Whose News? Class-Biased Economic Reporting in the United States

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030320-WP-Whose News-Jacobs Matthews Hicks and Merkley

Alan M. Jacobs, University of British Columbia
J. Scott Matthews, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Timothy Hicks, University College London
Eric Merkley, University of Toronto


There is substantial evidence that voters’ choices are shaped by assessments of the state of the economy and that these assessments, in turn, are influenced by the news. But how does the economic news track the welfare of different income groups in an era of rising inequality? Whose economy does the news cover? Drawing on a large new dataset of U.S. news content, we demonstrate that the tone of the economic news strongly and disproportionately tracks the fortunes of the richest households, with little sensitivity to income changes among the non-rich. Further, we present evidence that this “class bias” emerges not from pro-rich journalistic preferences but, rather, from the interaction of the media’s focus on economic aggregates with structural features of the relationship between economic growth and distribution. The findings yield a novel explanation of distributionally perverse electoral patterns and demonstrate how the structure of the economy conditions economic accountability.


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