Political Orientation, Hostile Media Perceptions, and Group-Centrism

Article excerpt

News media play a major role in political campaigns (Hansen & Benoit, 2007). Coupled with the recent increase in perceived divisions between Democrats and Republicans in United States politics (Seyle & Newman, 2006), the issue of fairness in American political news media has understandably come under great scrutiny (Lee, 2005; Morris, 2007). Although some specific news sources are favorably biased toward a particular ideology, the growing number of investigations reveal that the overall news industry is largely balanced (for numerous references on each side, see Eveland & Shah, 2003; Lee, 2005; Morris, 2007). However, media reports commonly contain references to a "liberal press" or a general media bias favoring liberal ideology (Lee, 2005; Watts, Domke, Shah, & Fan, 1999). One potential effect is that people might perceive balanced news coverage as liberally biased (Watts et al., 1999), perhaps especially Republicans or conservatives, as some political pundits and researchers have claimed. In general, one typically perceives the media as biased against one's views, termed hostile media perceptions or the hostile media effect (e.g., Eveland & Shah, 2003; Lee, 2005). However, it is still unclear how Democrats and Republicans compare in their perceptions of media being against their ideological side, in part because of methodological limitations in previous studies.

One general limitation is that previous studies measured perceptions of the media's treatment of a single issue or candidate (as noted by Lee, 2005; see also Gunther & Schmitt, 2004), and not of general political ideologies or groups. Although the difference might seem subtle, it is akin to the difference between mistreatment of an individual and discrimination against the group to which the individual belongs. Among the studies that investigated more general media perceptions as a function of political orientation (Eveland & Shah, 2003; Gunther, 1992; Lee, 2005; Mutz & Martin, 2001; Watts et al., 1999), none showed that Republicans differed from Democrats in perceptions of media hostile to a political ideology or group.

Gunther's (1992) data showed no difference between Democrats and Republicans. Eveland and Shah (2003), Lee (2005), and Mutz and Martin (2001) suggested that Republicans more strongly held hostile media perceptions, but these studies' dependent measures actually did not assess perceptions of media treatment of political ideologies or groups. Lee only assessed general trust in the media (e.g., "to report the news fairly"; p. 49). Eveland and Shah only assessed perceptions of bias against one's views in general (vs. one's political ideology) and noted this limitation. Mutz and Martin measured perceived media treatment of political parties but combined it with other items, which precludes a clear inference about the item of interest. Watts et al. (1999) reported that the conservative "elite" (e.g., candidates and party officials) were more likely than the liberal "elite" to claim a hostile ideological bias in the overall news industry. However, aside from the narrow sample, the researchers did not directly assess media perceptions. Rather, they inferred perceptions or claims from news stories (based on coding), and other data showed that the liberal elite were more likely than the conservative elite to claim a hostile ideological bias in specific media institutions (vs. the overall industry).

The current research tried to establish with more certainty that Republicans are more prone than Democrats to hostile political media perceptions (i.e., perceptions of media being against one's political ideology). Given the potential of such a claim to create additional divisiveness between the two parties, firmly establishing this difference with additional data seems paramount. I tried to improve on previous methods by more directly assessing perceptions of bias toward ideologies (e.g., vs. toward one's personal views). …