American Political Parties Term Paper

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American Political Parties

The Political Impact of Media Bias

From 1962 to his retirement in 1981, Walter Cronkite led America through such pivotal events as the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal as the anchor on the CBS Evening News. Each night he would sign off his newscast with his signature sign line "And that's the way it is." As a result, he was identified by many opinion polls as the most trusted man in America. However, America's trust in the media has now waned. According to polling information presented by Burns, only 15% of North Americans trusting the media. According to DellaVigna & Kaplan (1188) over 70% of Americans believe that there exists bias in news coverage. Lee (45) defines bias in the news media as "any form of preferential and unbalanced treatment, or favoritism, toward a political or social issue (e.g. pro-choice or pro-life) or political party (Democratic or Republican)."

Morris (709) proposes that when individuals perceive bias in political news reporting, they typically believe that the direction of the bias is counter to their own political beliefs. This is especially true for individuals with extreme partisan ideologies. Lee (47) explains that the more extreme an individual is in terms of ideology and partisanship, the more likely he or she perceives the news media to be biased. Morris (709) adds that strong partisans are more likely to see media bias counter to their own beliefs than independent or weak partisans.

This paper will examine whether or not this bias exists and if so what impact it has on voters. Additionally, it will examine a study of what has been dubbed the "Fox News Effect."

Many studies have been conducted to determine whether or not media bias exists. A study conducted by Abrajano & Singh examined how the issue of immigration was reported differently on English-language and Spanish-language news channels. Their research proposed three hypotheses as to how news organizations report the news. The first of these is the economic theory of news. According to this theory, television news content is geared towards viewers who are most attractive to advertisers. The second theory according to Abrajano & Singh (3) is the audience influence hypothesis theory which predicts that:

(1) Spanish-language news will cover immigration in a more positive and informative manner than will English-language news;

(2) Latinos who only use Spanish-language news may therefore have a greater likelihood of possessing pro-immigrant sentiments than do Latinos who only use English-language news.

The final theory proposed by Abrajano & Singh (3) is the generational status hypothesis, which for this study, expects second and third generation Latinos to favor tougher immigration policies and be less aware of new immigration proposals than would first generation Latinos.

News organizations have to decide how they are going to present an issue. In doing so they may demonstrate bias by how they the frame stories. Abrajano & Singh (4) explain that framing refers to the way an issue is discussed and presented in a news segment. Because news organizations and journalists have to decide how an issue is defined, this may lead to bias.

Abrajano & Singh (4) present several ways in which framing may lead to bias in dealing with immigration issues. One of these is with a "group-centric" perspective. Abrajano & Singh (4) assert that this method of framing is advantageous when an issue or public policy is closely related to a particular group (e.g. crime, welfare, and affirmative action). When frames associate groups with the issue, such as African-Americans and affirmative action or Hispanics and immigration, individuals tend to think about their attitudes towards the particular group, rather than on the actual policy being addressed.

In support of the economic theory hypotheses, Abrajano & Singh (4) assert that English-language news organizations tend to frame immigration in a manner that their target audiences will most likely respond to. As a result, news organizations follow a "crime news script" especially when reporting news stories that feature racial and ethnic minorities. When following these scripts, news organizations typically portray non-whites as the perpetrator rather than the victim. Conversely on Spanish-language news channels the audience is typically of Latino descent. Therefore, they have no desire to be portrayed as criminals or perpetrators. Additionally, many of these individuals are either first or second generation immigrants. Abrajano & Singh (4) suggest that it would "be highly unlikely and irrational for Spanish-language news organizations to focus on the illegalities and criminal aspects of immigration." Therefore, Abrajano & Singh (24) conclude that monolingual Latinos (those who only speak Spanish or those who only speak English) may be receiving a different picture of the immigration issue than their bilingual counterparts.

In another study described by Burns, Michael Bruter, a senior lecturer in European politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, sent slanted newsletters about Europe and the European Union that contained either all good news or all bad to 1,200 citizens of six countries over two years. The citizens were surveyed before receiving the newsletters, immediately after the newsletters stopped, and six months later. Bruter found that over time the readers subconsciously adopted the bias of the newsletter and changed their view of EU and of themselves as Europeans. What was surprising was that the change didn't register until six months after the newsletters stopped. Burns (1) explains that this demonstrate the lasting impact and the "time bomb" effect of media bias.

Duflo (2) describes a study conducted by a group of Yale researcher. Three weeks before the 2005 gubernatorial election, the researchers contacted about 1800 people living in the Washington area and offered half of them a free subscription to a daily newspaper. Half of the chosen participants received a subscription to the Washington Post, a center-left newspaper. The other half received a subscription to the Washington Times, a more conservative newspaper. According to Duflo (2) study participants who received a free subscription to one of the newspapers increased the likelihood of voting in elections a year later by about 3.5%. Duflo (2) explains further that voters who had received the Post were 11% more likely to vote Democratic than the control group; however, even the voters who received the more conservative newspaper (the Times) were even more likely than the control group (7%) to vote Democratic. Duflo (3) concludes that newspaper readers are more likely to vote and that newspaper reader "know how to decipher messages, while television viewers let themselves be manipulated."

Similarly, a study conducted by Druckman & Parkin examined the impacts of newspaper coverage on a Minnesota Senate election. According to Druckman & Parkin (1031) an analysis of campaign coverage in 67 major newspapers between 1988 and 1992 found that the papers' editorial endorsements significantly affected both the tone (i.e. positive, neutral, negative) of incumbent coverage and the number of criticisms published about incumbents. Druckman & Parkin (1031) explored how two competing newspapers -- the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press -- covered the 2000 Minnesota Senate campaign between Republican incumbent Rod Grams and Democratic challenger Mark Dayton. Both newspapers serve similar markets in the metro Minneapolis / St. Paul area. However, the newspapers made different editorial endorsements. The Star Tribune endorsed Dayton (the challenger), while the Pioneer Press did not endorse either candidate. The tone of articles covering the candidates was examined and the results are presented in Table 1 below:

Grams

Dayton

Star Tribune

(n=155)

Pioneer Press

(n=152)

Star Tribune

(n=262)

Pioneer Press (n=211)

Percentage of Negative Mentions

36%

44%

23%

36%

Percentage of Positive Mentions

50%

30%

30%

31%

Percentage of Positive Mentions

14%

26%

47%

33%

Druckman & Parkin (1039) found striking evidence of relative slant, with the Star Tribune presenting a more positive slant towards Dayton. In addition they conducted exit polling which provided support for their hypothesis that increased reading of the Star Tribune led to significant higher evaluation of Dayton. Druckman & Parkin (1030) conclude that "In covering a campaign, news outlets make many choices. They highlight certain issues, frame events in particular ways, and portray candidates in varying lights. These choices affect voters."

If this media bias exists, how does it impact voters? Abrajano & Singh (3) present an agenda setting hypothesis. According to this hypothesis "those problems that receive prominent attention on the national news become the problems the viewing public regards as the nation's most important." (Abrajano & Singh, 3). Bernhardt et al. (1) also attribute an increase in partisan behavior to media bias. According to Bernhardt et al. (1) media bias manifests itself as suppression of information and while media can selectively omit relevant information that conflicts with their viewers' beliefs, they cannot "fabricate" news outright. Voters may be aware of the media bias, but they cannot completely recover the suppressed information. Bernhardt et al. (2) add that "the value of news for an individual citizen is primarily given by its entertainment value, and not its informational value. Depending on preferences, the consumption value of…[continue]

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