May 1 2000

Think Tanks: The Rich Get Richer

Think Tank Spectrum, 1998-99

Much like in the global economy, in the world of the think tanks that dominate the mass media, the rich have gotten richer.

There has been little shuffling at the top of the most cited think-tank list, based on references to the group in major papers and broadcast transcripts in the Nexis database. Once again, the Brookings Institution led the way, with close to 3,000 citations among major newspapers and television and radio transcripts. While the Heritage Foundation once rivaled Brookings in prominence, Washington’s premier centrist think tank has separated itself from the rest of the pack, more than doubling the frequency of the next most prominent think tank, the Cato Institute. The Heritage Foundation has fallen to third place.

While this survey reveals that media show a greater reliance on think tanks than at the time of the last survey two years ago, the constituencies representing a center/right debate have further cemented their positions as media-friendly analysts. In the survey of 1997, conservative or right-leaning think tanks received 53 percent of all citations, 32 percent of citations went to centrist think tanks, and only 16 percent of the citations went to progressive or left-leaning think tanks. The percentages for progressive or left-leaning think tanks have declined slightly since then.

Note: Percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Source: Nexis database search of major newspapers and radio and TV transcripts. Political orientation is based on FAIR’s evaluation.

Note: The Heritage Foundation’s citations were adjusted to reflect the incidence of “false positives.” In both 1999 and 1998, approximately 30 percent of the time that the words “heritage foundation” occur together in the Nexis database, the story is not referring to the Washington-based think tank.

This article differs from the version published in the May/June 2000 issue of Extra!, to correct for an inconsistency in coding between the 1997 numbers and those for 1998-99.