Supreme Court Coverage: Using Kelo and Citizens United to Measure Media Bias
Supreme Court Coverage: Using Kelo and Citizens United to Measure Media Bias (with Louis S. Nadelson), NEB. L. REV.: BULL. (June 27, 2018).
13 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 27, 2018
Much research has been conducted to quantify the overall level of biased coverage by media outlets. However, little has been done to specifically investigate how biases may affect coverage of Supreme Court decisions. Salience studies have shown that media outlets give different amounts of coverage to Supreme Court decisions based on whether the decisions are favored by liberals or conservatives. For example, the front page of the New York Times covers twenty-eight percent of Supreme Court decisions decided by the liberal Justices, but only nineteen percent of decisions decided by the conservative Justices. However, these Supreme Court salience studies reveal only the frequency of coverage. Coverage frequency does not necessarily correspond to bias. There could be a number of benign explanations for the twenty-eight percent versus nineteen percent disparity. Perhaps the issues in the liberal decisions were more newsworthy. Perhaps the liberal decisions were covered more critically than the conservative cases. While case salience studies provide valuable information, without accounting for these variables they do little to address bias. It is possible that these New York Times front page findings are consistent with neutral Supreme Court coverage or even with coverage biased in favor of a conservative ideology. Salience studies simply do not provide enough evidence to say either way.
In our research we examined the New York Times’ coverage of two unpopular twenty-first century Supreme Court decisions (one issued by conservative Justices, the other by liberal Justices) to determine if there are indicators of bias in reporting about Supreme Court decisions. For each case, we calculated the percentage of articles discussing the case that contain explicit mentions of the ideological split, thereby creating an objective standard to expose potential latent biases in reporting about the Supreme Court. To confirm the results, we applied the standard to reporting from other media outlets. While the separate topics of media bias and Supreme Court case salience have been extensively covered elsewhere, our analysis will greatly benefit those interested specifically in reportage of Supreme Court decisions. We conclude our report with a discussion of how biased reporting on the judiciary can be more detrimental to society than biased reporting on the executive and legislative branches.
Keywords: Media Bias, Media Salience, Supreme Court, New York Times Bias, Fox News Bias, Supreme Court Media Coverage, Public Opinion Affects Supreme Court Decisions
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