Democracy based on reasons: Investigating the justificatory function of television news | Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung

Eike Mark Rinke
Democracy based on reasons: Investigating the justificatory function of television news

Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, Ill., 28. August bis 01. September 2013

Models of deliberative democracy stress the role of public justifications for realizing important epistemic and moral goals in a democratic politics. From this point of view, a major democratic function of mediated public deliberation in modern large-scale societies—and a journalism that contributes to it—is to provide for the generation and circulation of public justifications. Yet, there is little empirical work on the degree to which journalism takes up its justificatory function and we know almost nothing about its consequences for citizens. In this paper, I investigate the antecedents and effects of “journalism as reason-giving” (Ettema, 2007). Study 1 presents findings from a content analysis of probabilistic samples of eleven television news shows in Germany, Russia, and the United States. Results show that journalism in a liberal model of media and politics, characterized by relatively strong state-press antagonism, (United States) presents significantly more public justifications for political opinions than journalism in a democratic corporatist (Germany) or statist commercialized (Russia) system. The paper then explores some consequences of this justification differential for audiences and democracy at large. Drawing on work in social psychology, I present a model of how the mere exposure to a justification may have effects on news audiences’ willingness and ability to engage in political reasoning. Two online experiments test the model using data from student (Study 2) and non-student samples, and different communication modalities (television versus print, Study 3). Results show that exposure to justification-heavy news enhances the tendency of individuals to produce reasons for their own political opinion but not their tendency to generate reasons for holding opinions opposing their own. Justification exposure also does not have a consistent effect on people’s likelihood of engaging in justification behavior. However, results suggest that it may have positive effects on the likelihood with which people provide reasons for their own opinions. Finally, results suggest that exposure to justifications in the news does not affect people’s tendency to judge a political point of view based on the justifications provided for it. They also suggest that such exposure does not influence the importance people assign to assessing the quality of justifications before judging the legitimacy of a political point of view. Implications of these findings for media policy, journalism practice, and democracy at large are discussed.