Category Archives: Media

Does Fox News viewership correlate with racism?

In the wake of Dylann Storm Roof’s horrifying act of terrorism in South Carolina, many have pointed to the negative influence of conservative media in incubating right-wing extremism. Bill Maher, for example criticized outlets such as Fox News, The Drudge Report and The Daily Caller for presenting a “twisted view,” in which Black people were taking over the country. These criticisms are not new: Fox News has for years come under criticism for its racially-charged coverage. Just recently, in January of last year, Isaac Chotiner wrote that Fox News creates segments “meant to scare its white audience into believing that African Americans, or Muslims, are out to get them.” Meanwhile, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow have both criticized Fox News’s coverage of the Ferguson murder last year.

New data suggests that their criticisms may be correct.

Using 2012 American National Election Studies data to test whether Fox News viewers have distinct racial attitudes, it can be demonstrated that, indeed, these viewers are more likely to reject the reality of structural racism and to endorse negative stereotypes of Black people.

I examine three areas of racial opinion. The first questions in the data measure racial stereotyping in particular. These questions ask respondents to say whether they believe that Black people are “hard-working” or “lazy,” “intelligent” or “unintelligent” and whether they have “too much influence” or “too little influence” in politics. The second set of questions look at more structural issues. These questions ask respondents whether they agree or disagree with these statements:

Work Way: ‘Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.’

Slavery: ‘Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.’

Deserve: ‘Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.’

Try: ‘It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.’

Discrimination: How much discrimination do Black people face?

And finally, I look at attitudes towards solutions: whether respondents support government aid to Blacks, think that the government should ensure fair jobs for Blacks. My analysis focuses only on non-Hispanic whites.

To begin, I examined only whites who identify as conservative, and compared the racial attitudes of those who watched Fox News regularly to those who did not. In addition, I examined specifically those who watched “The O’Reilly Factor,” the most popular Fox News show (there is obviously overlap here, about 67 percent of respondents who regularly watch Fox News also report regularly watching O’Reilly). On structural racial issues, I find a nearly 13 point difference on structural racial issues between white conservatives who do not watch Fox News with those who do, and 15 point difference between those who do not watch Fox News with those who watch “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The gaps on most questions are similar, but it’s worth noting that a stunning 92 percent of Fox News viewers and 94 percent of O’Reilly viewers agree “Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.” Half of O’Reilly viewers say that there is little or no discrimination against Blacks today, compared with 45 percent of Fox News viewers and 40 percent of white conservatives who don’t watch Fox News.

On issues of interpersonal racism, I find that Fox News and O’Reilly factor viewers are more likely to say Black people are “Lazy,” but are only slightly more likely to say that Black people are unintelligent. However, white conservative Fox News viewers are nearly twice as likely to say that Black people have too much influence over politics. This question is not typically assumed to indicate racial stereotyping, but it should. In a recent study, political scientist Richard Fording and John M. Cotter of the FBI find, “the presence of black elected officials to be positively related to white hate group activity, even after controlling for the size of the nonwhite and Hispanic population, economic conditions, and other characteristics of the political environment.”


White respondents who watched Fox News are also far less likely to endorse government action to benefit Black people, saying that the government should not fair treatment in the workplace and that “Black people should help themselves.”

Obviously, there could be other factors at work here: Maybe people more predisposed to racist attitudes gravitate towards Fox News (though this is still an indictment of Fox News). White conservatives who watch Fox News tend have slightly lower incomes and less education than conservatives who don’t — this could help explain some of the effect. They are also older, though evidence suggests that young whites are no less likely to espouse racist attitudes than their parents. In addition, when I examined the racial attitudes of only white conservatives over 50, I still found large differences between Fox News viewers and non-Fox News viewers.

As the chart below shows, whether we compare all whites who watch Fox news vs. those who don’t, or vs. conservatives, or vs. Republicans, or vs. conservatives over 50, the result remains the same: those who watch Fox News are far more likely to endorse racial stereotypes and ignore the issue of structural racism. Those who watch “The O’Reilly Factor” are more likely to deny structural racism and oppose government action to help Blacks.

The Fox News effect is powerful: One study finds that Fox News boosted Republican vote share by 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points between 1996 and 2000. Numerousstudies find that Fox News influences viewers perceptions on key issues. Many of these studies focus on issues related to race, such as the Ground Zero mosque and undocumented immigration. One study finds that, “the Fox News audience is indeed more favorable toward Bush, and has greater hostility toward his opposition, even when controlling for party identification.” They may also be promoting harmful and negative stereotypes about African-Americans, poisoning race relations in America. While it’s impossible to prove that Roof was influenced specifically by Fox News, it’s clear that white conservatives who watch Fox News are far less likely to accept the realities of structural racism than those who do not. They are also modestly more likely to accept harmful racial stereotypes about Black people. Particularly worryingly, they are far more likely to believe that Black people have too much influence over politics. What’s clear, above all else, is that right-wing media are partially responsible for the fraught racial tension in American politics.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

The NYT’s 1 percent problem: Media bias goes much deeper than Fox News vs MSNBC

The media is biased, but not in the way most commentators think. By focusing on whether the media is harder on Republicans or Democrats, we’ve missed a more important bias: toward things that matter to the rich. This bias, by linking the state of the economy to how the rich are performing, ends up benefiting Republican candidates.

Media are subject to a deep availability bias: They write about the things they know and things that interest them and the people who surround them. This ends up giving coverage an upper-class tinge. To take a few examples, consider the longbattle over reclining airplane seats, which garnered three full Upshot stories (withUber getting at least six). Meanwhile, Upshot has done scant, if any, coverage on payday lending, employer credit checks, abusive scheduling, the desperate state of American pensions and the rise in abusive “rent to own” selling. It sounds almost impossible, but Upshot has published more stories on airplane seating than predatory payday lending. This isn’t entirely a critique of the Upshot; it’s delivering content that its readers are interested in. An editor might be hard-pressed to devote large amounts of space, even online, to stories that affect very few of its readers. The result is often stark, however, like the New York Times’ cutting its race beat at a time of deep racial turmoil, while continuing to report on the housing whims of the rich(and the ideal way for them to reduce pesky arm fat).

More concretely, journalists will often use the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500 as shorthand for the state of the economy. This is misleading, however, since the richest 10 percent of Americans control 83 percent of financial assets. Morethan 50 percent of Americans don’t own any stock, and are therefore unaffected by the stock market.

Imagine an alternative universe in which the health of the economy was determined by wage growth for the middle class, rather than the stock portfolios of the wealthy. Further, reporters and wonks tend to rely on unemployment rate, while ignoring the fact that it excludes things like discouraged workers and the underemployed. In addition, the raw unemployment rate obscures deep class and racial divisions in unemployment. For instance, Jesse Myerson and Mychal Denzel Smith write that “teenage black high-school dropouts from poor families” face an unemployment rate of 95 percent. The rate of unemployment for black Americans is regularly doublewhat it is for whites. As Reniqua Allen writes, African-American men are “stuck in a permanent recession.”

Why does this matter for politics? It helps explain a persistent paradox in American politics: the fact that during the postwar period, the economy performs far better under Democrats, but Republicans have managed to hold the presidency more than half of the time. But growth isn’t just faster under Democrats, it’s far more equally distributed between class and race. Under Democrats, incomes for the low-income and middle-class Americans grew dramatically faster than under Republicans.

Political scientist Larry Bartels’ results (above) are striking and they raise a question: Why on earth would low-income and middle-income Americans ever vote for Republicans? Bartels presents three theories. First, what he calls myopia. Upon reexamining the data, Bartels discovered something odd: Most of the Republican income growth happens on the fourth year of a presidential term, while most of the Democratic income growth happens on the first year.

The result is that voters, who remember only their most recent economic experience, end up voting Republican. Second, Bartels finds that Republicans have a distinctive campaign finance advantage, which has helped them win in key elections. He finds that “Every Republican incumbent (or successor) has spent at least slightly more than his Democratic challenger, while every Democratic incumbent (or successor) has spent at least slightly less than his Republican challenger.” A recent study finds that this advantage continues: Citizen’s United boosted Republican chances in state House races by about 4 percentage points overall.

While these two factors are certainly important, the most surprising thing Bartels finds is that low-income and middle-income voters are more sensitive to the income growth of the rich. The effect he finds is impressive. A 1 percent increase in real income growth would increase the vote share of the incumbent party by 2.3 percent, while a similar increase in income for the richest 95 percent would boost the incumbent vote share by 10.2 percent. Together, these factors were powerful enough to swing four postwar elections (1956, 1968, 1980 and 2000)  in favor of the Republican Party (see chart). The chart shows how much higher the Republican vote margin was because of the three factors Bartels observes. Over the full period, the three added, on average, 9.5 points to the Republican popular vote margin. The Republicans also benefit from structural factors, as I’ve noted elsewhere: Majoritarian systems favor right parties, low turnout (particularly in midterms) and some well-placed Supreme Court justices to deliver the closely contested 2000 election.

Republicans benefit from the fact that journalists are loath to seem biased. Even reporting basic facts, like the fact that while Republicans claim to be interested in cutting deficits, the deficits actually rise faster under Republicans, would seem partisan. The result is that the truth about the parties remains widely unknown: A 2014 poll found that Americans trust Republicans to deal with the federal deficit 42 percent to 36 percent. Indeed, despite having presided over higher unemployment, lower GDP growth and higher inflation, Americans consistently say they trust Republicans more with the economy. Pew reports that in 2015, 44 percent of Americans said the Republican Party would do a better job dealing with the economy compared with 41 percent for Democrats. This is striking given that Americans are living through the Obama recovery that directly followed a dramatic recession under Bush. At the same time, 60 percent of Americans say that Democrats care about the middle class, compared with 43 percent for the Republican Party. But research showsthat middle-class economics is far superior to the Republican Party’s “trickle down” economic agenda. As Nixon realized long ago, facts do not matter, only opinions do. And Republicans have successfully goaded, cajoled and manipulated the press so deeply that their flawed economic agenda appears beneficial. But it is merely a facade: Recent research suggests Republicans boost the stock market (benefiting the 1 percent) while Democrats reduce unemployment (helping everyone).

What can be done? First, progressives desperately need to combat the trickle-down narrative. They need to give Americans plausible reasons for why their policies are better for the economy. Middle-class economics is certainly one part. The fact that progressives direct economic growth toward lower unemployment rather than a fatter stock market is another. I’ve outlined 11 reasons why progressive policies grow the economy faster. Progressives need to make an equitable growth narrative central to their campaigns, and deliver on promises to help low-income and middle-class Americans. The progressive agenda of a higher minimum wage, a more robust social safety net, universal paid sick leave and debt-free higher education would bring around many voters.  Second, those who benefit from progressive policies are least likely to turn out to vote, while the wealthy whites who benefit from conservative policies overwhelmingly turn out. Boosting registration and turnout is thus key.

Finally, progressives shouldn’t be afraid of fighting for racial justice. We need an economy that works better for everyone. The progressive agenda can’t just be focused on the white middle class, but it would be absurd to pretend that a policy agenda for racial equity would sacrifice the interests of working-class whites. As I’ve shown, progressive presidents close income gaps between whites and people of color while also benefiting white people. Progressive policies offer a better world for everyone — while conservative policies pit the poor against the rich. Instead of the zero-sum economy conservatives offer, progressives can offer broad-based economic growth that will benefit all Americans.

This piece originally appeared on Salon