The explanation? People are motivated to justify socially undesirable beliefs by extending those beliefs to a majority of others, even when the majority doesn't actually share those beliefs.
Prejudice, you might say, loves company.
The media side of all this?
We tested whether three sources of normative information (own prejudice, peer prejudice, media prejudice) would predict estimates of normative community attitudes. Of these, only media prejudice contributed to estimates of community attitudes. The more participants believed media attitudes to be negative, the more negative they rated the community's attitudes toward Aboriginal Australians, and this was independent of one's own level of prejudice. That is, prejudiced and nonprejudiced people alike perceived the same level of media attitude and the same level of community attitudes. Community attitudes then mediated a relation between media prejudice and consensus, whereby more negative community attitudes predicted less perceived consensus.That's interesting, the sentence I bold faced above. I'm not sure how well this applies beyond this particular topic, but given the times in which we live, there's a lot of room here for exploration.