The Great Media Conspiracy

Speaking of alleged scientific conspiracies, I came across a cool item yesterday: A recent study published by the British Journal of Social Psychology: Does it take one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories is influenced by personal willingness to conspire. Here’s the abstract:

We advance a new account of why people endorse conspiracy theories, arguing that individuals use the social-cognitive tool of projection when making social judgements about others. In two studies, we found that individuals were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories if they thought they would be willing, personally, to participate in the alleged conspiracies. Study 1 established an association between conspiracy beliefs and personal willingness to conspire, which fully mediated a relationship between Machiavellianism and conspiracy beliefs. In Study 2, participants primed with their own morality were less inclined than controls to endorse conspiracy theories – a finding fully mediated by personal willingness to conspire. These results suggest that some people think ‘they conspired’ because they think ‘I would conspire’.

I wonder if this is a factor in things like the Republican propensity to argue that we need poll restrictions (that just happen to benefit Republicans) because of voter fraud (that turns out not to exist), whilst the cases of actual voter fraud that turn up frequently involve Republicans rigging the game for their own benefit. In other words, they may be inclined to believe there is a Democratic conspiracy to cheat them at the polls precisely because they know that they themselves are willing to cheat.

I suspect this is a factor in the Great Media Conspiracy as well. You probably heard about that recent poll from Public Policy Polling (PPP) that gauged respondents’ trust vs. distrust of different media outlets. Kevin Drum ran a nifty chart last week that highlighted a key part of the results: that Republicans tend to trust Fox News and distrust every other media outlet, while Democrats and Independents believe the opposite, that media outlets are generally trustworthy except for Fox. I liked Kevin’s chart, but I wanted to see the Democrat and Independent numbers in the same format, so I made my own version:

The numbers show, for each media outlet and party affiliation, the percentage of respondents who trust that source minus the percentage who distrust that source. I’ve arranged them in descending order of Independent-voter trust. There are a few interesting things that strike me about this:

  • Independents really like PBS. Apparently Jim Lehrer’s reassuring drone really works for them.
  • Most Republicans these days apparently buy into the grand conspiracy theory of Sarah Palin’s “Lamestream Media”: It’s not just that a particular media outlet is biased against them; it’s all of them (except Fox).

All of which brings me back to that study I was talking about at the beginning: I wonder if Republicans are willing to believe that all those different media outlets, with their hundreds of nominally independent reporters and editors and producers, are engaged in a colossal conspiracy against them, mainly because Republicans themselves (or at least, the people who run their preferred media outlet) are so clearly willing to twist the truth in the service of ideology.

2 Responses to “The Great Media Conspiracy”

  1. CEK Says:

    Who would I contact for permission to reprint the graph in a university textbook?

  2. CEK Says:

    Cengage Learning would like to reprint the graph, “Media Trust vs. Distrust by Party” in an upcoming university textbook. Where would I send a formal permission letter? You can contact me directly at

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