Helen Coonan’s delight in achieving media changes has gone rather badly to her head if her waffling performance on Inside Business is any guide.

Before Senator Fielding was hoodwinked, Coonan didn’t think the elephants would feast when the banana plantation was opened to them, but yesterday she was claiming enormous prescience. Alan Kohler asked if she was surprised by Murdoch buying 7.5% of Fairfax. Coonan:

Well, not really. I mean, clearly the media laws are a catalyst for those who have an interest in media assets to consider their position, and taking a defensive position in Fairfax to me seems a logical move, if that’s the way they want to go. So no, I wasn’t surprised.

Hats off to Helen – retrospectively claiming to be the smartest media analyst in country. But whatever intelligence she might be claiming is immediately destroyed by her evident belief that Rupert is indeed just taking a defensive position. Next thing she’ll say Murdoch has only friendly intentions towards Fairfax.

But if the Minister for Moguls just thinks what she’s been told to think, she is far from alone. John Garnaut in the Smage unearths a couple of nice studies by American economists showing Rupert’s “aligned” editorial policy does indeed work for his favoured politicians. In particular there’s the comparison of voting intentions in towns that had had matching voting patterns until some of them started receiving Fox News cable. Writes Garnaut:

“Republicans gain 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points in the towns which broadcast Fox News,” conclude DellaVigna and Kaplan in The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The authors say Fox was responsible for an “ideological shift” to the right that was broad rather than candidate-specific.

After allowing for the fact that Fox could not have converted those who chose not to watch it, or who were going to vote Republican anyway, DellaVigna and Kaplan found a much larger persuasion effect.

“Fox News convinced between 3 and 8% of its non-Republican viewers to vote Republican,” they found.

Another study by Yale economists compared the voting of a control group with no newspaper subscription with people given either Washington Post (liberal) or Washington Times (conservative) subscriptions. The Post group proved eight percentage points more likely to vote for a Democrat candidate for governor than the control group.

Garnaut concludes both studies suggest Americans would have elected Al Gore president instead of George Bush in 2000 if Murdoch had not rolled out Fox News or if more people had read The Washington Post.

Yes, media ownership and bias does count, but the government already knew that even if Senator Fielding didn’t.