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Can you identify racist jurors by asking if they watch local  TV news?

Friday, July 10, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

TVNewsLogoSo here’s a voir dire fantasy: When race is salient to your case, strike for cause all potential jurors who say they watch their local television news. For what cause?

Because they’re more likely to be racist—at least according to today’s research.

Local news coverage tends to focus on crime according to the researchers and they tend to cover crimes committed by African-Americans all out of proportion to their actual occurrence in the local community. The regular local TV News viewer might therefore be under the impression that African-Americans are a significant and dangerous criminal element in their community—and that impression is a distortion of the actual criminal activity engaged in by African-Americans in their community.

To test the hypothesis embedded in the previous sentence, researchers asked participants how many hours of local news coverage they watched on a daily basis. What they found was striking:

The more local news participants watched, the higher they scored on the Implicit Association Test (a measure of unconscious bias that we’ve written about  before).

In other words, regular exposure to stereotypical television news increases negative implicit biases in the viewer (which can, in turn, say the researchers, alter explicit attitudes and result in discriminatory behavior). This research finding is supported by a recent Media Matters report looking at local TV News coverage of crime (see graphic at right) as well as what the authors describe as a “substantial body of [additional] research” on biased news coverage. What is less clear is whether people who watch these news sources are “made more biased” by the reporting that they watch, or whether they watch the news because it reinforces the beliefs they already held.

media matters insertFrom a litigation advocacy perspective, it’s an intriguing issue. If we know that watching local news corresponds to higher levels of implicit biases (biases of which we are unaware), which increase likelihood of explicit biases (biases of which we’re aware) which, in turn, can result in discriminatory actions—would that not be an important variable to assess? It is at least of interest at the pretrial level to see if the report of local news viewing is related to eventual verdict. Hmmm. Perhaps jurors don’t need to watch the news during the trial to be affected by it; maybe it is telling that they watched local news during the week prior to jury duty.

Arendt, F, & Northup, T (2015). Effects of long-term exposure to news stereotypes on implicit and explicit attitudes. International Journal of Communication,, 9, 732-751

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