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Explaining Information Effects in Collective Preferences
Unformatted Document Text:  To the extent that news coverage is responsible for changes in attitude structures, in this case it would seem to have had a twofold effect: priming the application of equality and tolerance concerns in opinions on gay rights issues, and leading people to evaluate homosexuals as a group more favorably over time. Studies of news content from the 1992-1993 period suggest that gay rights supporters tended to frame their arguments in terms of civil rights (Dion 2000) , which would be consistent with the heightened importance attached to equality concerns among ill-informed respondents beginning in 1992. At the same time, news content tended to construct discourse about the issue that subtly privileged the existing ban on gays in the military (Meyers 1994; Steele 1997) , although some observers noted that media coverage during this period tended to portray the gay rights movement as more mainstream and broad-based than it otherwise appeared to be (Shepard 1993) . If news coverage was not overly one-sided on this issue, then we must look for something other than the tone of news to explain the rise of positive feelings toward gays over this period. The most likely alternative is that the issue of gay rights was being covered at all. The mere act of covering an issue tends to legitimize the cause being covered, as Lazarsfeld and Merton (1948) pointed out so long ago. The degree of legitimation conferred to the gay rights issue was likely heightened in 1992 and 1993 by the fact that it was for the first time being taken up aggressively and conspicuously by mainstream political institutions. When issues once marginalized become thus transformed into topics of legitimate social controversy, reporting about those issues is likely to become more balanced toward and less suspicious of what had formerly been “deviant” perspectives or groups (Hallin 1986) . Seen in this light, the direction of change in Americans’ feelings about homosexuals may be less telling than the fact that this change represented a thaw in what had been extremely negative impressions. The American population’s mean score on the relevant feeling thermometer jumped from 29 in 1988 to 37 in 1992 before climbing more gradually to 40 by 1996, but even at the end of this period the mean score remained well below the “lukewarm” 50 mark. It is not that the American public became more admiring of gays, but that it became less hostile toward them. This change was quite likely ushered in by the sudden surge of news attention given to this issue in the early 1990’s.

Authors: Althaus, Scott.
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To the extent that news coverage is responsible for changes in attitude structures, in this case it
would seem to have had a twofold effect: priming the application of equality and tolerance concerns
in opinions on gay rights issues, and leading people to evaluate homosexuals as a group more
favorably over time. Studies of news content from the 1992-1993 period suggest that gay rights
supporters tended to frame their arguments in terms of civil rights
(Dion 2000)
, which would be
consistent with the heightened importance attached to equality concerns among ill-informed
respondents beginning in 1992. At the same time, news content tended to construct discourse about
the issue that subtly privileged the existing ban on gays in the military
(Meyers 1994; Steele 1997)
,
although some observers noted that media coverage during this period tended to portray the gay
rights movement as more mainstream and broad-based than it otherwise appeared to be
(Shepard
1993)
. If news coverage was not overly one-sided on this issue, then we must look for something
other than the tone of news to explain the rise of positive feelings toward gays over this period.
The most likely alternative is that the issue of gay rights was being covered at all. The mere act
of covering an issue tends to legitimize the cause being covered, as Lazarsfeld and Merton (1948)
pointed out so long ago. The degree of legitimation conferred to the gay rights issue was likely
heightened in 1992 and 1993 by the fact that it was for the first time being taken up aggressively and
conspicuously by mainstream political institutions. When issues once marginalized become thus
transformed into topics of legitimate social controversy, reporting about those issues is likely to
become more balanced toward and less suspicious of what had formerly been “deviant” perspectives
or groups
(Hallin 1986)
. Seen in this light, the direction of change in Americans’ feelings about
homosexuals may be less telling than the fact that this change represented a thaw in what had been
extremely negative impressions. The American population’s mean score on the relevant feeling
thermometer jumped from 29 in 1988 to 37 in 1992 before climbing more gradually to 40 by 1996,
but even at the end of this period the mean score remained well below the “lukewarm” 50 mark. It is
not that the American public became more admiring of gays, but that it became less hostile toward
them. This change was quite likely ushered in by the sudden surge of news attention given to this
issue in the early 1990’s.


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