Thursday, November 12, 2009

Slant and Exposure from D.C. Newspapers

Here's an interesting field experiment in which authors randomly assigned real live people to receive either the Washington Post or the Washington Times or to a control group of neither newspaper to see what effects were found.  I love real-world studies like this.  Sure, they're messy, but they're also generalizable beyond the intensive study of the college sophomore.

They looked at something they call a Fact Accuracy Index, which is a fancy name for accurately answering three questions about number of dead in Iraq and correctly identifying a couple of political actors.  The Specific Issue Index is a 5-question current events quiz.  The Broad Policy Index is an odd index of four questions about the parties, President Bush, and self-placement -- I think all on a left-right continuum (though it's not exactly clear).  The theoretical reasons for these interrelated measure is unclear to say the least, and to me rather baffling.  Even the study's cited references are disturbingly innocent of the serious, seminal works in political knowledge research.  Very odd.

Okay, enough bashing.  It mattered not at all whether subjects received the Post or the Times on political knowledge, turnout, or attitudes.  Receiving a paper did result in more support for the Democratic candidate (interesting given the Times is considered conservative).  The authors try, not very satisfactorily in my opinion, to explain this effect.  I don't envy them on this.  It's hard to figure.

As an aside, it is kinda odd to find this published American Economic Journal.  But, in defense, I've seen a few bias/slant studies of media content in economic journals, so maybe this makes more sense that it seems on the surface.

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