Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Bradley W. Gorham
Broadcast and Digital Journalism
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Broadcast and Video Studies | Journalism Studies
Problem: The central study question was whether or not believing that a certain media outlet is biased in a certain direction predisposes someone to perceive more or less bias in news content. The following hypotheses were formed:
Hypothesis One: News consumers would find a news story to be more biased toward the corresponding associated political viewpoint of its source regardless of the actual content of the story.
Hypothesis Two: Liberal respondents would be more likely to perceive the news stories as conservatively biased and conservative respondents would be more likely to perceive the new stories as being liberally biased.
Hypothesis Three: Liberal respondents would be more likely to view content presented as being from Fox News as more conservatively biased than conservative respondents and conservatives would be more likely to view content presented as being from CNN or MSNBC as more liberally biased.
Methods: A survey research design was created to test these hypotheses. Sixty-one participants read two different articles and were asked questions concerning their perception of bias in the articles. The articles were written by the researcher on two different topics from the spring of 2007: Iraq War troop reductions and universal health care proposals from Democratic presidential candidates. For each of these articles, three different versions were made (Neutral, Left-Leaning, and Right-Leaning) by either omitting or adding information that was more or less harmful to a certain political viewpoint or by word choice (i.e. “socialized” versus “universal” health care). Each article was then placed in three different visual contexts: FoxNews.com printout, CNN.com printout, and a text word document. Each participant was given only one version of the two article topics.
Results: None of the hypotheses were proven with statistical significance; however, the data do tend to suggest that they may be provable with a larger sample size. For hypothesis one, in the first article those reading the possibility of a troop reduction article in the FoxNews.com visual context found the story to favor the conservative viewpoint 55 percent of the time compared to 28 percent for CNN.com and 25 percent for the control version. The results for the health care article were not as strong because of more subtle alterations to “manufacture” bias. However, those reading the Fox versions were still much less likely (57 percent) to say the articles favored the liberal viewpoint compared to CNN (83 percent). Hypothesis two and three were unable to be substantially tested due to low sample size. The results also show that perceptions of bias based on content may actually be stronger than based on visual cues. For example, those reading the liberal troop reduction article (for any visual context) found it to be favoring liberals 69 percent of the time compared to six percent for those reading the conservative version at a significance level of .01.
Conclusion: It does appear that framing based upon preconceived ideas about the bias of certain news outlets can make someone more likely to perceive bias in that same direction. However, the actual content of the story is a better predictor of how someone in this participant pool would perceive bias.
Lynk, Braden, "Effect of Source on Perception of Bias in Cable News" (2008). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 553.
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