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An Experimental Evaluation of Readers' Perceptions of Media Bias
Unformatted Document Text:  Media Bias - 4 people who consider news media to be biased are less likely to believe them, and that people who do not believe news media are less likely to use them, with obvious consequences both for the people and for the media organizations. It is the purpose of this report to consider the nature of the perception of media bias on the part of audiences, with the specific task of trying to discover what types of content elicit the designation of "biased." Audience responses A smaller number of researchers than those engaged in the content analyses described above have examined the question of how and why members of the public perceive bias in the media, and we can summarize their commonest conclusions quickly: * The perception of bias is subjective. Different people can look at the identical content and come to idiosyncratic, often opposing, judgments about it; * The perception of bias is relativistic. "Biased" often appears to mean "disagrees with us, the users," regardless of the users’ awareness (or lack thereof) of their own biases or the overall balance of the content. The subjectivity of audience responses has been established under both field and experimental conditions. For instance, Dautrich and Dineen (1996) reported a Roper Center survey which found that 22% of the respondents felt media coverage of the 1996 presidential election favored the Democrats and 21% said it favored the Republicans (49% said it was balanced and the remainder expressed no opinion). By most objective content analytic measures the coverage in the aggregate was fairly well-balanced; none-the-less 43% of respondents felt it was biased even as they disagreed on the direction of the bias. Using a more sophisticated approach, Watts and his colleagues (Watts, Domke, Shah & Fan, 1999) tracked opinion poll results on the public’s perception of liberal biases in news media in conjunction with actual content from newspapers, wire services and at least one television network. Fundamentally, they found that reported belief in a liberal bias was unrelated to any valences in content: Rather, the perception of bias was related to the volume of media self-coverage of bias issues, which in turn was engendered by charges of liberal bias made by conservative elites. In short, when there was media coverage of some people (conservatives in particular) talking about the media being biased, the public-at-large was more likely to tell pollsters the media were biased, regardless of actual content. To explore the subjective nature of perceived bias under more controlled conditions, Stevenson and Greene (1980) presented 73 undergraduates with a variety of news stories both favorable and unfavorable to 1976 presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Stevenson and Greene asked the participants to mark their reactions to the

Authors: D'Alessio, Dave.
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Media Bias - 4
people who consider news media to be biased are less likely to believe them, and that people who do not believe news
media are less likely to use them, with obvious consequences both for the people and for the media organizations.
It is the purpose of this report to consider the nature of the perception of media bias on the part of audiences,
with the specific task of trying to discover what types of content elicit the designation of "biased."
Audience responses
A smaller number of researchers than those engaged in the content analyses described above have examined
the question of how and why members of the public perceive bias in the media, and we can summarize their
commonest conclusions quickly:
* The perception of bias is subjective. Different people can look at the identical content and come to
idiosyncratic, often opposing, judgments about it;
* The perception of bias is relativistic. "Biased" often appears to mean "disagrees with us, the users,"
regardless of the users’ awareness (or lack thereof) of their own biases or the overall balance of the content.
The subjectivity of audience responses has been established under both field and experimental conditions. For
instance, Dautrich and Dineen (1996) reported a Roper Center survey which found that 22% of the respondents felt
media coverage of the 1996 presidential election favored the Democrats and 21% said it favored the Republicans (49%
said it was balanced and the remainder expressed no opinion). By most objective content analytic measures the
coverage in the aggregate was fairly well-balanced; none-the-less 43% of respondents felt it was biased even as they
disagreed on the direction of the bias.
Using a more sophisticated approach, Watts and his colleagues (Watts, Domke, Shah & Fan, 1999) tracked
opinion poll results on the public’s perception of liberal biases in news media in conjunction with actual content from
newspapers, wire services and at least one television network. Fundamentally, they found that reported belief in a
liberal bias was unrelated to any valences in content: Rather, the perception of bias was related to the volume of media
self-coverage of bias issues, which in turn was engendered by charges of liberal bias made by conservative elites. In
short, when there was media coverage of some people (conservatives in particular) talking about the media being
biased, the public-at-large was more likely to tell pollsters the media were biased, regardless of actual content.
To explore the subjective nature of perceived bias under more controlled conditions, Stevenson and Greene
(1980) presented 73 undergraduates with a variety of news stories both favorable and unfavorable to 1976 presidential
candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Stevenson and Greene asked the participants to mark their reactions to the


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