Conservative News Media and Criminal Justice: Evidence from Exposure to Fox News Channel
53 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2020 Last revised: 8 Dec 2021
Date Written: December 7, 2023
Local exposure to conservative news causes judges to impose harsher criminal sentences. Our evidence comes from an instrumental variables analysis, where randomness in television channel positioning across localities induces exogenous variation in exposure to Fox News Channel. These treatment data on news viewership are taken to outcomes data on almost 7 million criminal sentencing decisions in the United States for the years 2005--2017. Higher Fox News viewership increases incarceration length, and the effect is stronger for black defendants and for drug-related crimes. We can rule out changes in the behavior of police, prosecutors, or potential offenders as significant drivers. Consistent with changes in voter attitudes as the key mechanism, the effect on sentencing harshness is observed for elected (but not appointed) judges. Fox News viewership also increases self-reported beliefs about the importance of drug crime as a social problem.
Keywords: Partisan Media, Judge Elections, Incarceration, Racial Bias
JEL Classification: D72, H76, K41, L82
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation