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CULTURE DIGEST: UCLA study says major media outlets are liberal; Christian colleges enjoy growth spurt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A first-of-its-kind look at media bias, which included comparing news stories to congressional speeches, revealed that coverage by public television and radio is conservative compared to the rest of the mainstream media but that almost all major media outlets are liberal.

“While the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is conservative, the newspaper’s news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times,” the study found, according to a Dec. 14 news release by the University of California-Los Angeles, which conducted the research. “The Drudge Report may have a right-wing reputation, but it leans left.”

The study, which appears in the latest issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, is believed to be the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly, the news release said.

“I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican,” Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist and the study’s lead author, said. “But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are.”

Researchers incorporated a method used by Americans for Democratic Action, which tracks the percentage of times that each lawmaker votes on the liberal side of an issue. ADA then assigns a numerical score to each lawmaker, where 100 is the most liberal and 0 is the most conservative. The average ADA score in Congress, which is 50.1, is assumed to represent the political position of the average U.S. voter.

UCLA then enlisted 21 research assistants to examine U.S. media coverage for the past decade and tally the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups such as the left-leaning NAACP or the conservative Heritage Foundation. The same was done with speeches of members of Congress, and the process took nearly three years to complete.

Of the 20 major media outlets UCLA studied, 18 scored left of center, with The Wall Street Journal, CBS Evening News, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times leading the pack, the research indicated. Only Fox News’ “Special Report with Brit Hume” and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter. Of the print media, USA Today was the most centrist.

News that the Drudge Report was slightly left of center surprised some.

“One thing people should keep in mind is that our data for the Drudge Report was based almost entirely on the articles that the Drudge Report lists on other websites,” Groseclose said. “Very little was based on the stories that Matt Drudge himself wrote. The fact that the Drudge Report appears left of center is merely a reflection of the overall bias of the media.”

For more information, visit http://newsroom.ucla.edu/.

CHRISTIAN COLLEGES RISE IN POPULARITY — Enrollment has increased 70.6 percent since 1990, from 135,000 to 230,000, at the 102 evangelical schools belonging to the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, according to a report by USA Today Dec. 14.

During the same period, enrollments at public colleges increased by 12.8 percent, and at private colleges the increase was 28 percent.

Alexander Astin, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles, said the growth marks a turnaround from the 1960s and ‘70s when religious colleges struggled to attract students. About 120 religious colleges closed between 1960 and 1979, USA Today said.

The article suggested students are drawn to the smaller, Christian schools because the large size of many public universities makes it more difficult to develop deep, meaningful relationships with peers. Also, religious students often prefer to study in an environment where their beliefs will be respected rather than criticized or challenged.

“There is a sense that the people who dominate the faculties at secular universities do have an antipathy toward traditional religion,” Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of “God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America,” told USA Today. “It’s nice for [students] to go to a place where they don’t have to always be defending their beliefs.”

USA Today mentioned Cedarville University, a Christian school in Cedarville, Ohio, affiliated with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio. Richard Chewning of Siloam Springs, Ark., is paying more in tuition than he would for a secular school so that his granddaughter can attend Cedarville.

“The worst form of destruction for a younger person’s worldview is to take it into an environment where it is laughed at and ridiculed,” Chewning, a retired Baylor University ethicist, told USA Today. An 18-year-old is “like a hot-house tomato. If you stick them in a humanistically oriented university … they’re going to get scorched rather than watered.”

FEWER TEENS USING ILLEGAL DRUGS — The good news is that more teenagers are avoiding illegal drugs like heroin and marijuana, but the bad news is that they are opting instead to abuse prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Ambien, according to a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Alcohol use and cigarette smoking among teenagers are at historic lows, but sedative abuse is at its highest rate in 26 years, the annual study, released Dec. 19, found.

Researchers noted a cultural shift, according to The New York Times, as today’s teenagers have grown up in a society where prescription pills are the common cure for any problem.

“They become part of our everyday lives,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said. “You see an ad for medication the way you see an ad for shampoo, and the message is that it’s just like an everyday thing.”

Add to that the fact that prescription drugs are more widely available than illegal drugs and do not carry the negative stigma that cocaine and heroine have developed. Also, many young people tend to believe prescription drugs are safe because they are legal.

Federal studies estimate that six million American adults abuse prescription drugs, The Times said, so students are simply falling into that trend.

The NIDA study showed an almost 19 percent decline in past-month use of any illicit drug by 8th, 10th and 12th graders between 2001 and 2005, and more specifically, past-month use of marijuana has fallen by 28 percent among 8th graders and by 23 percent among 10th graders.

But the significant increase in non-medical use of prescription medications concerns researchers.

“I’m pleased to see the decreased drug use noted in this survey. However, the upward trend in prescription drug abuse is disturbing,” Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, of which NIDA is a division, said. “We need to ensure that young people understand the very real risks of abusing any drug.”

For more information, visit www.nida.nih.gov/newsroom.

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  • Erin Curry Roach