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Mainstream Thinking

Filed under: Media

extra cover
In the latest edition of Extra!, the magazine produced by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Michael Dolny reports that the 25 biggest think tanks in the US were cited 17 percent less often in 2007 than they were in 2006.

I don’t know what that means exactly—whether journalists are lazier or less trusting of think tanks; whether the think tanks are doing crap work or not promoting it properly; if there is a generally ant-intellectual trend in our public discourse that causes consumers of information to cast a cold eye on what Brookings has to say about, for example, the costs/benefits of cleaning up the fouled Great Lakes. Dolny’s report provides fodder for conversation but no real answer. However, I think one can draw some conclusions from looking at which of those think tanks do get cited most often in the press: The dominant media isn’t liberal at all. It’s middle of the road with a cant toward the right-hand gutter.

According to FAIR: “47 percent of citations went to centrist think tanks, 37 percent to conservative or right-leaning think tanks, and 16 percent to progressive or left-leaning think tanks” in 2007. The study says that breakdown is about the same as the previous year. Twebty of the top 25 think tanks range from center to right wing. FAIR—in its relentless fairness—counts the Council on Foreign Relations and RAND as centrist. Heritage, Hoover and Manhattan are conservative. The Center for Economic and Policy Research is “progressive”; the Carter Center is “center-left.”

The think tanks on the progressive side, by and large, work on domestic economic policy. They are hardly revolutionaries, calling for, say, a multiple-party parliamentary government, let alone collectivism or anarchy. Those think tanks known for specialists in foreign policy almost all fall in the range from the center, such as Brookings, to the neoconservative right, such as the American Enterprise Institute.

The article is worth reading, but you can get the gist from this chart (editor’s note—the chart originally posted contained an error; FAIR just released this one today, 3/26):

think tank chart