When Readers Believe Journalists: Effects of Adjudication in Varied Dispute Contexts

When Readers Believe Journalists: Effects of Adjudication in Varied Dispute Contexts Abstract Journalists are often criticized for passive reporting of factual disputes in politics, but researchers have only recently begun exploring conditions in which they may successfully influence readers’ beliefs—scenarios less likely to produce partisan bias. Intraparty disputes and those which are polarized, but not contentious, may be two alignments of elite cues that vitiate motivated reasoning and allow for influential adjudication. This experiment (N = 523) used a 2 (one-sided adjudication/none) × 2 (intraparty/polarized dispute) design to test this hypothesis. In both cases, adjudication’s effects on factual beliefs were not conditional on ideological or partisan cues. Adjudication did not increase perceived bias, and increased satisfaction of readers’ informational needs. Journalists are tasked with providing citizens accurate information about claims made within the political process, so that voters can form opinions in line with their underlying preferences. Political parties, however, are strongly influential in “the competition of voices reaching the individual,” (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960, p. 128). This dynamic may be acceptable when parties dispute values or policies, but not when they dispute facts (Reedy, Wells, & Gastil, 2014). When, then, can journalists effectively transmit information in an environment where “citizens learn from communications that recruit them to a side in interparty conflict?” (Disch, 2011, p. 109). Moreover, when can they sort out opposing claims without being seen as hostile to one side or another? (Vallone, Ross, & Lepper, 1985). To address factual disputes, fact-checking organizations have emerged as a high-prestige, rapidly growing component of the media ecosystem (Graves, 2016; Graves, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2016). Arguably, these organizations are part of a larger wave, “a decades-long turn toward more assertive, analytical reporting that claims the authority to interpret politics for readers,” (Graves, 2016, p. 12). However, the effects of these more assertive approaches—on readers’ factual beliefs, as well as their perceptions of the journalist—are unsettled. Initial work found evidence that corrections may backfire, strengthening misperceptions (Nyhan & Reifler, 2010; Nyhan, Reifler, & Ubel, 2013). Recently, researchers have given some attention to the effectiveness of various fact-checking formats, with more optimistic results (Amazeen, Thorson, Muddiman, & Graves, 2016; Bode & Vraga, 2015; Nyhan & Reifler, 2017; Wintersieck, 2017). This study complements this growing literature by examining the effects of interpretive authority when executed in-text of a straight news story, rather than as an independent news genre surveying factual disputes as mediated events. Only a few studies have been dedicated to understanding when journalists may successfully referee factual disputes in the context of traditional news stories. Pingree, Brossard, and McLeod (2014), for instance, show that journalists can effectively adjudicate the veracity of competing claims made by nonpartisan groups, at least when the adjudication is balanced (supporting claims from each group) rather than one-sided. This study tests two possible adjudication-viable political contexts, specifically altering the alignment of party elites to show when journalists’ vetting is influential over readers. It first simulates an intraparty dispute, which should not elicit directional reasoning because of lacking clear cues. It then examines a polarized alignment, but one which should limit directional reasoning through its salient, but not contentious, topic. An online experiment (N = 523) finds that in both scenarios, one-sided evidence provided by journalists is more influential over factual beliefs than partisan or ideological cues. Moreover, perceptions of news quality are either improved or unchanged. These findings suggest many common political disputes are fertile ground for assertive reporting. Adjudication, Balance, and Bias Despite consistent criticism, “he said/she said” stories are common in journalism, not only because of economic reasons (they are easier to produce) but because journalists are incentivized to report in this way through the norms of the profession (Cunningham, 2003; Tuchman, 1972). Indeed, readers often react negatively to a story that forgoes a strictly neutral format (Jamieson & Waldman, 2003; Streckfuss, 1990). Critics meanwhile urge journalists to “adjudicate factual disputes,” (Jamieson & Waldman, 2003, p. 165) by way of weight-of-evidence reporting that serves the reader in sorting out which are correct. This practice would embrace substantive objectivity, through which a balanced process of news gathering may lead to unbalanced end results, rather than merely procedural objectivity that produces false balance (Lawrence & Schafer, 2012). Substantive objectivity, then, can result in either balanced or one-sided adjudications. The use of adjudication to describe such active journalism derives from its legal connotation: “journalism as judge in the jury trial of public opinion, as opposed to a mere stenographer,” (Pingree, Hill, & McLeod, 2013, p. 196). In this metaphor, the judge ensures that arguments are based on acceptable evidence, and therefore helps structure the decisions of the jury. Adjudicating journalists, then, contribute additional information to help readers sort out who is correct. In prior work on adjudication effects (Pingree et al., 2013; Pingree et al., 2014), researchers used balanced adjudication. The journalist in such scenarios provides evidence supporting claims from both opposing sides, such as citing FactCheck.org rulings supporting an Obama claim about the business tax rate as well as a McCain claim about Obama’s vote to raise federal income taxes. Balanced adjudication may help reduce perceived bias (Pingree et al., 2014), but by the intrinsic nature of some disputes, the process of adjudication may result in one-sided outcomes. News outlets may have reason to avoid adjudication, though, if they feel that it will fail to move beliefs, or even backfire (Ecker, Lewandowsky, & Apai, 2011; Gaines, Kuklinski, Quirk, Peyton, & Verkuilen, 2007; Nyhan & Reifler, 2010), all while worsening already fraught perceptions of bias and injuring relationships with broad swaths of partisan readers. Extensive research in the line of hostile media effects (Feldman, 2011; Gunther & Schmitt, 2004; Vallone et al., 1985; Vraga & Tully, 2015) suggests that partisans on both sides often perceive even balanced, evenhanded content differently—both finding it biased against their side. According to Goldman and Mutz (2011), “both sides cannot be correct that the same content is based in opposite directions,” (p. 43) so perception of bias must originate with the reader in place of or in addition to the text. Obviously, this effect could be heightened in cases such as one-sided adjudication, as it forgoes procedural balance. Even if partisans agree that information presented is technically accurate, as Perloff (2015) points out, they may still believe the media apply a higher standard to their party than to the opposition. Motivated Reasoning Journalists also may avoid adjudication because of an assumed failure to influence beliefs, because of the process of motivated reasoning. When individuals form attitudes, they do so with varying motivations or goals (Kruglanski, 1989). Considering these, and conditions likely to promote them, can help us understand the potential for success or failure in fact-checking attempts. Accuracy goals promote the evaluation of information in evenhanded manner with an aim to form the most accurate, or “correct” position. Directional goals, though, encourage biased processing (Druckman, 2012; Taber & Lodge, 2006). Individuals who display this style of thinking might seek out information that supports prior positions (confirmation bias), discount information that clashes with prior positions regardless of accuracy (disconfirmation bias) or favor agreeable information as better evidence than other information (prior attitude effect) (Druckman, 2012; Druckman, Peterson, & Slothuus, 2013; Kunda, 1990, 1999; Slothuus & de Vreese, 2010; Taber & Lodge, 2006). In this view, political affiliations act as a perceptual screen (Campbell et al., 1960; Lavine, Johnston, & Steenbergen, 2012). Partisan-motivated reasoning is more probable when partisan identity is made salient, because of a form of identity priming (Bolsen, Druckman, & Cook, 2014). This effect may be driven by the same processes visible in group affiliation more generally (Tajfel & Turner, 1986): individuals seek to maximize differences with out-groups (Dancey & Goren, 2010; Druckman et al., 2013; Green, Palmquist, & Schickler, 2002; Iyengar, Sood, & Lelkes, 2012; Lavine et al., 2012; Nicholson, 2012; Smith, Terry, Crosier, & Duck, 2005). Members of each party therefore might be more likely to favor the “facts” given by their side, regardless of independent vetting, in conditions where their identity and the need to express consistent beliefs with that group are made salient by indication of elite polarization (Druckman et al., 2013). Partisan cues then anchor reasoning (Druckman, 2012). Dispute Contexts But journalists may be more successful in adjudication endeavors than previously believed (Druckman, 2012; Pingree et al., 2014). That is because motivated reasoning, “rather than being an inevitable political decision-making process, […] depends on the individual and the context,” (Druckman, 2012, p. 205). Of course, manipulating individuals’ motivation holds potential to mitigate motivated reasoning: there is evidence that encouraging individuals to reflect on their reasoning, consider other perspectives, or be more accountable to others who disagree can be effective (Bolsen et al., 2014; Lord, Lepper, & Preston, 1984; Redlawsk, 2002; Tetlock, 1983). But of interest to the present work are types of factual disputes that by their very nature disarm directional thinking or encourage accuracy-motivated processing. Specifically, I look at (and later manipulate) varied elite partisan environments to determine dispute contexts’ effects on readers acceptance of journalists’ adjudication. Nonpartisan In one of the few studies addressing promising adjudication conditions, Pingree et al. (2014) found that adjudication of a nonpartisan dispute did not promote directed reasoning at any point across the ideological spectrum, despite a potential ideological divide between those who might support its two sides: a corporation and protestors. Pingree and colleagues rightly called on journalists to forcefully adjudicate disputes such as the one they examined—those that feature conflicting truth claims, but do not feature partisan cues likely to outweigh accuracy goals. However, there is reason to believe that even partisan cues are less influential in particular dispute contexts: those which are partisan, but not polarized, and those which are polarized, but not contentious (Bolsen et al., 2014; Druckman, 2012). Partisan but not Polarized Within partisan disputes, the alignment of elite cues can vary, with differing effects on individuals’ information processing. Studies that consider varied elite partisan environments’ effects have been rare (Bolsen et al., 2014). Most have focused on polarized environments (Druckman et al., 2013). However, Bolsen et al. (2014) suggest alternative alignments of party disputes deserve study. They looked at the effects of bipartisan support (of less interest to the present study) and what is sometimes called a “cross-partisan” environment (Cooper & Young, 1997). Such disputes feature sides with a mix of support from both parties. According to Bolsen, Druckman, and Cook (2014, p. 239): Such cases signal intra-party disagreement, which may vitiate partisan motivated reasoning by alerting citizens to conflict within one’s own party on an issue. Such conflict has been shown to generate deeper thought regarding the applicability of various pieces of political information. (Chong and Druckman, 2007) Bolsen and colleagues found that cross-partisan alignment weakened partisan identity and attendant-motivated reasoning. By indicating conflict, such disputes may increase accuracy motivation (Bolsen et al., 2014; Druckman, 2012). This study tests intraparty disagreement directly, but predicts the same effect. With absence of explicit partisan polarization, then, adjudicating an intraparty dispute may engender similar effects as if it were nonpartisan. In the present study, that would mean that when presented with either an in- or out-party dispute, individuals process the journalist’s adjudication as accurate instead of reasoning toward a more economically liberal or conservative position based on their self-reported ideology. This explanation coincides with Conover and Feldman’s (1981) argument that ideology in the United States stands now as another marker of political identity and group affiliation, analogous to partisanship, instead of an underlying system of beliefs or some pervasive normative perspective. Likewise, Zaller’s (1992) seminal statement on the nature of public opinion argues that individuals rely on exposure to elite signaling for their expressed political preferences. Perhaps because polarization has been the dominant motif in contemporary American politics, intraparty dynamics have been underexamined. How voters respond to factual disputes within parties is especially consequential at the state level, however, where many legislatures are dominated by a single party (Aistrup, 2015; Flavin & Shufeldt, 2016; Myers, 2016; Ranney, 1976; Shufeldt & Flavin, 2012). At the national level, such schisms may arise as coalitions shift to include new segments of the population (Carmines, Ensley, & Wagner, 2016) or as candidate-centric identification becomes, in some cases, more prominent than party through contested primaries (Veenstra, Lyons, & Degim Flannagan, 2017). Polarized but not Contentious Even within polarized partisan disputes, readers’ alignment with their party or acceptance of a journalist’s evidence may depend on the nature of the issue and its relationship to partisan identity. Studies finding strong evidence of motivated reasoning have used highly contested issues (Nyhan & Reifler, 2010; Taber & Lodge, 2006). Individuals likely bring strong prior beliefs to such issues, and because these disputes stand as “badges” (Kahan, 2012) of partisan identity, they are less likely to be evaluated in an evenhanded fashion (Druckman, 2012). This is not to say that low-salience issues are ideal contexts for fact-checking, however, because such issues tend not to inspire either directional or accuracy-motivated reasoning (Druckman, 2012). Instead, disputes that feature polarized party elites but that are not rancorous or embedded in party identity (as abortion, affirmative action, and gun control are) may be better grounds for adjudication. Bolsen et al. (2014) suggest energy policy often falls under this categorization. Because energy policy is a generally salient area of increasing national importance (p. 242), and because both parties often endorse various energy proposals, it is possible for experimental designs to credibly manipulate the source of factual claims. With this in mind, the current study examines adjudication and elites in the context of a nuclear power proposal. Although Republicans have consistently been more likely to favor nuclear power than Democrats, at least half of each partisan group supported its use as recently as 2012 (Gallup, 2012). While polls fielded closer to the time of data collection focusing on support for increased emphasis on nuclear production showed a larger gap (Gallup, 2013; Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics and Policy, 2014), knowledge is low (Kuklinski, Metlay, & Kay, 1982; Pollock, Lilie, & Vittes, 1993), and many Americans do not appear to hold strong opinions on the issue (University of Texas Energy Poll, 2016). Moreover, the stimulus’s dispute centers on economic claims rather than environmental, further limiting intrinsic partisan polarization. The unsettled nature of the issue allowed for both intraparty and interparty disputes to be constructed using an otherwise unmodified stimulus, as well as for believable rotation of the oppositional party in the interparty conditions. Because the issue is not fully associated with one party over the other, support or opposition to the nuclear power proposal in the stimulus should not act as an identity threat that automates defensive thinking. Hypotheses and Research Questions This study builds on research testing the viability of journalistic adjudication in varied dispute conditions (Pingree et al., 2014), while drawing on recent work about the conditions that prompt directional and accuracy-motivated reasoning (Bolsen et al., 2014; Druckman, 2012). I hypothesize that in the interparty context: H1. Adjudication will have a positive main effect on factual beliefs. Participants exposed to an adjudication supporting a “low-risk” claim will be more likely to agree with the low-risk position, and those exposed to adjudication supporting a “high-risk” claim will be more likely to agree with the high-risk position. I then ask if motivated reasoning will reduce the efficacy of the adjudication: RQ1. Will adjudication be less effective when one’s own party is contradicted? I pose similar hypotheses in the intraparty context, with ideology in the place of partisanship: H2. Adjudication will have a positive main effect on factual beliefs. RQ2. Will ideology moderate the effectiveness of intraparty adjudication? I also compare the two conditions. I expect adjudication in an intraparty context will more strongly vitiate directional reasoning than in a noncontentious polarized dispute context. H3. Adjudication will be more influential in the intraparty dispute than in the interparty dispute. This study also examines readers’ perception of news quality. While Pingree et al. (2014) found that nonpartisan adjudication can improve perceptions of news quality, which may also apply to somewhat analogous intraparty disputes, extensive research in the line of hostile media effects (particularly relative hostile media perception, Gunther, Edgerly, Akin, & Broesch, 2012) suggests that partisans whose party is not supported in a mass media format will view the news article as more biased and less credible. H4. Adjudication will increase perceived news quality. RQ3. Will party-conflicting adjudication decrease perceived news quality? Methods Participants Recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk’s panel of human intelligence task workers, participants (N = 523) for this study were 59% male, had a mean age of 34.6 years (SD = 14.6), and possessed a median education of a Bachelor’s degree. Participants received monetary compensation. Participation was restricted to U.S. residents, and those residing in Georgia, the site of the proposed nuclear power plant described in the stimulus, were not used in the analysis. The experiment was fielded between February 1 and 3, 2015. Demographically, Mechanical Turk (mTurk) workers are marginally more diverse than the typical Internet sample, and significantly more diverse than an undergraduate sample (Buhrmester, Kwang, & Gosling, 2011). mTurk participants follow directions at least as well as traditional counterparts, and importantly for this study, “exhibit the classic heuristics and biases,” (Paolacci, Chandler, & Ipeirotis, 2010, p. 417). A series of parallel framing experiments comparing effects across a nationally representative survey sample, an mTurk sample, a student sample, and other convenience samples found that mTurk sample’s effects were in the same direction reached the same significance threshold, and were of similar magnitude as the national sample’s for each of the topics examined (Mullinix, Leeper, Druckman, & Freese, 2015). Moreover, the authors then compared results of 20 experiments implemented using national samples and mTurk, finding consistent replication. The authors concluded that social scientists are often able to draw generalizable causal inferences from this inexpensive sampling platform. Design The online experiment used a fully crossed 2 (adjudication, no adjudication) × 2 (interparty, intraparty) factorial design. In the interparty conditions, the party making oppositional claims was rotated. Likewise, the direction of adjudication was rotated across all adjudication conditions (article supports/contradicts oppositional claims). Participants read a news story on a state legislature’s dispute over the economic cost–benefit of a proposed nuclear power project.1 In the survey-embedded article, opponents of the project claimed the project, carried a high risk of default, and its credit fee waiver would hurt taxpayers, while proponents voiced counterclaims. In adjudication conditions, the article then vetted these, finding either support for both oppositional claims or neither (i.e., one-sided adjudication).2 This stimulus was constructed using preexisting news articles and credited to the Associated Press (see Supplementary Appendix). Dependent Variables All dependent variables were measured on seven-point scales (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). Factual belief was measured by agreement with the following statement: “The project loan is probably a low risk for default,” reverse coded, M = 4.40, SD = 1.79. News quality was an average of two items (r = .25, M = 4.94, SD = 0.96): “The article was biased” (reverse coded) and “the article was credible.” The strength of this correlation is comparable with that of the original study from which the measure is drawn (Pingree et al., 2014, r = .37). Satisfaction of informational needs was a single item, “The article satisfied my need for information,” (M = 4.26, SD = 1.55). Future news use was also one item asking likelihood of reading “another story about related issues, if you encountered one,” (M = 4.37, SD = 1.63). Independent Variables Partisanship (affiliation/strength) and ideology were measured on seven-point scales. Participants were 45% Democrat, 18% Republican, and 37% Independent. Used in the intraparty analyses, mean economic ideology (7 = very conservative) was 3.55 (SD = 1.54) among respondents in these conditions. This measure was used because of its relevance to the nature of the factual dispute in the stimulus, which concerned the economic ramifications of a nuclear plant. However, an alternate specification using the average of the standard economic and social ideology items (r = .92, M = 3.40, SD = 1.57) produced substantively identical results. Three variables were then constructed using these political orientations and condition assignment. First, a dichotomous “own party low risk” variable was constructed to represent a party cue in tests of factual beliefs in interparty conditions. Respondents who were assigned to a condition in which their party made claims stressing the low level of risk in the project were coded as 1, while all others, including Independents, were coded as 0. Next, to examine potential differential effects of adjudication on perceptions of news quality, a variable was constructed for each dispute context. To determine whether those reading about an intraparty dispute within their own party varied from those reading about the out-party (i.e., partisan relevance), a dichotomous “in-party in article” variable was created, with Independents coded as 0. Finally, “adjudication consonance” was constructed to test the effect of party-conflicting adjudication on perceptions of news quality in interparty conditions. Respondent party was crossed with the party supported in the adjudication, such that those exposed to party-conflicting information were coded as −1, those exposed to no adjudication 0, and those exposed to consonant adjudication 1. As detailed further in the results, Independents were first excluded from the model, and then in an alternate specification scored as 0, as adjudication could be neither dissonant nor consonant. Other Variables Included in Random Assignment Check Following Pingree et al. (2014), additional variables were included for random assignment check based on their potential as confounds. These included general political interest (M = 4.41, SD = 1.62), energy issue interest (M = 4.73, SD = 1.53), economic issue interest (M = 4.66, SD = 1.60), and trust of mainstream media (M = 2.91, SD = 1.47), each using standard seven-point single-item measures (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). Closed-mindedness (Kruglanski, Webster, & Klem, 1993) was measured using an average of three items (Cronbach’s alpha = .82, M = 5.28, SD = 1.08): “When thinking about a problem, I consider as many different opinions on the issue as possible” (reverse coded), “When considering most conflict situations, I can usually see how both sides could be right” (reverse coded), and “I always see many possible solutions to problems I face” (reverse coded). Need for cognition (Cronbach’s alpha = .85, M = 4.69, SD = 1.39) was the average of four items: “I prefer complex problems to simple ones,” “Thinking is not my idea of fun” (reverse coded), “I only think as hard as I have to” (reverse coded), and “I prefer my life to be filled with puzzles I must solve.” Random Assignment Check Analysis of variance was conducted to assure that random assignment to the four cells was successful. Age, sex, education, party affiliation, social issue ideology, economic issue ideology, political interest, energy issue interest, economic issue interest, media trust, need for cognition, and closed-mindedness did not vary significantly across any of the conditions. Results Factual Beliefs Hypotheses were tested using ordinary least squares (OLS) regression, with main effects entered in the first block and interactions, where relevant, entered in a second block. For H1, which predicted positive main effects of adjudication on factual beliefs in an interparty dispute, the model included a variable for whether the respondent’s party claimed the risk was low, as well as dummy variables for adjudication favoring the low-risk position and for adjudication in favor of the high-risk position, leaving the no adjudication control as the missing dummy. These variables represent three cues: one from political elites and two from the media. Together with their interaction terms, they constitute the key tests of H1 and RQ1. Full results are reported in the first column of Table 1. Table 1 Influence of Adjudication and Party Cues on Factual Beliefs Interparty dispute (n = 251) Intraparty dispute (n = 271) Dispute comparison (n = 522) Adjudication (high) .21*** .16* Adjudication (high) .18** .21 Adjudication (high) .20*** .21*** Adjudication (low) −.33*** −.34*** Adjudication (low) −.26*** −.17 Adjudication (low) −.29*** −.34*** Own party (low) .04 −.03 Ideology −.08 −.05 Intraparty dispute −.02 −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (high) .12 Ideology* adjudication (high) −.04 Intraparty* adjudication (high) −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (low) .01 Ideology* adjudication (low) −.10 Intraparty* adjudication (low) .07 R2 .22 .23 R2 .16 .16 R2 .18 .19 Interparty dispute (n = 251) Intraparty dispute (n = 271) Dispute comparison (n = 522) Adjudication (high) .21*** .16* Adjudication (high) .18** .21 Adjudication (high) .20*** .21*** Adjudication (low) −.33*** −.34*** Adjudication (low) −.26*** −.17 Adjudication (low) −.29*** −.34*** Own party (low) .04 −.03 Ideology −.08 −.05 Intraparty dispute −.02 −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (high) .12 Ideology* adjudication (high) −.04 Intraparty* adjudication (high) −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (low) .01 Ideology* adjudication (low) −.10 Intraparty* adjudication (low) .07 R2 .22 .23 R2 .16 .16 R2 .18 .19 Notes. Cell values are standardized betas. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001. Table 1 Influence of Adjudication and Party Cues on Factual Beliefs Interparty dispute (n = 251) Intraparty dispute (n = 271) Dispute comparison (n = 522) Adjudication (high) .21*** .16* Adjudication (high) .18** .21 Adjudication (high) .20*** .21*** Adjudication (low) −.33*** −.34*** Adjudication (low) −.26*** −.17 Adjudication (low) −.29*** −.34*** Own party (low) .04 −.03 Ideology −.08 −.05 Intraparty dispute −.02 −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (high) .12 Ideology* adjudication (high) −.04 Intraparty* adjudication (high) −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (low) .01 Ideology* adjudication (low) −.10 Intraparty* adjudication (low) .07 R2 .22 .23 R2 .16 .16 R2 .18 .19 Interparty dispute (n = 251) Intraparty dispute (n = 271) Dispute comparison (n = 522) Adjudication (high) .21*** .16* Adjudication (high) .18** .21 Adjudication (high) .20*** .21*** Adjudication (low) −.33*** −.34*** Adjudication (low) −.26*** −.17 Adjudication (low) −.29*** −.34*** Own party (low) .04 −.03 Ideology −.08 −.05 Intraparty dispute −.02 −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (high) .12 Ideology* adjudication (high) −.04 Intraparty* adjudication (high) −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (low) .01 Ideology* adjudication (low) −.10 Intraparty* adjudication (low) .07 R2 .22 .23 R2 .16 .16 R2 .18 .19 Notes. Cell values are standardized betas. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001. As predicted, both adjudications influenced risk belief. Low-risk adjudication (β = −.33, p < .001) significantly lowered risk belief, while high-risk adjudication significantly increased risk belief (β = .21, p < .001). The in-party elite cue (β = .04, p = .52) and its interactions with adjudications (low-risk β = .01, p = .89; high-risk β = .12, p = .20) were not significant influences over readers’ beliefs. That is, whether the journalist supported or contradicted the respondent’s party did not impact risk belief (see Figure 1). In additional tests of symmetry of effects between parties, interactions of the cues with partisanship were included, all not significant (see Supplementary Table A1). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Adjudication effects by party cue in interparty conditions. Note. “No Cue” refers to Independents. Higher “default risk belief” scores indicate greater agreement with the high-risk position. Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Adjudication effects by party cue in interparty conditions. Note. “No Cue” refers to Independents. Higher “default risk belief” scores indicate greater agreement with the high-risk position. Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval. H2, which predicted positive main effects of adjudication on factual beliefs in an intraparty dispute, was addressed with the same dummy variables for adjudication as well as respondent ideology and their interaction terms. Full results are reported in the second column of Table 1. As predicted, the adjudications significantly influenced perceptions of risk. Adjudication of the low-risk position decreased risk belief (β = −.26, p < .001), while adjudication supporting the high-risk position increased it (β = .18, p = .006). Ideology (β = −.08, p = .14), and its interactions with the adjudications (low-risk β = −.10, p = .52; high-risk β = −.04, p = .81) did not influence risk beliefs (see Figure 2). Because the party in the intraparty dispute was rotated, symmetry between in-party and out-party readers was subsequently tested by adding a dichotomous variable to the model, with no significant differences detected (see Supplementary Table A2). Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Adjudication effects by ideology in intraparty conditions. Note. Ideology collapsed to three levels for figure. Higher “default risk belief” scores indicate greater agreement with the high-risk position. Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Adjudication effects by ideology in intraparty conditions. Note. Ideology collapsed to three levels for figure. Higher “default risk belief” scores indicate greater agreement with the high-risk position. Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval. H3, which stated that adjudication effects would differ between the interparty and intraparty conditions, was tested using an OLS model with the adjudication dummies as well as a dichotomous variable for dispute type (intraparty = 1). Results (reported in the third column of Table 1) show no significant differences in the effects of journalist’s adjudication (both directions p < .001) between dispute types (β = −.02, p = .69) nor did the dispute type interact with the adjudications (low-risk β = .07, p = .38; high-risk β = −.03, p = .71). This means that the journalist’s statements were no less influential in the polarized partisan conditions tested. Perceived News Quality The remaining tests addressed perceptions of news quality using OLS regressions for each of three dependent variables—perceived news quality, informational needs satisfaction, and future news use. Initial tests pooled all conditions (N = 522), finding that both the low-risk adjudication (β = .16, p < .001) and high-risk adjudication (β = .11, p = .023) increased informational needs satisfaction. Adjudication did not influence perceived news quality or future news use intention. Full results are reported in Table 2. Table 2 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication (high) −.07 .11* −.06 Adjudication (low) −.01 .16*** −.07 R2 .01 .02 .00 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication (high) −.07 .11* −.06 Adjudication (low) −.01 .16*** −.07 R2 .01 .02 .00 Notes. All conditions (N = 522). Cell values are standardized betas. * p < .05, *** p < .001. Table 2 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication (high) −.07 .11* −.06 Adjudication (low) −.01 .16*** −.07 R2 .01 .02 .00 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication (high) −.07 .11* −.06 Adjudication (low) −.01 .16*** −.07 R2 .01 .02 .00 Notes. All conditions (N = 522). Cell values are standardized betas. * p < .05, *** p < .001. Next, intraparty and interparty conditions were modeled separately to test relevant moderators. The intraparty models featured an in-party dummy variable, and its interaction with adjudication included to ensure readers did not perceive news quality differently when reading stories about disputes within their own party or the opposing one. Adjudication again improved informational needs satisfaction (β = .17, p = .006), but not perceived news quality or future news use. Whether the respondent read about a dispute within their own party or the out-party was not significant nor was the interaction term. Full results of intraparty tests are reported in Table 3. Table 3 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use, by Partisan Relevance Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication .03 .03 .17** .17** −.10 −.10 In-party in article −.07 −.06 −.03 .07 −.02 −.19 Adjudication* in-party −.02 −.13 −.01 R2 .01 .01 .03 .04 .01 .01 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication .03 .03 .17** .17** −.10 −.10 In-party in article −.07 −.06 −.03 .07 −.02 −.19 Adjudication* in-party −.02 −.13 −.01 R2 .01 .01 .03 .04 .01 .01 Notes. Intraparty dispute (n = 271). Partisan relevance refers to correspondence of the party in the article and respondent party. Cell values are standardized betas. * p < .05, ** p < .01, Table 3 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use, by Partisan Relevance Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication .03 .03 .17** .17** −.10 −.10 In-party in article −.07 −.06 −.03 .07 −.02 −.19 Adjudication* in-party −.02 −.13 −.01 R2 .01 .01 .03 .04 .01 .01 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication .03 .03 .17** .17** −.10 −.10 In-party in article −.07 −.06 −.03 .07 −.02 −.19 Adjudication* in-party −.02 −.13 −.01 R2 .01 .01 .03 .04 .01 .01 Notes. Intraparty dispute (n = 271). Partisan relevance refers to correspondence of the party in the article and respondent party. Cell values are standardized betas. * p < .05, ** p < .01, The polarized dispute models addressed RQ3, which asked if party-conflicting adjudication would result in lower perceived news quality. To test this, these included a three-level “adjudication consonance” variable. Participants whose party was adjudicated against were coded as −1, those who saw no adjudication were coded as 0, and those whose party was supported by the adjudication were coded as 1. In the first specification, Independents were excluded (n = 153). In a second, Independents were scored as 0 (n = 251). For both specifications, whether adjudication conflicted with (or supported) one’s party did not affect perceptions of news quality, information needs satisfaction, or intention to read more. Full results are reported in Table 4. Taken together, results showed that the one-sided adjudications did not provoke perceptions of bias, and led to increased satisfaction of readers’ informational needs. Table 4 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use by Adjudication Consonance Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) Adjudication consonance −.06 −.07 −.03 −.07 .07 .02 R2 .00 .01 .00 .00 .01 .00 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) Adjudication consonance −.06 −.07 −.03 −.07 .07 .02 R2 .00 .01 .00 .00 .01 .00 Notes. Interparty dispute. Adjudication consonance was measured as the agreement between adjudication and partisanship (conflicting = −1/none = 0/consonant = 1). Column 1 reports results when Independents are excluded from the model. Column 2 reports results when Independents are included as 0. Cell values are standardized betas. Table 4 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use by Adjudication Consonance Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) Adjudication consonance −.06 −.07 −.03 −.07 .07 .02 R2 .00 .01 .00 .00 .01 .00 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) Adjudication consonance −.06 −.07 −.03 −.07 .07 .02 R2 .00 .01 .00 .00 .01 .00 Notes. Interparty dispute. Adjudication consonance was measured as the agreement between adjudication and partisanship (conflicting = −1/none = 0/consonant = 1). Column 1 reports results when Independents are excluded from the model. Column 2 reports results when Independents are included as 0. Cell values are standardized betas. Discussion Journalists are frequently criticized for passive, he-said she-said reporting, but researchers have only recently begun to explore the various conditions under which those in the media may influentially vet competing claims. Further, many studies in this wave have looked only at fact-checking done under conditions more likely to lead to failure or even backfire effects. This study instead tested the effects of one-sided journalistic adjudication in two theoretically promising contexts—factual disputes within parties, and interparty disagreement on an issue over which the parties have not become bitterly and symbolically opposed. The results show that adjudication was effective overall in influencing factual beliefs in both contexts. Moreover, these findings show no differential effectiveness because of directional motivated reasoning. This study then examined how this authoritative form of journalism impacts readers’ views of bias, satisfaction of informational needs, and intention to read more news on the issue. Across contexts, adjudication increased satisfaction of informational needs, and had no effect on perceived bias or future news use. This effect also was not conditional on whether the adjudication supported or contradicted the reader’s party. This study contributes to our understanding of a style of authoritative, active journalism that weighs claims in the context of the traditional news story, not in a separate fact-check format. This study lends realism to adjudication research by testing one-sided outcomes. The noncontentious disputes examined also help address the denominator problem Flynn (2016) identities in the misperception and corrections literature: “the bulk of this research focuses on misperceptions about an unrepresentative subset of political facts” (p. 2)—those that possess distinct affiliational implications (Pasek, Sood, & Krosnick, 2015). Finally, by looking at disputes occurring within parties, this study sheds light on consequential partisan information environments that have received little attention in public opinion research. Before discussing further implications for theory and practice, however, some important limitations and directions for future work should be noted. While this study varied the elite context of the dispute, other dimensions likely condition journalists’ ability to adjudicate successfully. In particular, the findings presented here raise issues about both the type of evidence the journalist provides, and the type of claim that it addresses. In this study, the adjudications used quotes from expert sources to support one side or the other in the dispute. It is possible that an adjudication featuring an expert opinion is more influential than one in which the journalists themselves provide some other form of evidence. Use of expert quotes is extremely common practice, however (Conrad, 1999; Zelizer, 1989), including in instances of adjudication (Pingree et al., 2013), so testing such a construction holds external validity. Future work, though, might attempt to disentangle the source effect by using a condition in which the journalist provides evidence they themselves produced, perhaps by way of in-house data analysis (Cushion, Lewis, & Callaghan, 2016; Felle, 2016). Crucially, the types of facts that journalists check or adjudicate also vary. This study’s dispute centered on narrow technical facts about credit risk. The range of claims journalists can and do choose to adjudicate is much broader, however (Graves, 2016; 2017). Indeed, one critique of the fact-checking enterprise attacks these outfits’ “grandiose” attempts to arbitrate larger questions that cannot be verified (Uscinski, 2015; Uscinski & Butler, 2013). Some of the success of the adjudications in this study may have rested on the type of claim being weighed—specific to one particular nuclear proposal, not general facts about the issue. It may be that claims restricted to specific locations, events, or policies are more persuasively adjudicated than broader assertions about the same issue. In this case, journalists may find targeting narrow claims a fruitful approach to inject a modicum of factual understanding into even contentious debates, rather than wading into a broader value-driven morass. Future adjudication research can help clarify these current ambiguities by varying the broadness of the claims receiving adjudication. One informative structure may be to test paired claims: one applicable to only a specific instance, and one applicable to the entire domain to which that instance belongs. For example, a journalist may adjudicate a source’s claim downplaying the atypicality of an extreme weather event conjointly with that source’s broader claim denigrating climate science in general. This approach would remedy the current study’s reliance on a single belief item, allow for both one-sided and balanced constructions, and show whether paired adjudications are evaluated separately or holistically (e.g., content interactions in Garrett, Nisbet, & Lynch, 2013; Lyons & Veenstra, 2016; Veenstra, Park, Lyons, Kang, & Iyer, 2015). Understanding the potential for interactions among types of claims (and evidence) is important because these neither exist nor are discussed in isolation, but rather as part of a “network of documents, people, and organizations,” that journalists bring together to form the most authoritative understanding of a dispute (Graves, 2017, p. 14). It may be the case that when the adjudication of a broad claim is unacceptable to committed partisans, belief about a narrower claim is thrown out with the bathwater. Alternatively, perhaps the undeniability of the narrow adjudication helps move belief on the bigger issue. Finally, the proposed mechanism and the elite contexts used here merit discussion. While the findings show a lack of directional reasoning, it cannot unequivocally be stated that intraparty and noncontentious polarized disputes induce accuracy motivations in readers. In the absence of directional motivation, though, individuals use cognitive strategies to reach the most accurate conclusions possible (Kunda, 1990). For this reason, prior work examining directional and accuracy-motivated reasoning compared the degree to which responses aligned with respondents’ partisanship (Bolsen et al., 2014; Klar, 2014; Lavine et al., 2012).3 Following this approach, the findings suggest that accuracy motivation played a role in the tendency of respondents to reach conclusions in line with the evidence presented in the article rather than their partisanship or ideology (see Druckman, 2012 for a discussion). Because this study explicitly focused on conditions most likely to produce broadly successful adjudication, the logical next step would be a more stringent test, a contentiously polarized dispute (Flynn, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2017). Overall, the absence of directional reasoning in these results is promising, but must be interpreted cautiously as with any null result. That said, this work supports that which has found that citizens can be receptive to facts despite their partisan commitments (Bullock, Gerber, Hill, & Huber, 2015; Prior, Sood, & Khanna, 2015; Weeks, 2015). In perhaps the most comprehensive study of corrections to date, Wood and Porter (2016) for example find that corrections are effective across a large range of claims, with partisans moving at least somewhat across the spectrum. Nonetheless, these authors find substantial differences in how citizens respond to congenial and cross-cutting corrections. While heartening, the lack of differential acceptance found in the present study bears further investigation across issues, elite contexts, and types of claims adjudicated. More work is needed to determine if the effectiveness of adjudication goes further and also holds (in general and in terms of limited differential acceptance) in more antagonistic disputes. While the dispute contexts and types of claims examined may have contributed to the observed outcome, the corrective format tested here may also have played a role. From a journalism practice perspective, it is important to examine potential differences, in both belief outcomes and perceived news quality, of the in-text adjudication style tested here and the independent fact-check styles tested previously (Amazeen et al., 2016; Thorson, 2015). In-text adjudication presents readers with the most coherent picture of the facts at the time that they initially encounter a dispute, and so reaches readers in a more natural setting. This delivery may help reduce problems associated with selective exposure to and sharing of fact-checks (Shin & Thorson, 2017). Ultimately, this study furthers our understanding of the relationship between configurations of elected officials’ factual contentions and the potential for an informed public. The findings presented here provide tentative encouragement for journalists, as they struggle with the implications of taking a more assertive approach to adjudicating the facts, and suggest several routes for future research to clarify our understanding of journalism practices in a time of nearly constant epistemic turmoil. Supplementary Data Supplementary Data are available at IJPOR online. Benjamin Lyons is a Research Fellow at the University Exeter in the Department of Politics. This study was conducted while the author was a PhD student at Southern Illinois University in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and revised while a Martin Fishbein Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Footnotes 1 Increasing alignment of national and state-level American politics has resulted in-party labels (and the lenses they provide) that are distinctly national (Hopkins, 2017). While out-of-state policy disputes do not directly impact readers’ lives, they likely perceive them through the same partisan lenses, as they would disputes in their own jurisdiction or at the federal level. 2 Following Pingree et al. (2014), adjudication was not isolated from story length. This would be a concern mostly for the perceptions of news quality. However, a previous study that used an alternative control with additional filler content found effects for adjudication and none for story length on its own (Pingree, 2011). 3 Because motivation is a psychological construct that researchers cannot directly observe, we must make inferences based on observable behavior (Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014, p. 328). References Aistrup J. A. ( 2015 ). 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When Readers Believe Journalists: Effects of Adjudication in Varied Dispute Contexts

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The World Association for Public Opinion Research. All rights reserved.
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0954-2892
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1471-6909
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Abstract

Abstract Journalists are often criticized for passive reporting of factual disputes in politics, but researchers have only recently begun exploring conditions in which they may successfully influence readers’ beliefs—scenarios less likely to produce partisan bias. Intraparty disputes and those which are polarized, but not contentious, may be two alignments of elite cues that vitiate motivated reasoning and allow for influential adjudication. This experiment (N = 523) used a 2 (one-sided adjudication/none) × 2 (intraparty/polarized dispute) design to test this hypothesis. In both cases, adjudication’s effects on factual beliefs were not conditional on ideological or partisan cues. Adjudication did not increase perceived bias, and increased satisfaction of readers’ informational needs. Journalists are tasked with providing citizens accurate information about claims made within the political process, so that voters can form opinions in line with their underlying preferences. Political parties, however, are strongly influential in “the competition of voices reaching the individual,” (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960, p. 128). This dynamic may be acceptable when parties dispute values or policies, but not when they dispute facts (Reedy, Wells, & Gastil, 2014). When, then, can journalists effectively transmit information in an environment where “citizens learn from communications that recruit them to a side in interparty conflict?” (Disch, 2011, p. 109). Moreover, when can they sort out opposing claims without being seen as hostile to one side or another? (Vallone, Ross, & Lepper, 1985). To address factual disputes, fact-checking organizations have emerged as a high-prestige, rapidly growing component of the media ecosystem (Graves, 2016; Graves, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2016). Arguably, these organizations are part of a larger wave, “a decades-long turn toward more assertive, analytical reporting that claims the authority to interpret politics for readers,” (Graves, 2016, p. 12). However, the effects of these more assertive approaches—on readers’ factual beliefs, as well as their perceptions of the journalist—are unsettled. Initial work found evidence that corrections may backfire, strengthening misperceptions (Nyhan & Reifler, 2010; Nyhan, Reifler, & Ubel, 2013). Recently, researchers have given some attention to the effectiveness of various fact-checking formats, with more optimistic results (Amazeen, Thorson, Muddiman, & Graves, 2016; Bode & Vraga, 2015; Nyhan & Reifler, 2017; Wintersieck, 2017). This study complements this growing literature by examining the effects of interpretive authority when executed in-text of a straight news story, rather than as an independent news genre surveying factual disputes as mediated events. Only a few studies have been dedicated to understanding when journalists may successfully referee factual disputes in the context of traditional news stories. Pingree, Brossard, and McLeod (2014), for instance, show that journalists can effectively adjudicate the veracity of competing claims made by nonpartisan groups, at least when the adjudication is balanced (supporting claims from each group) rather than one-sided. This study tests two possible adjudication-viable political contexts, specifically altering the alignment of party elites to show when journalists’ vetting is influential over readers. It first simulates an intraparty dispute, which should not elicit directional reasoning because of lacking clear cues. It then examines a polarized alignment, but one which should limit directional reasoning through its salient, but not contentious, topic. An online experiment (N = 523) finds that in both scenarios, one-sided evidence provided by journalists is more influential over factual beliefs than partisan or ideological cues. Moreover, perceptions of news quality are either improved or unchanged. These findings suggest many common political disputes are fertile ground for assertive reporting. Adjudication, Balance, and Bias Despite consistent criticism, “he said/she said” stories are common in journalism, not only because of economic reasons (they are easier to produce) but because journalists are incentivized to report in this way through the norms of the profession (Cunningham, 2003; Tuchman, 1972). Indeed, readers often react negatively to a story that forgoes a strictly neutral format (Jamieson & Waldman, 2003; Streckfuss, 1990). Critics meanwhile urge journalists to “adjudicate factual disputes,” (Jamieson & Waldman, 2003, p. 165) by way of weight-of-evidence reporting that serves the reader in sorting out which are correct. This practice would embrace substantive objectivity, through which a balanced process of news gathering may lead to unbalanced end results, rather than merely procedural objectivity that produces false balance (Lawrence & Schafer, 2012). Substantive objectivity, then, can result in either balanced or one-sided adjudications. The use of adjudication to describe such active journalism derives from its legal connotation: “journalism as judge in the jury trial of public opinion, as opposed to a mere stenographer,” (Pingree, Hill, & McLeod, 2013, p. 196). In this metaphor, the judge ensures that arguments are based on acceptable evidence, and therefore helps structure the decisions of the jury. Adjudicating journalists, then, contribute additional information to help readers sort out who is correct. In prior work on adjudication effects (Pingree et al., 2013; Pingree et al., 2014), researchers used balanced adjudication. The journalist in such scenarios provides evidence supporting claims from both opposing sides, such as citing FactCheck.org rulings supporting an Obama claim about the business tax rate as well as a McCain claim about Obama’s vote to raise federal income taxes. Balanced adjudication may help reduce perceived bias (Pingree et al., 2014), but by the intrinsic nature of some disputes, the process of adjudication may result in one-sided outcomes. News outlets may have reason to avoid adjudication, though, if they feel that it will fail to move beliefs, or even backfire (Ecker, Lewandowsky, & Apai, 2011; Gaines, Kuklinski, Quirk, Peyton, & Verkuilen, 2007; Nyhan & Reifler, 2010), all while worsening already fraught perceptions of bias and injuring relationships with broad swaths of partisan readers. Extensive research in the line of hostile media effects (Feldman, 2011; Gunther & Schmitt, 2004; Vallone et al., 1985; Vraga & Tully, 2015) suggests that partisans on both sides often perceive even balanced, evenhanded content differently—both finding it biased against their side. According to Goldman and Mutz (2011), “both sides cannot be correct that the same content is based in opposite directions,” (p. 43) so perception of bias must originate with the reader in place of or in addition to the text. Obviously, this effect could be heightened in cases such as one-sided adjudication, as it forgoes procedural balance. Even if partisans agree that information presented is technically accurate, as Perloff (2015) points out, they may still believe the media apply a higher standard to their party than to the opposition. Motivated Reasoning Journalists also may avoid adjudication because of an assumed failure to influence beliefs, because of the process of motivated reasoning. When individuals form attitudes, they do so with varying motivations or goals (Kruglanski, 1989). Considering these, and conditions likely to promote them, can help us understand the potential for success or failure in fact-checking attempts. Accuracy goals promote the evaluation of information in evenhanded manner with an aim to form the most accurate, or “correct” position. Directional goals, though, encourage biased processing (Druckman, 2012; Taber & Lodge, 2006). Individuals who display this style of thinking might seek out information that supports prior positions (confirmation bias), discount information that clashes with prior positions regardless of accuracy (disconfirmation bias) or favor agreeable information as better evidence than other information (prior attitude effect) (Druckman, 2012; Druckman, Peterson, & Slothuus, 2013; Kunda, 1990, 1999; Slothuus & de Vreese, 2010; Taber & Lodge, 2006). In this view, political affiliations act as a perceptual screen (Campbell et al., 1960; Lavine, Johnston, & Steenbergen, 2012). Partisan-motivated reasoning is more probable when partisan identity is made salient, because of a form of identity priming (Bolsen, Druckman, & Cook, 2014). This effect may be driven by the same processes visible in group affiliation more generally (Tajfel & Turner, 1986): individuals seek to maximize differences with out-groups (Dancey & Goren, 2010; Druckman et al., 2013; Green, Palmquist, & Schickler, 2002; Iyengar, Sood, & Lelkes, 2012; Lavine et al., 2012; Nicholson, 2012; Smith, Terry, Crosier, & Duck, 2005). Members of each party therefore might be more likely to favor the “facts” given by their side, regardless of independent vetting, in conditions where their identity and the need to express consistent beliefs with that group are made salient by indication of elite polarization (Druckman et al., 2013). Partisan cues then anchor reasoning (Druckman, 2012). Dispute Contexts But journalists may be more successful in adjudication endeavors than previously believed (Druckman, 2012; Pingree et al., 2014). That is because motivated reasoning, “rather than being an inevitable political decision-making process, […] depends on the individual and the context,” (Druckman, 2012, p. 205). Of course, manipulating individuals’ motivation holds potential to mitigate motivated reasoning: there is evidence that encouraging individuals to reflect on their reasoning, consider other perspectives, or be more accountable to others who disagree can be effective (Bolsen et al., 2014; Lord, Lepper, & Preston, 1984; Redlawsk, 2002; Tetlock, 1983). But of interest to the present work are types of factual disputes that by their very nature disarm directional thinking or encourage accuracy-motivated processing. Specifically, I look at (and later manipulate) varied elite partisan environments to determine dispute contexts’ effects on readers acceptance of journalists’ adjudication. Nonpartisan In one of the few studies addressing promising adjudication conditions, Pingree et al. (2014) found that adjudication of a nonpartisan dispute did not promote directed reasoning at any point across the ideological spectrum, despite a potential ideological divide between those who might support its two sides: a corporation and protestors. Pingree and colleagues rightly called on journalists to forcefully adjudicate disputes such as the one they examined—those that feature conflicting truth claims, but do not feature partisan cues likely to outweigh accuracy goals. However, there is reason to believe that even partisan cues are less influential in particular dispute contexts: those which are partisan, but not polarized, and those which are polarized, but not contentious (Bolsen et al., 2014; Druckman, 2012). Partisan but not Polarized Within partisan disputes, the alignment of elite cues can vary, with differing effects on individuals’ information processing. Studies that consider varied elite partisan environments’ effects have been rare (Bolsen et al., 2014). Most have focused on polarized environments (Druckman et al., 2013). However, Bolsen et al. (2014) suggest alternative alignments of party disputes deserve study. They looked at the effects of bipartisan support (of less interest to the present study) and what is sometimes called a “cross-partisan” environment (Cooper & Young, 1997). Such disputes feature sides with a mix of support from both parties. According to Bolsen, Druckman, and Cook (2014, p. 239): Such cases signal intra-party disagreement, which may vitiate partisan motivated reasoning by alerting citizens to conflict within one’s own party on an issue. Such conflict has been shown to generate deeper thought regarding the applicability of various pieces of political information. (Chong and Druckman, 2007) Bolsen and colleagues found that cross-partisan alignment weakened partisan identity and attendant-motivated reasoning. By indicating conflict, such disputes may increase accuracy motivation (Bolsen et al., 2014; Druckman, 2012). This study tests intraparty disagreement directly, but predicts the same effect. With absence of explicit partisan polarization, then, adjudicating an intraparty dispute may engender similar effects as if it were nonpartisan. In the present study, that would mean that when presented with either an in- or out-party dispute, individuals process the journalist’s adjudication as accurate instead of reasoning toward a more economically liberal or conservative position based on their self-reported ideology. This explanation coincides with Conover and Feldman’s (1981) argument that ideology in the United States stands now as another marker of political identity and group affiliation, analogous to partisanship, instead of an underlying system of beliefs or some pervasive normative perspective. Likewise, Zaller’s (1992) seminal statement on the nature of public opinion argues that individuals rely on exposure to elite signaling for their expressed political preferences. Perhaps because polarization has been the dominant motif in contemporary American politics, intraparty dynamics have been underexamined. How voters respond to factual disputes within parties is especially consequential at the state level, however, where many legislatures are dominated by a single party (Aistrup, 2015; Flavin & Shufeldt, 2016; Myers, 2016; Ranney, 1976; Shufeldt & Flavin, 2012). At the national level, such schisms may arise as coalitions shift to include new segments of the population (Carmines, Ensley, & Wagner, 2016) or as candidate-centric identification becomes, in some cases, more prominent than party through contested primaries (Veenstra, Lyons, & Degim Flannagan, 2017). Polarized but not Contentious Even within polarized partisan disputes, readers’ alignment with their party or acceptance of a journalist’s evidence may depend on the nature of the issue and its relationship to partisan identity. Studies finding strong evidence of motivated reasoning have used highly contested issues (Nyhan & Reifler, 2010; Taber & Lodge, 2006). Individuals likely bring strong prior beliefs to such issues, and because these disputes stand as “badges” (Kahan, 2012) of partisan identity, they are less likely to be evaluated in an evenhanded fashion (Druckman, 2012). This is not to say that low-salience issues are ideal contexts for fact-checking, however, because such issues tend not to inspire either directional or accuracy-motivated reasoning (Druckman, 2012). Instead, disputes that feature polarized party elites but that are not rancorous or embedded in party identity (as abortion, affirmative action, and gun control are) may be better grounds for adjudication. Bolsen et al. (2014) suggest energy policy often falls under this categorization. Because energy policy is a generally salient area of increasing national importance (p. 242), and because both parties often endorse various energy proposals, it is possible for experimental designs to credibly manipulate the source of factual claims. With this in mind, the current study examines adjudication and elites in the context of a nuclear power proposal. Although Republicans have consistently been more likely to favor nuclear power than Democrats, at least half of each partisan group supported its use as recently as 2012 (Gallup, 2012). While polls fielded closer to the time of data collection focusing on support for increased emphasis on nuclear production showed a larger gap (Gallup, 2013; Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics and Policy, 2014), knowledge is low (Kuklinski, Metlay, & Kay, 1982; Pollock, Lilie, & Vittes, 1993), and many Americans do not appear to hold strong opinions on the issue (University of Texas Energy Poll, 2016). Moreover, the stimulus’s dispute centers on economic claims rather than environmental, further limiting intrinsic partisan polarization. The unsettled nature of the issue allowed for both intraparty and interparty disputes to be constructed using an otherwise unmodified stimulus, as well as for believable rotation of the oppositional party in the interparty conditions. Because the issue is not fully associated with one party over the other, support or opposition to the nuclear power proposal in the stimulus should not act as an identity threat that automates defensive thinking. Hypotheses and Research Questions This study builds on research testing the viability of journalistic adjudication in varied dispute conditions (Pingree et al., 2014), while drawing on recent work about the conditions that prompt directional and accuracy-motivated reasoning (Bolsen et al., 2014; Druckman, 2012). I hypothesize that in the interparty context: H1. Adjudication will have a positive main effect on factual beliefs. Participants exposed to an adjudication supporting a “low-risk” claim will be more likely to agree with the low-risk position, and those exposed to adjudication supporting a “high-risk” claim will be more likely to agree with the high-risk position. I then ask if motivated reasoning will reduce the efficacy of the adjudication: RQ1. Will adjudication be less effective when one’s own party is contradicted? I pose similar hypotheses in the intraparty context, with ideology in the place of partisanship: H2. Adjudication will have a positive main effect on factual beliefs. RQ2. Will ideology moderate the effectiveness of intraparty adjudication? I also compare the two conditions. I expect adjudication in an intraparty context will more strongly vitiate directional reasoning than in a noncontentious polarized dispute context. H3. Adjudication will be more influential in the intraparty dispute than in the interparty dispute. This study also examines readers’ perception of news quality. While Pingree et al. (2014) found that nonpartisan adjudication can improve perceptions of news quality, which may also apply to somewhat analogous intraparty disputes, extensive research in the line of hostile media effects (particularly relative hostile media perception, Gunther, Edgerly, Akin, & Broesch, 2012) suggests that partisans whose party is not supported in a mass media format will view the news article as more biased and less credible. H4. Adjudication will increase perceived news quality. RQ3. Will party-conflicting adjudication decrease perceived news quality? Methods Participants Recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk’s panel of human intelligence task workers, participants (N = 523) for this study were 59% male, had a mean age of 34.6 years (SD = 14.6), and possessed a median education of a Bachelor’s degree. Participants received monetary compensation. Participation was restricted to U.S. residents, and those residing in Georgia, the site of the proposed nuclear power plant described in the stimulus, were not used in the analysis. The experiment was fielded between February 1 and 3, 2015. Demographically, Mechanical Turk (mTurk) workers are marginally more diverse than the typical Internet sample, and significantly more diverse than an undergraduate sample (Buhrmester, Kwang, & Gosling, 2011). mTurk participants follow directions at least as well as traditional counterparts, and importantly for this study, “exhibit the classic heuristics and biases,” (Paolacci, Chandler, & Ipeirotis, 2010, p. 417). A series of parallel framing experiments comparing effects across a nationally representative survey sample, an mTurk sample, a student sample, and other convenience samples found that mTurk sample’s effects were in the same direction reached the same significance threshold, and were of similar magnitude as the national sample’s for each of the topics examined (Mullinix, Leeper, Druckman, & Freese, 2015). Moreover, the authors then compared results of 20 experiments implemented using national samples and mTurk, finding consistent replication. The authors concluded that social scientists are often able to draw generalizable causal inferences from this inexpensive sampling platform. Design The online experiment used a fully crossed 2 (adjudication, no adjudication) × 2 (interparty, intraparty) factorial design. In the interparty conditions, the party making oppositional claims was rotated. Likewise, the direction of adjudication was rotated across all adjudication conditions (article supports/contradicts oppositional claims). Participants read a news story on a state legislature’s dispute over the economic cost–benefit of a proposed nuclear power project.1 In the survey-embedded article, opponents of the project claimed the project, carried a high risk of default, and its credit fee waiver would hurt taxpayers, while proponents voiced counterclaims. In adjudication conditions, the article then vetted these, finding either support for both oppositional claims or neither (i.e., one-sided adjudication).2 This stimulus was constructed using preexisting news articles and credited to the Associated Press (see Supplementary Appendix). Dependent Variables All dependent variables were measured on seven-point scales (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). Factual belief was measured by agreement with the following statement: “The project loan is probably a low risk for default,” reverse coded, M = 4.40, SD = 1.79. News quality was an average of two items (r = .25, M = 4.94, SD = 0.96): “The article was biased” (reverse coded) and “the article was credible.” The strength of this correlation is comparable with that of the original study from which the measure is drawn (Pingree et al., 2014, r = .37). Satisfaction of informational needs was a single item, “The article satisfied my need for information,” (M = 4.26, SD = 1.55). Future news use was also one item asking likelihood of reading “another story about related issues, if you encountered one,” (M = 4.37, SD = 1.63). Independent Variables Partisanship (affiliation/strength) and ideology were measured on seven-point scales. Participants were 45% Democrat, 18% Republican, and 37% Independent. Used in the intraparty analyses, mean economic ideology (7 = very conservative) was 3.55 (SD = 1.54) among respondents in these conditions. This measure was used because of its relevance to the nature of the factual dispute in the stimulus, which concerned the economic ramifications of a nuclear plant. However, an alternate specification using the average of the standard economic and social ideology items (r = .92, M = 3.40, SD = 1.57) produced substantively identical results. Three variables were then constructed using these political orientations and condition assignment. First, a dichotomous “own party low risk” variable was constructed to represent a party cue in tests of factual beliefs in interparty conditions. Respondents who were assigned to a condition in which their party made claims stressing the low level of risk in the project were coded as 1, while all others, including Independents, were coded as 0. Next, to examine potential differential effects of adjudication on perceptions of news quality, a variable was constructed for each dispute context. To determine whether those reading about an intraparty dispute within their own party varied from those reading about the out-party (i.e., partisan relevance), a dichotomous “in-party in article” variable was created, with Independents coded as 0. Finally, “adjudication consonance” was constructed to test the effect of party-conflicting adjudication on perceptions of news quality in interparty conditions. Respondent party was crossed with the party supported in the adjudication, such that those exposed to party-conflicting information were coded as −1, those exposed to no adjudication 0, and those exposed to consonant adjudication 1. As detailed further in the results, Independents were first excluded from the model, and then in an alternate specification scored as 0, as adjudication could be neither dissonant nor consonant. Other Variables Included in Random Assignment Check Following Pingree et al. (2014), additional variables were included for random assignment check based on their potential as confounds. These included general political interest (M = 4.41, SD = 1.62), energy issue interest (M = 4.73, SD = 1.53), economic issue interest (M = 4.66, SD = 1.60), and trust of mainstream media (M = 2.91, SD = 1.47), each using standard seven-point single-item measures (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). Closed-mindedness (Kruglanski, Webster, & Klem, 1993) was measured using an average of three items (Cronbach’s alpha = .82, M = 5.28, SD = 1.08): “When thinking about a problem, I consider as many different opinions on the issue as possible” (reverse coded), “When considering most conflict situations, I can usually see how both sides could be right” (reverse coded), and “I always see many possible solutions to problems I face” (reverse coded). Need for cognition (Cronbach’s alpha = .85, M = 4.69, SD = 1.39) was the average of four items: “I prefer complex problems to simple ones,” “Thinking is not my idea of fun” (reverse coded), “I only think as hard as I have to” (reverse coded), and “I prefer my life to be filled with puzzles I must solve.” Random Assignment Check Analysis of variance was conducted to assure that random assignment to the four cells was successful. Age, sex, education, party affiliation, social issue ideology, economic issue ideology, political interest, energy issue interest, economic issue interest, media trust, need for cognition, and closed-mindedness did not vary significantly across any of the conditions. Results Factual Beliefs Hypotheses were tested using ordinary least squares (OLS) regression, with main effects entered in the first block and interactions, where relevant, entered in a second block. For H1, which predicted positive main effects of adjudication on factual beliefs in an interparty dispute, the model included a variable for whether the respondent’s party claimed the risk was low, as well as dummy variables for adjudication favoring the low-risk position and for adjudication in favor of the high-risk position, leaving the no adjudication control as the missing dummy. These variables represent three cues: one from political elites and two from the media. Together with their interaction terms, they constitute the key tests of H1 and RQ1. Full results are reported in the first column of Table 1. Table 1 Influence of Adjudication and Party Cues on Factual Beliefs Interparty dispute (n = 251) Intraparty dispute (n = 271) Dispute comparison (n = 522) Adjudication (high) .21*** .16* Adjudication (high) .18** .21 Adjudication (high) .20*** .21*** Adjudication (low) −.33*** −.34*** Adjudication (low) −.26*** −.17 Adjudication (low) −.29*** −.34*** Own party (low) .04 −.03 Ideology −.08 −.05 Intraparty dispute −.02 −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (high) .12 Ideology* adjudication (high) −.04 Intraparty* adjudication (high) −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (low) .01 Ideology* adjudication (low) −.10 Intraparty* adjudication (low) .07 R2 .22 .23 R2 .16 .16 R2 .18 .19 Interparty dispute (n = 251) Intraparty dispute (n = 271) Dispute comparison (n = 522) Adjudication (high) .21*** .16* Adjudication (high) .18** .21 Adjudication (high) .20*** .21*** Adjudication (low) −.33*** −.34*** Adjudication (low) −.26*** −.17 Adjudication (low) −.29*** −.34*** Own party (low) .04 −.03 Ideology −.08 −.05 Intraparty dispute −.02 −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (high) .12 Ideology* adjudication (high) −.04 Intraparty* adjudication (high) −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (low) .01 Ideology* adjudication (low) −.10 Intraparty* adjudication (low) .07 R2 .22 .23 R2 .16 .16 R2 .18 .19 Notes. Cell values are standardized betas. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001. Table 1 Influence of Adjudication and Party Cues on Factual Beliefs Interparty dispute (n = 251) Intraparty dispute (n = 271) Dispute comparison (n = 522) Adjudication (high) .21*** .16* Adjudication (high) .18** .21 Adjudication (high) .20*** .21*** Adjudication (low) −.33*** −.34*** Adjudication (low) −.26*** −.17 Adjudication (low) −.29*** −.34*** Own party (low) .04 −.03 Ideology −.08 −.05 Intraparty dispute −.02 −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (high) .12 Ideology* adjudication (high) −.04 Intraparty* adjudication (high) −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (low) .01 Ideology* adjudication (low) −.10 Intraparty* adjudication (low) .07 R2 .22 .23 R2 .16 .16 R2 .18 .19 Interparty dispute (n = 251) Intraparty dispute (n = 271) Dispute comparison (n = 522) Adjudication (high) .21*** .16* Adjudication (high) .18** .21 Adjudication (high) .20*** .21*** Adjudication (low) −.33*** −.34*** Adjudication (low) −.26*** −.17 Adjudication (low) −.29*** −.34*** Own party (low) .04 −.03 Ideology −.08 −.05 Intraparty dispute −.02 −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (high) .12 Ideology* adjudication (high) −.04 Intraparty* adjudication (high) −.03 Own party (low)* adjudication (low) .01 Ideology* adjudication (low) −.10 Intraparty* adjudication (low) .07 R2 .22 .23 R2 .16 .16 R2 .18 .19 Notes. Cell values are standardized betas. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001. As predicted, both adjudications influenced risk belief. Low-risk adjudication (β = −.33, p < .001) significantly lowered risk belief, while high-risk adjudication significantly increased risk belief (β = .21, p < .001). The in-party elite cue (β = .04, p = .52) and its interactions with adjudications (low-risk β = .01, p = .89; high-risk β = .12, p = .20) were not significant influences over readers’ beliefs. That is, whether the journalist supported or contradicted the respondent’s party did not impact risk belief (see Figure 1). In additional tests of symmetry of effects between parties, interactions of the cues with partisanship were included, all not significant (see Supplementary Table A1). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Adjudication effects by party cue in interparty conditions. Note. “No Cue” refers to Independents. Higher “default risk belief” scores indicate greater agreement with the high-risk position. Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Adjudication effects by party cue in interparty conditions. Note. “No Cue” refers to Independents. Higher “default risk belief” scores indicate greater agreement with the high-risk position. Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval. H2, which predicted positive main effects of adjudication on factual beliefs in an intraparty dispute, was addressed with the same dummy variables for adjudication as well as respondent ideology and their interaction terms. Full results are reported in the second column of Table 1. As predicted, the adjudications significantly influenced perceptions of risk. Adjudication of the low-risk position decreased risk belief (β = −.26, p < .001), while adjudication supporting the high-risk position increased it (β = .18, p = .006). Ideology (β = −.08, p = .14), and its interactions with the adjudications (low-risk β = −.10, p = .52; high-risk β = −.04, p = .81) did not influence risk beliefs (see Figure 2). Because the party in the intraparty dispute was rotated, symmetry between in-party and out-party readers was subsequently tested by adding a dichotomous variable to the model, with no significant differences detected (see Supplementary Table A2). Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Adjudication effects by ideology in intraparty conditions. Note. Ideology collapsed to three levels for figure. Higher “default risk belief” scores indicate greater agreement with the high-risk position. Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Adjudication effects by ideology in intraparty conditions. Note. Ideology collapsed to three levels for figure. Higher “default risk belief” scores indicate greater agreement with the high-risk position. Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval. H3, which stated that adjudication effects would differ between the interparty and intraparty conditions, was tested using an OLS model with the adjudication dummies as well as a dichotomous variable for dispute type (intraparty = 1). Results (reported in the third column of Table 1) show no significant differences in the effects of journalist’s adjudication (both directions p < .001) between dispute types (β = −.02, p = .69) nor did the dispute type interact with the adjudications (low-risk β = .07, p = .38; high-risk β = −.03, p = .71). This means that the journalist’s statements were no less influential in the polarized partisan conditions tested. Perceived News Quality The remaining tests addressed perceptions of news quality using OLS regressions for each of three dependent variables—perceived news quality, informational needs satisfaction, and future news use. Initial tests pooled all conditions (N = 522), finding that both the low-risk adjudication (β = .16, p < .001) and high-risk adjudication (β = .11, p = .023) increased informational needs satisfaction. Adjudication did not influence perceived news quality or future news use intention. Full results are reported in Table 2. Table 2 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication (high) −.07 .11* −.06 Adjudication (low) −.01 .16*** −.07 R2 .01 .02 .00 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication (high) −.07 .11* −.06 Adjudication (low) −.01 .16*** −.07 R2 .01 .02 .00 Notes. All conditions (N = 522). Cell values are standardized betas. * p < .05, *** p < .001. Table 2 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication (high) −.07 .11* −.06 Adjudication (low) −.01 .16*** −.07 R2 .01 .02 .00 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication (high) −.07 .11* −.06 Adjudication (low) −.01 .16*** −.07 R2 .01 .02 .00 Notes. All conditions (N = 522). Cell values are standardized betas. * p < .05, *** p < .001. Next, intraparty and interparty conditions were modeled separately to test relevant moderators. The intraparty models featured an in-party dummy variable, and its interaction with adjudication included to ensure readers did not perceive news quality differently when reading stories about disputes within their own party or the opposing one. Adjudication again improved informational needs satisfaction (β = .17, p = .006), but not perceived news quality or future news use. Whether the respondent read about a dispute within their own party or the out-party was not significant nor was the interaction term. Full results of intraparty tests are reported in Table 3. Table 3 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use, by Partisan Relevance Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication .03 .03 .17** .17** −.10 −.10 In-party in article −.07 −.06 −.03 .07 −.02 −.19 Adjudication* in-party −.02 −.13 −.01 R2 .01 .01 .03 .04 .01 .01 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication .03 .03 .17** .17** −.10 −.10 In-party in article −.07 −.06 −.03 .07 −.02 −.19 Adjudication* in-party −.02 −.13 −.01 R2 .01 .01 .03 .04 .01 .01 Notes. Intraparty dispute (n = 271). Partisan relevance refers to correspondence of the party in the article and respondent party. Cell values are standardized betas. * p < .05, ** p < .01, Table 3 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use, by Partisan Relevance Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication .03 .03 .17** .17** −.10 −.10 In-party in article −.07 −.06 −.03 .07 −.02 −.19 Adjudication* in-party −.02 −.13 −.01 R2 .01 .01 .03 .04 .01 .01 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use Adjudication .03 .03 .17** .17** −.10 −.10 In-party in article −.07 −.06 −.03 .07 −.02 −.19 Adjudication* in-party −.02 −.13 −.01 R2 .01 .01 .03 .04 .01 .01 Notes. Intraparty dispute (n = 271). Partisan relevance refers to correspondence of the party in the article and respondent party. Cell values are standardized betas. * p < .05, ** p < .01, The polarized dispute models addressed RQ3, which asked if party-conflicting adjudication would result in lower perceived news quality. To test this, these included a three-level “adjudication consonance” variable. Participants whose party was adjudicated against were coded as −1, those who saw no adjudication were coded as 0, and those whose party was supported by the adjudication were coded as 1. In the first specification, Independents were excluded (n = 153). In a second, Independents were scored as 0 (n = 251). For both specifications, whether adjudication conflicted with (or supported) one’s party did not affect perceptions of news quality, information needs satisfaction, or intention to read more. Full results are reported in Table 4. Taken together, results showed that the one-sided adjudications did not provoke perceptions of bias, and led to increased satisfaction of readers’ informational needs. Table 4 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use by Adjudication Consonance Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) Adjudication consonance −.06 −.07 −.03 −.07 .07 .02 R2 .00 .01 .00 .00 .01 .00 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) Adjudication consonance −.06 −.07 −.03 −.07 .07 .02 R2 .00 .01 .00 .00 .01 .00 Notes. Interparty dispute. Adjudication consonance was measured as the agreement between adjudication and partisanship (conflicting = −1/none = 0/consonant = 1). Column 1 reports results when Independents are excluded from the model. Column 2 reports results when Independents are included as 0. Cell values are standardized betas. Table 4 Influence of Adjudication on Perceptions of News Quality, Informational Needs, and Future Use by Adjudication Consonance Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) Adjudication consonance −.06 −.07 −.03 −.07 .07 .02 R2 .00 .01 .00 .00 .01 .00 Parameter News quality Informational needs Future use (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) (n = 153) (n = 251) Adjudication consonance −.06 −.07 −.03 −.07 .07 .02 R2 .00 .01 .00 .00 .01 .00 Notes. Interparty dispute. Adjudication consonance was measured as the agreement between adjudication and partisanship (conflicting = −1/none = 0/consonant = 1). Column 1 reports results when Independents are excluded from the model. Column 2 reports results when Independents are included as 0. Cell values are standardized betas. Discussion Journalists are frequently criticized for passive, he-said she-said reporting, but researchers have only recently begun to explore the various conditions under which those in the media may influentially vet competing claims. Further, many studies in this wave have looked only at fact-checking done under conditions more likely to lead to failure or even backfire effects. This study instead tested the effects of one-sided journalistic adjudication in two theoretically promising contexts—factual disputes within parties, and interparty disagreement on an issue over which the parties have not become bitterly and symbolically opposed. The results show that adjudication was effective overall in influencing factual beliefs in both contexts. Moreover, these findings show no differential effectiveness because of directional motivated reasoning. This study then examined how this authoritative form of journalism impacts readers’ views of bias, satisfaction of informational needs, and intention to read more news on the issue. Across contexts, adjudication increased satisfaction of informational needs, and had no effect on perceived bias or future news use. This effect also was not conditional on whether the adjudication supported or contradicted the reader’s party. This study contributes to our understanding of a style of authoritative, active journalism that weighs claims in the context of the traditional news story, not in a separate fact-check format. This study lends realism to adjudication research by testing one-sided outcomes. The noncontentious disputes examined also help address the denominator problem Flynn (2016) identities in the misperception and corrections literature: “the bulk of this research focuses on misperceptions about an unrepresentative subset of political facts” (p. 2)—those that possess distinct affiliational implications (Pasek, Sood, & Krosnick, 2015). Finally, by looking at disputes occurring within parties, this study sheds light on consequential partisan information environments that have received little attention in public opinion research. Before discussing further implications for theory and practice, however, some important limitations and directions for future work should be noted. While this study varied the elite context of the dispute, other dimensions likely condition journalists’ ability to adjudicate successfully. In particular, the findings presented here raise issues about both the type of evidence the journalist provides, and the type of claim that it addresses. In this study, the adjudications used quotes from expert sources to support one side or the other in the dispute. It is possible that an adjudication featuring an expert opinion is more influential than one in which the journalists themselves provide some other form of evidence. Use of expert quotes is extremely common practice, however (Conrad, 1999; Zelizer, 1989), including in instances of adjudication (Pingree et al., 2013), so testing such a construction holds external validity. Future work, though, might attempt to disentangle the source effect by using a condition in which the journalist provides evidence they themselves produced, perhaps by way of in-house data analysis (Cushion, Lewis, & Callaghan, 2016; Felle, 2016). Crucially, the types of facts that journalists check or adjudicate also vary. This study’s dispute centered on narrow technical facts about credit risk. The range of claims journalists can and do choose to adjudicate is much broader, however (Graves, 2016; 2017). Indeed, one critique of the fact-checking enterprise attacks these outfits’ “grandiose” attempts to arbitrate larger questions that cannot be verified (Uscinski, 2015; Uscinski & Butler, 2013). Some of the success of the adjudications in this study may have rested on the type of claim being weighed—specific to one particular nuclear proposal, not general facts about the issue. It may be that claims restricted to specific locations, events, or policies are more persuasively adjudicated than broader assertions about the same issue. In this case, journalists may find targeting narrow claims a fruitful approach to inject a modicum of factual understanding into even contentious debates, rather than wading into a broader value-driven morass. Future adjudication research can help clarify these current ambiguities by varying the broadness of the claims receiving adjudication. One informative structure may be to test paired claims: one applicable to only a specific instance, and one applicable to the entire domain to which that instance belongs. For example, a journalist may adjudicate a source’s claim downplaying the atypicality of an extreme weather event conjointly with that source’s broader claim denigrating climate science in general. This approach would remedy the current study’s reliance on a single belief item, allow for both one-sided and balanced constructions, and show whether paired adjudications are evaluated separately or holistically (e.g., content interactions in Garrett, Nisbet, & Lynch, 2013; Lyons & Veenstra, 2016; Veenstra, Park, Lyons, Kang, & Iyer, 2015). Understanding the potential for interactions among types of claims (and evidence) is important because these neither exist nor are discussed in isolation, but rather as part of a “network of documents, people, and organizations,” that journalists bring together to form the most authoritative understanding of a dispute (Graves, 2017, p. 14). It may be the case that when the adjudication of a broad claim is unacceptable to committed partisans, belief about a narrower claim is thrown out with the bathwater. Alternatively, perhaps the undeniability of the narrow adjudication helps move belief on the bigger issue. Finally, the proposed mechanism and the elite contexts used here merit discussion. While the findings show a lack of directional reasoning, it cannot unequivocally be stated that intraparty and noncontentious polarized disputes induce accuracy motivations in readers. In the absence of directional motivation, though, individuals use cognitive strategies to reach the most accurate conclusions possible (Kunda, 1990). For this reason, prior work examining directional and accuracy-motivated reasoning compared the degree to which responses aligned with respondents’ partisanship (Bolsen et al., 2014; Klar, 2014; Lavine et al., 2012).3 Following this approach, the findings suggest that accuracy motivation played a role in the tendency of respondents to reach conclusions in line with the evidence presented in the article rather than their partisanship or ideology (see Druckman, 2012 for a discussion). Because this study explicitly focused on conditions most likely to produce broadly successful adjudication, the logical next step would be a more stringent test, a contentiously polarized dispute (Flynn, Nyhan, & Reifler, 2017). Overall, the absence of directional reasoning in these results is promising, but must be interpreted cautiously as with any null result. That said, this work supports that which has found that citizens can be receptive to facts despite their partisan commitments (Bullock, Gerber, Hill, & Huber, 2015; Prior, Sood, & Khanna, 2015; Weeks, 2015). In perhaps the most comprehensive study of corrections to date, Wood and Porter (2016) for example find that corrections are effective across a large range of claims, with partisans moving at least somewhat across the spectrum. Nonetheless, these authors find substantial differences in how citizens respond to congenial and cross-cutting corrections. While heartening, the lack of differential acceptance found in the present study bears further investigation across issues, elite contexts, and types of claims adjudicated. More work is needed to determine if the effectiveness of adjudication goes further and also holds (in general and in terms of limited differential acceptance) in more antagonistic disputes. While the dispute contexts and types of claims examined may have contributed to the observed outcome, the corrective format tested here may also have played a role. From a journalism practice perspective, it is important to examine potential differences, in both belief outcomes and perceived news quality, of the in-text adjudication style tested here and the independent fact-check styles tested previously (Amazeen et al., 2016; Thorson, 2015). In-text adjudication presents readers with the most coherent picture of the facts at the time that they initially encounter a dispute, and so reaches readers in a more natural setting. This delivery may help reduce problems associated with selective exposure to and sharing of fact-checks (Shin & Thorson, 2017). Ultimately, this study furthers our understanding of the relationship between configurations of elected officials’ factual contentions and the potential for an informed public. The findings presented here provide tentative encouragement for journalists, as they struggle with the implications of taking a more assertive approach to adjudicating the facts, and suggest several routes for future research to clarify our understanding of journalism practices in a time of nearly constant epistemic turmoil. Supplementary Data Supplementary Data are available at IJPOR online. Benjamin Lyons is a Research Fellow at the University Exeter in the Department of Politics. This study was conducted while the author was a PhD student at Southern Illinois University in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and revised while a Martin Fishbein Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Footnotes 1 Increasing alignment of national and state-level American politics has resulted in-party labels (and the lenses they provide) that are distinctly national (Hopkins, 2017). While out-of-state policy disputes do not directly impact readers’ lives, they likely perceive them through the same partisan lenses, as they would disputes in their own jurisdiction or at the federal level. 2 Following Pingree et al. (2014), adjudication was not isolated from story length. This would be a concern mostly for the perceptions of news quality. However, a previous study that used an alternative control with additional filler content found effects for adjudication and none for story length on its own (Pingree, 2011). 3 Because motivation is a psychological construct that researchers cannot directly observe, we must make inferences based on observable behavior (Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014, p. 328). References Aistrup J. A. ( 2015 ). 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International Journal of Public Opinion ResearchOxford University Press

Published: Sep 3, 2017

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