Is Newspaper Coverage of Economic Events Politically Biased?
57 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2004 Last revised: 19 Aug 2008
Date Written: October 19, 2004
Accusations of political bias in the media are often made by members of both political parties, yet there have been few systematic studies of such bias to date. This paper develops an econometric technique to test for political bias in news reports that controls for the underlying character of the news reported. Our results suggest that American newspapers tend to give more positive news coverage to the same economic news when Democrats are in the Presidency than for Republicans. When all types of news are pooled into a single analysis, our results are highly significant. However, the results vary greatly depending upon which economic numbers are being reported. When GDP growth is reported, Republicans received between 16 and 24 percentage point fewer positive stories for the same economic numbers than Democrats. For durable goods for all newspapers, Republicans received between 15 and 25 percentage points fewer positive news stories than Democrats. For unemployment, the difference was between zero and 21 percentage points. Retail sales showed no difference. Among the Associated Press and the top 10 papers, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, and New York Times tend to be the least likely to report positive news during Republican administrations, while the Houston Chronicle slightly favors Republicans. Only one newspaper treated one Republican administration significantly more positively than the Clinton administration: the Los Angeles Times' headlines were most favorable to the Reagan administration, but it still favored Clinton over either Bush administration. We also find that the media coverage affects people's perceptions of the economy. Contrary to the typical impression that bad news sells, we find that good economic news generates more news coverage and that it is usually covered more prominently. We also present some evidence that media treats parties differently when they control both the presidency and the congress.
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