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.
Ross thinks this is because partisans often feel the news lacks context. Instead of just showing a missile killing civilians, in other words, partisans on both sides want the news to explain the history of events that prompted — and could have justified — the missile. The more knowledgeable people are, the more context they find missing.
Even more curious, the hostile media effect seems to apply only to news sources that strive for balance (this lets Fox News off the hook–Ed). 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.
Update: 7/20/2006: On the Media interviewed the author of the story this week; here’s the blurb from their website. I’ll post a link to the transcript when it becomes available:
More Middle East coverage this weekâ€¦ more charges of bias. Over the years, most news organizations have become accustomed to complaints from all sides in the conflict. But as Shankar Vedantam wrote this week in the Washington Post, studies show that the partisans who lob most of the criticism are predisposed to see bias, for the simple reason that they care. Vedantam explains to Bob the psychology of the partisan prism.