The Fairness Doctrine in Light of Hostile Media Perception: A Psychological Critique

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The Fairness Doctrine loomed over the media for over four decades, finally meeting its demise in the late 1980s. However, the controversial policy has found some resurgent popularity with Congress and the White House comfortably in the control of the Democratic Party. This paper examines the Fairness Doctrine from an angle scholars have yet to explore—a media psychology perspective. In short, we argue that research from the last quarter century regarding audiences’ reception of information via the media indicates the Fairness Doctrine, even if it could get past legal and logistical hurdles and be re-instated, would not bring about its intended effect. More specifically, the hostile media perception (or hostile media effect)—the phenomenon where partisans, regardless of position on the ideological spectrum, see the media as biased against them—would mean that content the media was forced to show under the Fairness Doctrine would not be perceived as fair despite the doctrine’s best intentions. Thus, we posit there is one more legitimate reason why the Fairness Doctrine should remain a historical curiosity rather than a current reality.

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