blogged a couple of days ago about this new, interesting study in Public Opinion Quarterly that created a dichotomy between sensationalist media and sober media. That earlier posting focused on the methodological validity of that dichotomy, particularly as measured in the POQ study. Today, the results.
The dependent variables centered on attitudes about state and federal courts and a major aspect of this is not only the sensationalist/sober dichotomy but how it interacted with political sophistication to predict attitudes about the courts. Sophistication here was measured by a set of interest and knowledge questions pertaining to the courts. To review, sober media were considered newspapers and network television news, while sensationalist media were considered talk radio and cable news. The authors subtracted one from the other to create a scale.
Figure 2 in the study is fascinating. Imagine the x-axis as a measure of sophistication, the further right you go, the higher it is. The y-axis, the dependent variable, is diffuse support of the courts. For those who prefer high sensational media, greater sophistication leads to a decrease in support. For those who prefer high sober media, greater sophistication leads to greater support. It's a classic X interaction.
Essentially, the use of sensational media moderates the impact of political sophistication, which by itself leads to greater support of the courts.
In other words, media bad. Only certain media ... cable news and talk radio, at least when used more than other more sober media, like newspapers and network TV news. And this holds even when statistically controlling for party identification, age, sex, race, education, and trust in government.
We're starting to see a picture now of television news -- when it's good for folks, such as those low in interest or education, and when it's not so good. Also becoming clearer is our understanding of how a fragmenting media marketplace with non-mainstream news sources are impacting what people think or know about their political world. Unfortunately, the picture -- as it becomes clearer -- also becomes less attractive.
See the first link above, to the previous blog post, for details about the study.