Graduation Year

2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Mass Communications

Major Professor

Scott S. Liu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Justin S. Brown, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roxanne Watson, Ph.D.

Keywords

broadcast journalism, media trust, social judgment theory, television news

Abstract

The credibility of the American news media is increasingly under fire. Despite an exponential expansion of information available in the digital media era, increased political news coverage and commentary has brought growing apprehension over how much of today’s news can be trusted and believed. 24-hour cable news channels are among the media most often subject to this criticism. At the same time, the media operates under First Amendment freedom of press protection, a constitutional guarantee granted with the understanding that democracy can only succeed when its citizens are well informed. In the great experiment of our republic, a freely functioning news media fills this critical role, but only to the extent that it can be trusted to portray the truth.

This research questioned the media’s ability to inform the public due to the proliferation of political news and commentary. Utilizing social judgment theory, this study offered two hypotheses: that news consumers will find more credibility in political news when presented by media outlets they favor due to political preferences, and that they will also find more credibility in non-political news when presented by media they favor due to political preferences. The study examined if there is a bleed over effect on the credibility of non-political news due to political news coverage. An experiment was conducted in which two politically diverse populations, Republicans and Democrats, where asked to rate the credibility of six stories. Three of the stories were political, three non-political. While the content of those stories remained constant for all study participants, the media brands associated with the stories alternated between Fox News and CNN to determine if the media source alone influences perceptions of credibility. Results from members of both political parties provided support for each hypothesis. Republicans assigned greater credibility to both political and non-political news stories when presented by their network of preference, Fox News. By comparison, Democrats demonstrated greater trust when those same stories where branded by their preferred network, CNN.

Available for download on Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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