How are our political views formed? From our families? From events we have experienced in our lives? Or, as one report suggests, can our opinions change depending on the media coverage we follow? The study paid Fox News viewers to switch to CNN for a week in September 2020 to prove the theory. And, although the results were not overwhelming, a percentage of viewers were shown to change their stance on certain political arguments.
Researchers aimed to find out just how much influence the media has over the population’s beliefs and political opinions, in a study titled “The manifold effects of partisan media on viewers’ beliefs and attitudes: A field experiment with Fox News viewers.” The authors, David Broockman of the University of California, Berkeley and Joshua Kalla of Yale, suggest manipulating viewers is done by agenda-setting, framing, and partisan coverage filtering.
Broockman and Kalla tested their theory by gathering a sample of Fox News viewers. Some were paid to watch CNN for a week while the control group of other participants continued to watch Fox. After the testing was completed, the groups took three rounds of surveys relating to the news they had watched during that time. Not surprisingly, the experiment revealed that the two media networks covered different topics. According to the results, the Fox-to-CNN group changed its views on a few issues.
When it came to coronavirus, 5% of the paid CNN watchers now believed that “long COVID” was a significant issue. They were also 6% more likely to say the US didn’t handle the virus as well as other countries. The 2020 election was another example of influence, where 7% changed their views on voting by mail and now supported it.
“Natural experiments indicate that partisan media meaningfully affects voting behavior, impacting elections,” the study says. The authors concluded the abstract with the statement: “Partisan media does not only present its side an electoral advantage—it may present a challenge for democratic accountability.”
Networks further their agendas by giving much more coverage to some stories and little to no response on others.
When the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop first broke, the left hardly covered it. People started to forget about its significance and chalked it up to a right-wing conspiracy theory. However, as Liberty Nation Editor-in-Chief Leesa K. Donner reported, the story is just too hot to be ignored. She wrote: “But now, parts of his laptop have been deemed authentic by the activist media, and everyone is all over this story, including, gasp, the White House.”
As the study pointed out, agenda-setting impacts the issues viewers deem “‘important’ and primes viewers’ pre-existing attitudes on that topic when evaluating politicians.”
A network “provides an interpretation of an issue or policy by emphasizing which aspect of the issue is relevant for evaluating it, without the frame itself [providing] any new substantive information about the issue” according to the study. The way the information is presented and even the language used can influence views.
For example, the report referred to CNN’s use of “freedom fighters” to describe militias who fought against the US while Fox News referred to them as “terrorists.” CNN said civilian casualties were “deaths of unarmed women and children” while Fox News called them “collateral damage.”
Consider some of the terms used by mainstream media over just the past couple of years. Black Lives Matter protests that destroyed homes, businesses, and lives, while taking over city blocks and vandalizing local stores were considered, by left-stream media, as downtrodden people exercising their constitutional rights while conservatives called them out for being vandals and breaking the law. Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three men in self-defense, was called everything from a white supremacist to a murderer by progressive media while right-leaning outlets hailed him for his bravery and standing up to protect the neighborhood.
Partisan Coverage Filtering
According to the report, “A network selectively reports particular information about selectively chosen topics in a manner that conveys additional information favorable to their partisan or ideological side while omitting unfavorable information.”
Hunter’s laptop can be used again as an example. Left-leaning media outlets only covered the basics; that his laptop might contain damning information, but that there was no proof. Partisan coverage filtering is when the network gives viewers information “favorable to the network’s partisan side” which could then change “viewers’ attitudes and political evaluations.”
Paying Viewers to Change Their View
Is paying for an audience the solution? The View host Joy Behar seems to think so. On a recent show, she talked about the study and said:
“You pay people to watch the truth, and they get smarter. So maybe that’s the solution. Let’s just pay all these people who watch Fox to watch this show and CNN.”
However, co-host Sunny Hostin wasn’t in complete agreement. “That’s absurd,” she shot back. “That’s just as absurd in my view as paying people to get a vaccine that’s gonna save their lives.”
In a world where true journalism is hard to find, where truth is sensationalized and perverted or obscured and filtered, how are the American people supposed to know if they have all the information they need to make informed decisions? When the Fourth Estate, whose job is to provide the facts, misleads the people to fit its own agenda, how can any trust be established?
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