Extra! May/June 2006
Study Finds First Drop in Think Tank Cites
Progressive groups see biggest decline
By Michael Dolny
FAIR’s annual survey of think tank citations in the mainstream media focuses attention on the groups that media turn to for “expert” sources. Rarely described politically when they are quoted (Extra!, 5-6/98), think tank sources often appear as neutral observers of the news, in contrast to partisan politicians and representatives of advocacy groups. If the media have a “liberal” bias, as conservatives have long claimed, then one would expect news outlets to seek out progressive think tanks as sources. However, in the history of this study, begun in 1996, we have instead found a consistent preference for conservative think tanks over progressive ones.
The latest survey of think tank citations-which is based on appearances in major newspapers and TV and radio transcripts that appear in the Nexis database-found that 40 percent of such citations in 2005 were to conservative or center-right groups, 47 percent were to centrist groups and only 13 percent were to center-left or progressive groups.
While total think tank citations decreased for the first time in our study, the decline was most precipitous among left-leaning think tanks. Overall, the 27,229 citations that the 25 most widely quoted think tanks garnered in 2005 was a 10 percent decline from 2004, the decline was 23 percent for left-leaning think tanks vs. 8 percent for right-leaning groups and 7 percent for centrists. No left-leaning think tank appeared in the top 10.