A Surprising Reason for Newspaper Bias
Would a Democrat say…
- Estate tax or Death tax?
- Tax breaks or Tax relief?
- War in Iraq or War on Terror?
- Privatize Social Security or Personal retirement accounts?
- Oil and gas companies or Energy and natural resources?
(Answers are below.)
The phrases come from a University of Chicago Booth Business School paper on newspaper bias. Asking why journalists write slanted news, the study concluded it was all about the bottom line. As with shoes or pizza, profit seeking newspapers want to make consumers happy. If the demand for their papers comes from liberal leaning readers, then they will signal their “solidarity” through Democratic code words. With Republicans, their newspapers are sprinkled with conservative buzz words.
We can even draw a traditional demand and supply graph. With “slant” the product being “sold,” newspapers are the source of supply and readers, the demand. Perhaps surprisingly, the research focused on words in news articles, not the editorial page. These are the news articles that contain “All the news that’s fit to print” (NY Times), provide “light for all” (Baltimore Sun), and “Covers Dixie Like the Dew” (former slogan for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
Expecting the newspaper owner to shape bias, instead, we find demand and supply and Adam Smith’s invisible hand having the most impact of these newspapers’ “slant.”
Sources and Resources: You can get an interesting combination of perspectives from the Sunday NY Times Mankiw column on media slant and competition, a Freakonomics podcast on the topic and the academic research.
Answers: The first term in each pair is the Democratic “slant” while the second is Republican.