The Hostile Media Phenomenon: Biased Perception and Perceptions of Media Bias in Coverage of the Beirut Massacre
Robert P. Vallone, Lee Ross, and Mark R. Lepper-Stanford University
After viewing identical samples of major network television coverage of the Beirut massacre, both pro-Israeli and pro-Arab partisans rated these programs, and those responsible for them, as being biased against their side.
This hostile media phenomenon appears to involve the operation of two separate mechanisms.
First, partisans evaluated the fairness of the media's sample of facts and arguments differently: in light of their own divergent views about the objective merits of each side's case and their corresponding views about the nature of unbiased coverage.
Second, partisans reported different perceptions and recollections about the program content itself; that is, each group reported more negative references to their side than positive ones, and each predicted that the coverage would sway nonpartisans in a hostile direction.
Within both partisan groups, furthermore, greater knowledge of the crisis was associated with stronger perceptions of media bias.
Charges of media bias, we concluded, may reflect more than self-serving attempts to secure preferential treatment. They may result from the operation of basic cognitive and perceptual mechanisms, mechanisms that should prove relevant to perceptions of fairness or objectivity in a wide range of mediation and negotiation contexts.