MEDIA
12/11/2018 05:06 pm ET Updated Dec 11, 2018

GOP Rep. Cites Questionable Stats On Google Bias Using Conservative Blog Post

At a congressional hearing on Google, Rep. Lamar Smith made a wild claim that has no scientific backing.

A questionable article on media bias is making waves after being introduced during a congressional hearing with Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Tuesday. 

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) brought up a blog post from conservative site PJ Media, using it to argue that internet search results are biased against President Donald Trump. 

The post, written by PJ Media supervising editor Paula Bolyard in August, included an infographic that suggests outlets like conspiracy theory site Infowars is in the same place on the political spectrum as The New York Post and The Christian Science Monitor. It also labels The Washington Post, The New York Times and NPR as far-left media outlets.

The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer flagged the chart on Twitter:

At the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Smith stated, “PJ Media found that 96 percent of search results for ‘Trump’ were from liberal media outlets” ― a reference to Bolyard’s blog post.

In her post, Bolyard’s maintained that Google was “manipulating its algorithm” to give preference to left-leaning outlets.

She backed up that claim by saying that she searched for “Trump” and found that the first page of Google News results was filled with links to outlets described as left leaning on the infographic. (The infographic was created by former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, who posted it on her personal website.)

But Bolyard criticized Smith’s use of her blog post, pointing out on Twitter that it was an “anecdotal observation” and should not be treated like a study. She added that she “never claimed it was in any way scientific.”

She pointed to Smith’s use of her article as evidence that Congress lacked the expertise to handle the Google hearing, which the committee said was intended to look into the search engine’s “data collection, use and filtering practices.”

Bolyard’s previous claim about liberal search results was eventually regurgitated by President Donald Trump on Twitter.

As for the infographic, Attkisson said that she based it on feedback from readers of her blog and “various sources,” including a 2014 chart from the Pew Research Center that categorized news sources based on the political leanings of their audiences. That said, Attkisson’s graphic is significantly different from the chart published based on Pew data:

A 2014 chart from the Pew Research Center that categorized news outlets based on readers' political leanings.
Pew Research Center
A 2014 chart from the Pew Research Center that categorized news outlets based on readers' political leanings.
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