, Issue 1 January 2011 , pages 19 - 41 DOI: 10.1080/10584609.2010.542360


    "If your prism is left, you tend to view even the center as the right, so mainstream media can be somewhat forgiven for demonizing all qualities they dislike as being right wing[...]"

    Whoa, implicit bias ahoy. With this statement, you suggest that "mainstream media" is somehow "left" in its view.

    I'd expect that "left" biased media would be a lot more aggressive about taking on favorite "liberal" hobbyhorses, such as corporate greed, social injustice, and warmongering.

    I don't see a lot of that happening in the "mainstream media", though.

    Well, they are left, at least at the top.   I'm not saying it's bad but pretending journalists are neutral is in defiance of their own statements.    You have to understand how journalists get where they are - they start off doing the night beat in court, or some other low prestige job, and they see the absolute worst than can happen to people and have to constantly think about how to fix it.   Who wouldn't go left when doing nothing means more of the same?
    The reason right wing radio was able to find a place was because it was a contrast to the ordinary media, which was very left, at least 20 years ago when right wing radio took off.   Is the media more balanced now?   It is, sure - but anyone who looks at the BBC or Fox News as being truly neutral is in defiance of what is obvious.    Everyone has at least a token left or right wing person now but various outlets have a slant because they like the audience it brings in.   Otherwise there would be no NY Times and Wall Street Journal.  
    "If your prism is left, you tend to view even the center as the right, so mainstream media can be somewhat forgiven for demonizing all qualities they dislike as being right wing[...]"
    Likewise, if your prism is right, you tend to view even the most centrist of views as leftist, consequentially the oft-repeated canard of the "left-leaning" media. There is NO meaningful left wing in American politics. While most European democracies have their Socialist, Communist, and other left wing parties, there are no comparable parties in America. The net effect is a continuous compromise between the center and the right wing, resulting in a continuous drift to the right. If you look at the ideals espoused by radical right-wing politicians of the 1960's you find them far to the left of today's mainstream.

    I did not see a single mainstream media source or social scientist portray the Arizona shooter as a product of left wing talk radio or left wing hate speech - every single one who delved into attributing cause to something arbitrary blamed the right, even though the criminal had no political agenda of any kind and did not watch or listen to news at all.

    So your assertion that the media and academia is right wing, and yet they kneejerk blamed fellow right wing people, is not carrying much weight.  

    You may be speaking on a wider topic.  If so, you should not quote mine me for out-of-context snippets and manipulate them to suit your agenda.  That's the kind of thing schlock commentators on both sides do.
    I can attest to the fact that the left are much more full of hate! They use the word regularly about anyone that disagrees with their political views! Very narrow minded. I am a conservative and never, ever do I feel that I hate anyone! I feel we can disagree without being disagreeable!! I do not agree with Obama's politics, but I do not dislike the man personally. Hate is such a harsh word. I have noticed so many young people on Facebook appear to not really understand what freedom and democracy is all about. They are being taught America is a bad country and that other countries have it better. How did that happen? We have to take a look at our schools, especially on the college level. Bottom line is, when God and the Pledge of Allegiance were removed from the schools, everything was downhill from there. Somebody please explain why Christians are not allowed to pray in public, school events, etc when Muslims have special prayer rooms in some public schools????

    Gerhard Adam
    If you can identify yourself as being "right" or "left", then you have an obvious bias.  Any problem that can be approached or discussed with some arbitrary classification scheme (i.e. right or left) isn't going to be subject to rational discourse.  Similarly, when one side or the other attempts to classify the individual as being "right or left", they've also given up any rational basis for a discussion.  Ideas are simply ideas.  You may like them or not.  There may be evidence to support them or not, but they are not intrinsically biased if they are presented as a solution to a particular problem.  It is up to intelligent discourse to determine how applicable they are.

    The problem today is that no one wants to discuss ideas as much as they want to fight over ideology.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Oh, come on....'Which side is meaner' is Science, yet The Mayan Calendar/spooky unreal stuff about water/consciousness isn't?

    .....ha ha ha

    That gives 'mean' a new average 'mean'ing, eh?

    If social scientists write a study on water memory and we want to make fun of it, sure, it can be here.   Likewise we have had plenty of articles ridiculing the Mayans or Aztecs or whatever kooky calendar gullible people are following in 2011.  What's the issue?   
    Got it in one, Hank....ridicule

    However me ridiculing 'Social Science' using the term 'mean' whilst talking about Politics, which the mainstream Sciences use for different purpose

    ...and I used a play on words....'mean'ing

    So what, only Scientists get to ridicule? ;-)

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Great website Henry! For example, did you know that the difference between amoral and immoral is :- 1. An amoral person does not care about morality (what is right or what is wrong) mainly because he doesn’t understand or doesn’t know what morality is (to begin with). 2. An immoral person is someone who is just doing things contrary to morals. So that must mean that people can behave in both amoral and immoral ways simultaneously and/or exclusively.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Gerhard Adam
    So that must mean that people can behave in both amoral and immoral ways simultaneously and/or exclusively.
    Actually it doesn't, because if one is immoral, then one clearly knows that morals apply and are simply acting contrary to that knowledge, whereas someone that is amoral doesn't consider morals to be applicable to them.  They are above morals, so they can't be both.

    I run into the same thing when describing asocial behavior in animals (i.e. those that have no sense of society) versus anti-social behavior which specifically represents behavior that goes against society (and therefore requires an understanding of what is expected).
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    That’s what I thought Gerhard but the website gives an example of a Henry (no relation to Henry Cox of course) who does an act that is considered to be both amoral and immoral :-
    To further exemplify how different these two terms are, here is one good example. Henry committed an act of infidelity against his wife and is now known as an immoral person by his peers and friends. But sadly, he didn’t mind them as he is an amoral person.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually that makes my point.  Henry doesn't consider himself immoral, only someone external to him does, because he is being judged by their standards and not his own.  In his mind, he is amoral, since he doesn't see morality as being applicable to himself.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Great website Henry! For example, did you know that the difference between amoral and immoral is :-.....
    No hint as to whether this is 'left' or 'right'....however, that site also hints that there has to be a conscious soul to be moral [and with a moral compass, no less - lest one gets lost, maybe?!]
    1.Spirit and soul can and are used interchangeably because their subtle shades of meaning vary from culture to culture.
    2.Both terms reference life and the invisible internal force that makes us human.
    3.The soul most often refers to something inside a human being that provides him with a moral compass.
    4.A spirit can be inside a body or disassociated with it; it can also inhabit plants, animals, and other aspects of nature.

    Read more: Difference Between Soul and Spirit | Difference Between | Soul vs Spirit
    Not that that will impress anyone here...


    PS: It definitely wasn't me
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I believe you :)
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    I'd make two points.

    First, the mainstream media like mainstream politics is centrist at best and right-leaning at worst. If you want to look for true liberal media, you have to look to alternative media where you'll find people such as Thom Hartmann and Noam Chomsky who are both very calm intellectuals who don't use much 'outrage' talk.

    This right-leaning mainstream media is problematic because the majority of Americans are progressively liberal on many of the major issues, often more progressively liberal than what is considered 'liberal' in mainstream media and politics.

    Second, I dislike 'outrage' talk, but I don't see it as necessarily dangerous. The study does show conservatives are more prone to outrage talk. As as a liberal, I find that annoying. What bothers me even more apparently wasn't clarified by this study. Beyond mere 'outrage' talk, conservatives are particularly more likely to use violent rhetoric which is very dangerous.