What Drives Demand for Media Slant?
48 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2017 Last revised: 23 Dec 2017
Date Written: December 13, 2017
We study how the congeniality of a political headline (whether or not it conveys "good news" for a consumer with particular political preferences) affects demand for the story. We examine stories on the 2016 presidential debates and 2012 and 2016 campaign horse races from the websites of the New York Times (NYT), Fox News, and several other major outlets. For the debate stories, we use survey-experiments, and for the horse race stories, we use web data on all stories reported and each outlet's "most viewed" stories. By conducting within-topic, within-outlet analyses, we hold fixed two main components of the information value of news, isolating (to some extent) the effect of psychological factors on the demand for slant. Our main results are: 1) headline congeniality increased demand for Fox, but not NYT, debate stories (for both Trump and Clinton supporters); 2) Fox horse race headlines favored Republicans in both years on average, and NYT stories favored Democrats slightly in 2012 and more so in 2016; 3) weak evidence that Fox horse race headlines congenial to Republicans were more likely to be most viewed in 2012, and stronger evidence that both NYT and Fox stories with uncongenial headlines for their typical readers were more popular in 2016. We interpret our results to support both the cognitive dissonance and the (related but distinct) credibility theories of demand for media slant, and to fail to support the instrumental value theory.
Keywords: Media Bias, Media Slant, Horse Race News, Presidential Debate News, Confirmation Bias, Cognitive Dissonance
JEL Classification: D72, D83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation