President Trump escalated his attacks on the press during the 2018 midterm election cycle, but Mendez says he's playing off longstanding skepticism of news media. In this episode of Capitol Insider Oklahoma State Professor Jeanette Mendez joins KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley to discuss media bias. Mendez's research confirms previous findings that people perceive the news according to their own biases.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and elections. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. During this last election cycle there was considerable discussion of accuracy and fairness in news reporting. Oklahoma State University Professor of Political Science Jeanette Mendez has done extensive research on perceptions of the news media, and she joins us today. Jeanette, welcome.
Jeanette Mendez: Thank you.
Pryor: By now just about everyone has heard President Trump's attacks on legacy news organizations that he persistently calls fake news, but this is really nothing new in our politics.
Mendez: No it's true. There's always been a skepticism of the news media. In fact, if you go back to early studies... Even 30 years ago voters, if you give them the exact same piece of news--newspaper article, video, whatever it is-- they interpret it through their own filter. In fact, the early studies of this were done by some psychologists, and they were studying the Beirut massacre. And they gave video news coverage of the Beirut massacre to Palestinians and Israelis, and they had everyone watch the exact same video. And they walked out of it saying that that content was favorable to the other side. A parallel that most people understand... It's like watching your favorite sports team, right? The referee is always against you. So we always read things and see things from our own filter, and the news media really is plays into that. I had some early work, my dissertation on that phenomenon: the hostile media effect. And really what we saw is you could give people the exact same coverage and they would walk away from it assuming that that coverage was intended to sway someone to the other side. Interestingly this was pre-cable news, 24 hour news. This was really when we were looking at just kind of just major network television news. And we still saw this. Interestingly we also saw it a little more from Republicans than we did from Democrat,s which kind of feeds into the early "liberal news bias" that we heard about about 20 years ago and it just kind of took off with cable news.
Shawn Ashley: Even Donald Trump in his claims about fake news has also turned around and praised some of the same news organizations that he has criticized. Does that selective view from politicians undermine their criticism of the news media?
Mendez: Oh definitely. I think his I think when he kind of turns is because he's seen a message that might resonate with him, right? And so what it does... I mean that journalists can't pander to that. They can't just cover things in a way so that they get that praise. I think journalists, in the face of what's going on, have done a good job in doing what they are trained to do and ignoring that. But it does kind of ring hollow. On the other side, voters might not be paying attention to that, right? They're still hearing one thing from him and the majority of the time it's don't trust this, don't go here, don't go there. And, again, that leads them to choosing a very narrow amount of news outlets. And this isn't just for Republicans. So the early research showed Republicans might be more likely to claim media bias, but Democrats are just as likely to stick with news sources, because when we don't, when we expose ourselves to information that runs counter to what we believe we have a hard time processing it. So on a psychological level it creates a cognitive dissonance that we don't know what to do with, and it creates too much for us to handle. So it's easier, it's always easier and the path of least resistance is to choose media outlets that do confirm your preexisting beliefs.
Pryor: We're both journalists, Shawn and I are. Is there anything that journalists can do, in your opinion, to win over people who see them as part of the problem?
Mendez: Journalists probably are under attack, and I think probably from both sides. I think from the politicians who have a distrust of being misquoted or misrepresented, and so I think really establishing those relationships over time and showing that trust can work both ways. And I think for voters... There's a lot less that I think you can do on the voter side than just keep doing what you're doing and then putting out quality reporting and hoping that voters are aware of that, seeing it, and coming to you.
Pryor: Jeanette Mendez, thanks for joining us.
Mendez: Thank you.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and eCapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley. I'm Dick Pryor.
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