Posted by: evanmcarlson | August 5, 2009

Tweety Effect, noun: When bias backfires

In scanning through the blogs I came across this interesting term and I think it fits in perfectly with some of the class discussions on bias.

“The Tweety Effect,” where the misogyny of a talking head in the MSM so enrages a demographic that they go out and vote in a manner that will put egg on the face of the talking head.

This term came into the blogger dictionary during the hours and days following the New Hampshire primary in January of 2008 and refers specifically to Chris Matthews’ obvious prejudices regarding then-Senator Hillary Clinton. This is just one example:

Matthews: I think the Hillary appeal has always been about the mix of toughness and sympathy. Let’s not forget, and I’ll be brutal, the reason she’s a US Senator, the reason she’s a candidate for President, the reason she may be a front runner, is that her husband messed around.

Incidentally, Tweety refers to Chris Matthews’ absurdly yellow hair.

First picture that comes up on google.

First picture that comes up on google.

What I think is particularly interesting about this is not the prejudices of Chris Matthews, but rather the fact that in voicing their prejudices often enough and in a large enough forum, they can backfire on the journalist or pundit in question.

Apparently, before the NH primary, Barack Obama was expected to win the state by 10+ points, but in the end Clinton won by a sizeable margin. Many arguments were made to explain how established opinion could have gotten it so wrong and some wondered if this had been a case of the Bradley Effect. Bloggers responded saying that more likely it was Chris Matthews and the Mainstream Media (MSM) as a whole that was really responsible by beating up on Hillary so much.

The electorate took pitty on her, they argue, and the result was that she won and her campaign was able to build up a head of steam that allowed her to challenge the Obama campaign through Super Tuesday.

This suggests that people are aware of the bias in the news they consume and for the most part they take it with a grain of salt. However, they only take so much before they get turned off entirely.

The question that I can’t answer is this: why doesn’t that happen with FOX news? It’s not like the biases there are so carefully hidden that people don’t recognize them. They’re clever about it, but it is still pretty clear.

My only explanation is that the people who watch FOX news feel exactly the same way about liberals as the station does, but I also feel like that smacks of gross stereotyping.

In short, I don’t know.



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