WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — American audiences tend to gravitate towards media sources that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs. And as the number of online media outlets increases and newspaper readership falls, “outrage-based” political opinion media has grown dramatically.

A new sociological study of media from Tufts University found that the US public is getting an increasing amount of their news from such “outrage-based” shows that back up their own strong ideological biases.

“These venues offer flattering, reassuring environments that make audience members feel good,” researchers Sarah Sobieraj, Amy Connors and Jeffrey Barry from Tufts University write in this month’s Poetics journal. “Fans experience them as safe havens from the tense exchanges that they associate with cross-cutting political talk they may encounter with neighbors, colleagues, and community members.”

The researchers looked at ten “outrage-based” shows – such as those hosted by Fox’s Sean Hannity, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and radio personality Rush Limbaugh – and found that viewers of the shows held “powerful connections” with the charismatic political pundits.

The researchers found that the intimate connection with these hosts created audiences who can find safe political spaces, instead of seeking political discussion with those who disagree with them.

A 2012-13 Pew Research Center analysis of the presidential election coverage found that, “[C]ampaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans. That meant more direct relaying of assertions made by the campaigns and less reporting by journalists to interpret and contextualize them.”

An analysis of Census Bureau data by Robert McChesney and John Nichols found the ratio of public relations workers to journalists grew from 1.2 to 1 in 1980 to 3.6 to 1 in 2008—and the gap has likely only widened in recent years.

“Whereas political conversation generates fear of social exclusion, outrage-based programs incorporate and even include viewers and listeners,” the researchers wrote. “The host presents as a kindred spirit who ‘gets you’ even when other folks do not.”

Nearly one-third of the respondents – 31 percent – have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.

Also according to Pew, the percent of Americans who say they read a print newspaper the previous day continues to drop, falling 18 points over the last decade to 23 percent.


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