Partisans, it turns out, don’t just arrive at different conclusions; they see entirely different worlds . In one especially telling experiment, researchers showed 144 observers six television news segments about Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon.
Pro-Arab viewers heard 42 references that painted Israel in a positive light and 26 references that painted Israel unfavorably. Pro-Israeli viewers, who watched the very same clips, spotted 16 references that painted Israel positively and 57 references that painted Israel negatively. Both groups were certain they were right and that the other side didn’t know what it was talking about.
The tendency to see bias in the news — now the raison d’etre of much of the blogosphere — is such a reliable indicator of partisan thinking that researchers coined a term, “hostile media effect,” to describe the sincere belief among partisans that news reports are painting them in the worst possible light…
Even more curious, the hostile media effect seems to apply only to news sources that strive for balance. News reports from obviously biased sources usually draw fewer charges of bias. Partisans, it turns out, find it easier to countenance obvious propaganda than news accounts that explore both sides.
And this graf explains 95 percent of my inbox every Monday after my column runs:
People who are deeply invested in one side are quicker to spot and remember aspects of the news that hurt than they are to see aspects that help, said Richard Perloff, a Cleveland State University political communication researcher…
Ross and Perloff both found that what partisans worry about the most is the impact of the news on neutral observers. But the data suggest such worry is misplaced. Neutral observers are better than partisans at seeing flaws and virtues on both sides. Partisans, it turns out, are particularly susceptible to the general human belief that other people are susceptible to propaganda.