In the Eye of the Beholder: How Information Shortcuts Shape Individual Perceptions of Bias in the Media
Matthew A. Baum, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA, Matthew_Baum@Harvard.edu
Phil Gussin, Department of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew A. Baum and Phil Gussin (2008), "In the Eye of the Beholder: How Information Shortcuts Shape Individual Perceptions of Bias in the Media", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 3: No. 1, pp 1-31. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00007010
Research has shown that humans are biased information processors. This study investigates an important potential example of biased information processing: when ex ante assessments of a media outlet's ideological orientation cause individual's to perceive bias in balanced news coverage. We conduct an experiment in which participants evaluated the content of a news report about the 2004 presidential election identified as originating from CNN, FOX or a fictional TV station. Our results suggest that in an increasingly fragmented media marketplace, individuals not only distinguish between media outlets but, more importantly, outlet brand names, and the reputations they carry, function as heuristics, heavily influencing perceptions of bias in content. As a result, individuals sometimes create bias, even where none exists.