Political Media Coverage: Watchdogs with Bias-Tinted Glasses

Article excerpt

EDMUND BURKE, in reference to the press gallery in the House of Commons after the French Revolution, once noted, "Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all." Two hundred years later, the impact of media coverage on issues such as political scandals confirms Burke's assessment of the press as a "watchdog" of politicians.

Being a watchdog, however, does not imply that all news organizations cover all scandals in equal depth. In their 2008 paper "Media Coverage of Political Scandals," Riccardo Puglisi from Université Libre de Bruxelles and James M. Snyder, Jr. from MIT analyze the relationships between a newspaper's ostensible political leaning and its treatment of political scandals. Using archives from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, the authors found that national newspapers ideologically identified as "Democrat" report more on Republican scandals and vice versa. Ideological leanings were determined by an analysis of the political alignment of think tanks cited, language, and variations in the intensity of coverage for certain topics. Local newspapers, however, only engage in such behavior if the politician in question is from the same congressional district or state. The authors suggest that this is because slanted coverage, which caters to the newspaper subscriber in order to confirm their political beliefs, is constrained by ex-ante preferences or, in other words, an interest for local people and events.

While overall the coverage of scandals in the past has been relatively limited, the impact has been disproportion- ately large. …