When people have strong, emotional attitudes, they project these attitudes onto other people - and particularly the news media.
To examine this phenomenon, I developed a videotape composed of actual footage of approximately equal amounts of violence committed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Pro-Israel partisans perceived the news was biased against Israel and in favor of the P.L.O. Palestinian activists believed the same news coverage was slanted against the P.L.O. and in favor of Israel. Colleagues at Stanford, New York University and the University of Wisconsin have reported similar results in studies of the Middle East and other controversial issues. They call this "hostile media bias."
What happens psychologically is that strong partisans "see" only those portions of the news that dispute their view of reality because this either attracts their attention, is intensely memorable or excites their emotions to a greater degree than media coverage that supports their worldview. The objective content of news remains elusive. Truth is in the eye of the media beholder.
RICHARD M. PERLOFF
Cleveland, April 27, 2005
The writer is the director of the School of Communication, Cleveland State University.