Media Blog

Is Media Bias Profitable?

Economists at U of Illinois think so:

Media bias has become increasingly profitable given a polarized electorate in which conservatives and liberals want news coverage that tilts toward their political leanings, according to the study by Dan Bernhardt, Stefan Krasa and Mattias Polborn.
“You listen to news not just to get informed, but to be entertained,” Krasa said. “And you’re more entertained if they tell you you’re right than if they tell you you’re wrong.”
But even though voters typically take the spin into account rather than following blindly and that the media only slant news rather than falsifying it, selective reporting can still factor into mistakes at the polls, according to findings that will appear in the Journal of Public Economics.
… “The problem is to avoid making mistakes you’re asking voters to work harder, and it’s not necessarily in their self-interest to do that,” Bernhardt said. “So there’s this paradox. Becoming better informed could potentially help everybody else because we would vote better and wouldn’t make mistakes. But people don’t internalize the consequences for everybody else, they only internalize their own. So they under invest in information. Most do.”

There seems to be a bit of question-begging going on here, on the part of the report on the study if not in the study itself. (Granted, this does not seem to be much more than a rewritten press release; will update when I’ve had a chance to look at the actual study.) The economists apparently assume that bias is both profitable and profit-driven, but nothing in this report that substantiates that claim. Some of the most biased sources are nonprofit — Associated Press, NPR, PBS — and the most opinionated sources — political magazines — tend not to be very profitable at all.
News is, for the most part, only entertainment, and the money quote seems to me to be this one: “And you’re more entertained if they tell you you’re right than if they tell you you’re wrong.” I’m sure that this is true, but I wish it weren’t. Isn’t it more interesting to be challenged than to be confirmed?
As for that last bit about voters making “mistakes” because they are under-informed … an interesting (if I do say so myself) discussion is here.

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