by Albert C. Gunther, Nicole Miller, and Janice L. Liebhart

Recent empirical research has vividly demonstrated the hostile media effect—the
tendency for individuals highly involved in a controversial issue to see media coverage
of that issue as hostile to their own point of view. This type of contrast bias—along with
its assimilation counterpart—is hypothesized to stem from preexisting partisan attitudes
coupled with other explanatory factors, including perceived reach of the message and
characteristics of the source. To test these predictions, we recruited partisan respondents
who were either Native American or sympathetic to native issues. Participants (N = 152)
read information, varying in apparent circulation (low, medium and high reach) and source
(friendly vs. not friendly) characteristics, on the issue of genetically modified wild rice, a
controversial topic for native people in the upper Midwest. Variations in reach produced
a linear trend in judgments of bias in the predicted direction. However, overall evaluations
tended toward assimilation rather than contrast effects, and two distinct dimensions of
partisanship produced surprising and provocative results.  (download)