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Questions for Nyhan and Reifler

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1 Questions for Nyhan and Reifler
What was meant by the “backfire effect”? What do the authors mean by “goal-directed information processing”? “Many citizens seem or unwilling (sic) to revise their beliefs in the face of corrective information”, according to the study, what might be the result of attempts to correct mistaken beliefs? What are the two principal mechanisms the author’s identify by which information processing becomes slanted to confirm partisan ideology?

2 Discussions “There is an important distinction between being uninformed and misinformed.” Which do you think would be worse? How and why? Misperceptions “distort public opinion and political debate.” “some voters may unknowingly hold incorrect beliefs, especially on contemporary policy issues on which politicians and other political elites may have an incentive to misrepresent factual information.” For instance, Jerit and Barabas (2006) show that the prevalence of misleading statements about the financial status of Social Security in media coverage of the issue significantly increased the proportion of the public holding the false belief that the program was about to “run out of money completely.” How might this false belief influence policy opinions of younger generations?

3 discussions Given primary information, be it true or false, it becomes difficult to dislodge this original impression. We talk about youth being young and impressionable, offering a clean slate. Does this play into the role of children typically sharing the partisan direction of their parents (about 75%)?

4 discussions “Humans are goal-oriented information processors who tend to evaluate information with a directional bias toward reinforcing their pre-existing views. Specifically, people tend to display bias in evaluating political arguments and evidence, favoring those that reinforce their existing views and disparaging those that contradict their views.”

5 2 mechanisms for bias in information processing
“Respondents may engage in a biased search process, seeking out information that supports their preconceptions and avoiding evidence that undercuts their beliefs.” A cognitive activity directed by affect. (Tabor and Lodge, 2006) “We expect that citizens are more likely to generate counter-arguments against new information that contradicts their beliefs than information that is consistent with their preexisting views.” Affect driving cognition “If people counterargue unwelcome information vigorously enough, they may end up with ‘more attitudinally congruent information in mind than before the debate’, which in turn leads them to report opinions that are more extreme than they otherwise would have had.” This is the “backfire effect”.

6 discussion There exists today a media network that provides information depicting an alternate universe that differs markedly from reality, in which contradictions and hypocrisies are ignored. Referred to as “the echo chamber” or “the bubble”.

7 The shift in economic paradigms
“The effectiveness of corrective information is therefore likely to vary depending on the extent to which the individual has been exposed to similar messages elsewhere. For instance, as a certain belief becomes widely viewed as discredited among the public and the press, individuals who might be ideologically sympathetic to that belief will be more likely to abandon it when exposed to corrective information.” Interest groups and the dissemination of information. “Keynes is dead.” Shift in reality over time. The Great Depression was initially seen as being caused by Republican policies of laissez-faire, trickle-down economics including tax cuts, easy credit, and deregulation. Over time the accepted story became that it was caused by Hoover’s tax cuts which happened at the end of the Depression.

8 Bias vs partisanship Information that you possess can influence your thinking. Does water conduct electricity? Your answer to this question will influence whether you use water as a conductor or an insulator. Bias is a cognitive process, partisanship is an affective process.

9 Garbage in – garbage out
High Journalistic standards 2 or more verifiable sources Identify the source of the information: According to a story reported by Helen Thomas “A new PEW Research Center poll asserts” – those with high journalistic standards will make it possible to find the specific study to which they are referring. Good polls will make their methodology available. According to Deputy Treasury Secretary, Neal S. Wolin According to Senior White House Aides – speaking under condition of anonymity

10 Garbage in – garbage out
Low Journalistic standards No sources given Polls not identified “according to a recent poll” Source credited to a random anonymous source – “They are saying” “It is being reported” “It says on the internet” Items taken out of context. Just plain make stuff up. Little concern for the truth. Strong partisan bias. It’s good if one party does it but bad if the other party does it.

11 Chapter 14 – The News Media
“Journalists inform the public. influence public opinion, and affect the direction of public policy in our democratic society.” Throughout most of the 19th century, newspapers were partisan in nature, being produced at the expense of political parties. Advertising revenues and subscription services that allow for an independent press came later.

12 Systems theory

13 Dual role of the press The importance of the media is represented by the feedback loop in systems theory. The press plays two key roles in the democratic process. They report public opinion and preferences to government officials thereby presenting demands and support for specific policies. They report policy outputs to the public thereby shaping public opinion and creating a new set of demands and supports. Distortions of public opinion or policy outputs distorts the democratic process.

14 Example News media reports that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) contains “death panels for grandma” and makes other distortions of the truth. The public responds negatively to Obamacare. Individuals who respond negatively to false news reports about the law respond positively when they are asked about individual provisions that are actually in the law. Problem: The public is responding negatively to a policy they would be favorable toward if they were given reliable information.

15 Fourth estate From Plato to Aristotle to Machiavelli to Jefferson and Madison all saw democracy as requiring a strong, vibrant, WELL-INFORMED middle class. The press plays a key role in informing the public. If the press misinforms the public it is detrimental to democracy.

16 William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer – highly sensationalized stories to increase circulation, known as yellow journalism. Often credited (blamed?) with influencing American intervention into Cuba in the Spanish-American War. The combination of yellow journalism and the Progressive Era gave rise to muckraking, a new form of journalism “devoted to exposing misconduct by government, business, and individual politicians.” Many were former yellow journalists who now worked for magazines writing in depth exposes. Journalists became more professionalized and ethical standards of objectivity and balance became valued.

17 television Earlier years of “broadcast” stations, there were requirements of public service programming in order to retain the broadcast license. The justification of regulation came from the concept that there were limited airwaves that were considered a public good. These airwaves were limited and only so many licenses could be granted for broadcasting. In the 1950s and 1960s we saw three broadcasting companies, all of whom ran the news at 6:00 PM. If you did not want to watch news, you turned the TV off. Many more options today for viewing entertainment, much less news. C-SPAN or PBS News hour may give you the most accurate picture of what is going on, but it is BOOORRRRING. The Daily Show is vastly more entertaining and studies show that those who watch it are better informed than those who watch nothing at all or Fox News.

18 Radio and the end of the fairness doctrine
Resurrected as a news medium through ideologically conservative broadcasts that would not have found a voice in the mainstream media. Liberals turn to NPR, but studies have “failed to find any overt liberal bias”.

19 Web media Pros: with media outlets providing fewer in depth reports, bloggers can pick up the slack. The Internet also will frequently catch news items the media misses or gets the reporting wrong on. IE Dan Rather reporting on George Bush’s service record – bloggers identified where the document was clearly a forgery. Web can help overthrow undemocratic regimes as in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and (maybe) Syria. Opens up debate to voices not previously heard

20 Web media Cons: Often the opposite of the pros
Competes with newspapers, free, little cost to produce. It becomes difficult to finance the reporter on the beat or in depth reporting. More immediate news production encourages media outlets to report before necessarily confirming stories to the degree we had seen previously. The rush to print makes errors more likely. Web can lead to conspiracy theories, a polarization of the population, mistrust of government, and undermine democracy. Opens up debate to those who may be unknowledgeable or even insane.

21 New forms of media Increases access to information, however, it also increases access to misinformation. It costs more to find the truth than to make things up. It would follow then that there could be more misinformation available than accurate information. The ability to make misinformation supporting corporate policy preferences sound reasonable is a lucrative business. The average individual will look for info until they find something that conforms to their existing worldview.

22 Current news media trends
Media Consolidation: “Should the news media become dominated by a few mega-corporations, the fear is that these groups could limit the flow of information and ideas that form the very essence of a free society and that make democracy possible.” “While government officials grapple with the consequences of a market driven media industry, media outlets continue to exert considerable pressure on policy makers, demanding more, not less, media consolidation.” Imagine a world in which Rupert Murdoch was the filter of what is fit to print? New World Communications v. Akre Note: Murdoch is now investing in for-profit education.

23 Current trends Narrowcasting: “Targeting media programming at specific populations within society.” With acknowledged biases of news media the limiting of perspectives to only those facts that feed a specific narrative has served to further polarize the electorate. The effect of narrowcasting has gone far beyond a difference of opinions, priorities, or values, to individuals arguing issues based on a different set of facts.

24 Current trends Use of experts: With beat journalists in decline, news organizations need expert opinion regarding the government framing of issues and policies. When we look for an expert in a policy issue, however, it is highly likely that those same experts are within the iron triangle and may be defending the status quo. Formerly, news organizations did not pay people for interviews; now it is standard procedure. “Fox news analyst” “MSNBC news contributor”

25 Current trends Citizen journalists: Do they live up to journalistic standards and ethics, or are they just making stuff up?

26 Government regulations
Fairness doctrine: A policy developed by the Federal Communications Commission in 1949 that required broadcast licensees to both discuss controversial policy issues and to provide contrasting views to these issues. The justification for this policy came from the concept that airwaves were limited and were a public good. The FCC had the right, but not the obligation to enforce this rule. With television moving from public airwaves to private cable, the Doctrine became more difficult to justify. In 1987, this Doctrine was eliminated through an executive order signed by Ronald Reagan, although the Democratic Congress attempted to make it law (it was vetoed by Reagan and later, George HW Bush). This opened the door to “narrowcasting” and the growth of Conservative AM radio chat. The language was removed from the Federal Register in August 2011 in response to an executive order calling for a review and removal of all unnecessary regulations. As a doctrine that was not enforced, it was deemed unnecessary.

27 Government regulations
Equal time rule: “The rule that requires broadcast stations to sell air time equally to all candidates in a political campaign if they choose to sell it to any.” Does not apply to interviews or media events. A news station can not give free air time to one candidate without giving it to all other candidates. It can sell airtime, but all other candidates should be able to purchase at the same price. In reality, the news channels get around this rule by having an interviewer ask an opening question then shuts up and allows the candidate to deliver a stump speech. Romney interview Obama interview

28 terms False equivalency: Seeing both sides as being equally wrong with the answer lying somewhere in the middle. "Political party A says the sky is red. Political party B says the sky is blue. Therefore, since they must both be equally wrong, and the truth must be somewhere in the middle, the sky must be purple." (Wikipedia) Another example would be to suggest that both parties are equally guilty of the denial of science. Fairness bias: When the news media presents a false equivalency as both sides having equal validity. In the case above, the headline would read “Party A and Party B disagree on the color of the Sky.”

29 Press release “A document offering an official comment or position.” Most of you will be involved in the writing or distribution of a press release at some time in your professional life. Businesses use these to announce mergers, events, expansions, or a change of location. Professionals use these to announce awards and new professional designations. It is a one-sided communication.

30 Press briefing “A relatively restricted session between a press secretary or aide and the press.” The candidate is not available for comment, but the press secretary can answer a number of questions.

31 Press Conference An unrestricted session between an elected official and the press. JFK held 64 press conferences in his 34 months in office. They were held in a large auditorium and bear a striking resemblance to question hour (although the press is much more deadpan than the opposition)

32 Who the press talks to President: This is the bully pulpit – some have used it well, some not so well. Party leaders in Congress with preference given to the opposition. It is assumed that the president and Congressional leaders of his party are on the same page. There is also the concern of providing balance. So…if the President fails to use the bully pulpit to push for reforms that he favors, he leaves the bully pulpit open to the opposition leadership to speak against his proposals. Heads of committees: Chairmen and ranking members Local angle: Again, the opposition (and senators) are favored. High turnovers in the House of Representatives by the president’s party can partly be explained by a lack of political coverage for these Congressmen. These individuals rely heavily on free press to promote name recognition. They are rarely covered in the national press and the local press focuses on opposition Congressmen.

33 The bully pulpit In the lead up to healthcare reform, the President stayed away from the press, hoping to prevent it from becoming about him. The result was that the public was exposed more to what Republicans had to say about the legislation than what Democrats had to say about it. Polls have shown that while a majority of citizens were initially opposed to the PPACA (56%) when those same individuals were polled regarding the individual provisions of the reform, the majority was in favor (61-82%). Many of the experts interviewed during the healthcare debate were lobbyists or employees of corporations with a financial stake in the issue. IE PhRMA and insurance companies.

34 The Supreme court Complex legal issues don’t sell well. Stories about the Court are accompanied by sketch drawings. Probably the most significant coverage in my lifetime…Anna Nicole Smith. “The justices, citing the need to protect the public’s perception of the Supreme Court as a nonpolitical and autonomous entity, have given little evidence to suggest that they are eager to become more media friendly.” However, certain justices have no qualms about becoming more business friendly.

35 News media bias Everyone is biased. We develop opinions and ideas based on our existing worldview. Bits of information are considered and processed according to experiences and information that we already possess. No two people can claim the exact same information and experiences. Bias is present in all decisions made by a news organization, starting with the simple decision of what to cover and what not to cover. A priority is established that may not be shared. The news executive may select based on ratings while the journalist may select based on relevance. It is important to distinguish between a difference of priorities, values and opinion, and a difference in facts. If “well over 90%” of Planned Parenthood activities involved providing abortions, we could then have a debate regarding federal funding of abortions through this organization. If, in reality, it is only 3% of what they do, we are looking at a difference of facts from which we are arguing and not a difference of opinion. If you believe that that 3% is enough to strip them of all federal funding, then this is a different debate.

36 Information? In survey after survey, Americans are shown to be politically uninformed. Some hypothesize that we spend less time consuming news and more time consuming entertainment. Could there be another answer? Fox News Viewers Uninformed, NPR listeners not, Poll Suggests If watching Fox News leaves voters uninformed or misinformed, should we be concerned that the top five watched news programs are on Fox News? Democracy depends on a well informed electorate. What are the ramifications?

37 Anthony Downs Downs utilized economic theory in a political context to state that it was irrational for individuals to spend the time and effort of gaining political information unless: he may enjoy being well informed for its own sake, so that information as such provides him with utility; he may believe the election is going to be so close that the probability of his casting the decisive vote is relatively high; he may need information to influence the votes of others so that he can alter the outcome of the election or persuade government to assign his preferences more weight than those of others; or he may need information to influence the formation of government policy as a lobbyist. With increased availability of information sources, the cost of getting ACCURATE information is increased significantly. Not only does an individual have to sift through a huge pile of information and opinion, they then have to determine the veracity of the information retrieved.

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