Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Wonk If You Love Policy

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Wonk If You Love Policy

Article excerpt

"Think Tanks in the U.S. Media" by Andrew Rich and R. Kent Weaver, in Press/Politics (Fall 2000), Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Mass. 02138.

Policy wonkery is manifestly a growth industry. In just three decades, the number of "think tanks" devoted to public policy research has soared from fewer than 70 to more than 300. Yet despite their often frantic efforts at self-promotion, most of these organizations remain largely hidden from public view. Rich and Weaver, political scientists at Wake Forest University, looked into what makes some think tanks more visible in the news media than others.

Taking a sample of 51 think tanks of various resources, outlooks, and locations, they examined how the organizations and their "experts" fared in news coverage and op-ed pieces in six national newspapers--the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times.

The papers "tend to rely on the same think tanks as sources," they found. The centrist Brookings Institution was the most commonly cited think tank--except in the conservative Washington Times, where it ranked fifth. In each of the other five newspapers, Brookings, the conservative Heritage Foundation, and the conservative American Enterprise Institute (all located in Washington) were the three most-cited think tanks, accounting for a third or more of the mentions.

Washington-based institutions got the lion's share of the coverage, from almost 69 percent of the mentions (New York Times) to more than 86 percent (USA Today). …

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