Primetime Spin

Media Bias and Belief Confirming Information

Published In: Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, v. 17, no. 3, Fall 2008, p. 633-665

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2008

by Jeremy Burke

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This paper develops a model of media bias in which rational agents acquire all their news from the source that is most likely to confirm their prior beliefs. Despite only wishing to make the correct decision, agents act as if they enjoy receiving news that supports their preconceptions. By exclusively gathering information from a source biased towards his prior, there is little chance an agent will be persuaded to change his mind. Moreover, it is shown that even an unbiased agent prefers to receive biased news as it is unlikely to produce conflicting reports. The media caters to the informational demands of consumers and accordingly slants its reporting. It is shown that competition may not decrease bias, but may actually enhance it. Finally, even when it increases bias, competition may improve welfare by expanding the market for news.

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