A new study conducted by researchers at Brown University concluded that while the endorsements of Presidential candidates did affect voter support, the bias of the newspaper in question affected the endorsement “bump.”:
The least credible endorsements were for Al Gore from The New York Times and for George W. Bush from the Dallas Morning News, which convinced less than 1 percent of their readers to switch allegiance to the endorsed candidate.
By contrast, the endorsement with the largest effects came from the Chicago Sun Times and the Denver Post, both of which had surprising endorsements. The Chicago Sun Times was predicted to endorse Gore with a probability of 58 percent, but instead endorsed Bush, while the Denver Post endorsed Gore even though it was only predicted to do so by a probability of only 35 percent.
This study only concerns itself with Presidential elections. That makes sense because an election has a specific outcome, which makes interpreting the results of an experiment easier. The study also seems to concern itself only with party switching at election time. While this can be an important indication for a segment of the population, is not by itself determinative of how we might react to endorsements as a whole. For example, what about those who chose to sit out an election?
But the presumption is that the basic principle demonstrated in the study can extend itself to all facets of politics and policy. We know who is biased and who is not and we act on that information accordingly. This brings me back to a point I make often about media bias: not only do we as readers not require the opinions of journalists, but we’re also not so weak-willed as to require them or be overly-influenced by them. We’re not going to abdicate our sovereignty to just any dick with a job at the local newspaper.
This is of course different from a daily bombardment of propaganda such as is the norm on cable news nets. But the problem as I see it has been that mainstream media outlets in modern times have been so quick to cover any sense of bias up that they’ve turned themselves into bland and ultimately uninformative pablum. Cable news provides the color and flavour people want – albeit largely empty-calorie viewing with not much in the way of facts.
In an era when we find ourselves very divided on big social and economic issues, we don’t need more firebrands, certainly. But perhaps if journalists were more trusted to provide us the opinions they’ve formed over years of covering their specific niches, our culture would be less-inclined to listen to the uninformed opinions of demagogs with a financial interest – not in policy or social good, but in the opinions themselves.