MEDIA BIAS IN AMERICAN SOCIETY
Media Bias in American Society
Kennesaw State University
In recent history, politics and media in the United States have become much more divisive and polarizing than ever before. The media plays a huge role in the information that we receive, and make decisions based on, so it is important that the sources are true and that the journalism is ethical. With the invention and rise in popularity of social media, many people are starting to get their news from the internet. However, the advent of social media popularity has also brought a rise of websites that cater to specific biases, and it has fueled the spread of misinformation in order to get specific messages and advertising out in the open. The recent story that Facebook news posts often include inflammatory and false statements inflamed a worrisome notion that many people are unable to rely on the sites that they read for news, often due to the political biases present in the writers who strive to extend the reach of their message.
Since so many people get their news completely online, and the environment of the media is changing so much, it is necessary to examine bias of journalism and its effect on our increasingly global society. Researching the effects that polarizing media coverage can have on society and politics can help to explain a lot of the current political unrest and divisiveness that America is experiencing. How much of the unhappiness that we feel with our government is because of a biased media source that taught us that something may be wrong? How much of an effect does the media have on our thoughts and actions? There are many ways to answer this question.
The effect of journalism on our society has a long-studied history. Propaganda has an important role in the support and outcome of every war, and media coverage has usually equated to support, hatred, or ignorance of any given issue. To understand our current situation, we can look at the outcomes of past governments and other countries. In Volume 10, Issue 3 of the Journal of the European Economic Association, an article was published titled “Partisan Control, Media Bias, and Viewer Responses: Evidence from Berlusconi’s Italy.” According to the article’s abstract, the paper “examines whether and how viewers respond to changes in partisan bias in media news… [using] data from Italy, where the main private television network is owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the center-right coalition, and the public television corporation is largely controlled by the ruling coalition.” In a country where the government runs the media, one can see clearly that changing the biased leaning of a news story also changes the viewer’s responses to the same story. This is extremely important research to note for the rest of our research and literature, because it shows that media reports have a strong effect on what we believe and the way that we see the world.
Is it inherently biased or unethical for the government to run the media within a country? We see real world examples like China and North Korea, which have completely state-run media, and usually point to the censorship and ignorance of their country’s own flaws. Is America’s media similar to this model in any way? The government does not run our media, but interest groups, which fund political parties and take stands on specific issues, also fund a large portion of our media. “Interest Groups and the Media: Bias and Diversity Over Time” attempts to study the news presence of various interest groups and answer this question. The study included 19,000 different instances in which interest groups made a presence in the news, and then examined the diversity and outcomes of the articles. This research is extremely important because, if our media is inherently related to the government and our political issues stand to gain or lose out because of a story, it may be biased in a large way. This partisanship can then affect the political leanings of our society, pushing towards voting in a certain direction, and can even change political outcomes.
A whole different paper could be written specifically on the split of partisan and moderate American politics into our new system of highly divisive political sides, because there is so much to unpack. However, it cannot be argued that these political party affiliations play a huge role in how many people define themselves, or that the internet has become an easy place to surround yourself with sources that agree only with your opinions. This confirmation bias happens on all sides of the political spectrum, and Matthew Levendusky discusses its effect on our society in his book, How Partisan Media Polarize America. He focuses on the way that the partisan-leaning media affects viewers in their thoughts and actions, without blatantly stating oppressive or polarizing ideas. This book asserts the idea that politically leaning media causes people from each side to completely distrust and discount the opinions of the other. As this research was recently written in 2013, I feel that this study was timely and should have been considered before the most recent presidential elections. This outcome may have stemmed from political distrust of the opposition and can be seen in many of our recent decisions as a country. It has become nearly impossible for bipartisan legislature to be passed; sides will disagree with bills and legislation just because the other side penned it. It is clear that the media, and its constant influx of negative stereotypes of people with different opinions, has contributed to a state where a lot of the society feels political unrest and no complacency.
We can look at currently controversial issues like Immigration Reform to further research the effect of divisive media on our government issues. A large part of the divisiveness that plagues our political system is so called “hostile media,” where people that have one political view feel that media with a bias on the other side of the spectrum are personally attacking them. These very personal feelings are then applied to controversial issues, and people begin to feel that when someone writes or reports on a subject that they do not agree with, they are being personally attacked, which fuels anger and more political separation. An article written by Brooke Weberling McKeever, among other sociologists, addresses this issue of the “Perceived hostile media” in regards to the issue of immigration. Using data from the state of North Carolina, where the Latino population has steadily increased, people were surveyed and asked to address their feelings on the issue. The goal was to see how “anti-immigration” news coverage influenced the views of people within the state, and to see if the media had a large role to play in the controversy that is immigration policy. It was determined that both the exposure and attention to the anti-immigration media coverage played a decisive role on the views of residents on the topic of immigration policy within their state.
To conclude, it is important to consider where this research can take us, and how we can use it to read the media biases and make informed decisions. With the results of the recent election weighing heavily, and the realization that the media I consume often left me feeling depressed, angry, and hateful about the subject, I decided to use this literature review to read about how the media was biased, and then to study the effect of the media on our political system, which is currently very divided. This subject has been studied rather extensively, because the media plays a huge role in the actions of societies throughout history, often being the main source of information for the majority of people. I think that to expand on these studies I would focus research specifically on social media, which makes up the leading source of news for a large percentage of young adults. I would also like to do a lot more research on the way that we surround ourselves with only like-minded people, to see what role this has played in recent government elections and the general level of political participation in our society. I think that the role of media and its bias in society is a huge topic with extreme depth, and there is a lot more room to grow in our knowledge on the topic.
Bennett, W. Lance. 2014. “Press-Government Relations in a Changing Media Environment.” Oxford Handbooks Online.
Durante, Ruben and Brian Knight. 2009. “Partisan Control, Media Bias, and Viewer Responses: Evidence from Berlusconi's Italy.”
Levendusky, Matthew. 2013. “How Partisan Media Polarizes America.”
Mckeever, Brooke Weberling, Daniel Riffe, and Francesca Dillman Carpentier. 2012. “Perceived Hostile Media Bias, Presumed Media Influence, and Opinions About Immigrants and Immigration.” Southern Communication Journal 77(5):420–37.
Binderkrantz, Anne Skorkjaer. 2011. “Interest Groups in the Media: Bias and Diversity over Time.” European Journal of Political Research 51(1):117–39.