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Building Trust in Political Fact-Checking: Balance and Scope of News Coverage

Sat, September 17, 12:00 to 1:30pm, TBA


Partisan disagreements on facts are reinforcing divisions in society. To address this problem, I investigate how political fact-checking—which can potentially build common factual ground—can earn trust across party lines. By analyzing mission statements of fact-checking sources, I demonstrate how political fact-checking has reformed conventional reporting through a greater emphasis on interpretive objectivity, which allows for asymmetric coverage of political parties on the basis of contexts and evidence, and democratic accountability, which leads to news coverage that heavily focuses on partisan figures and controversies. Drawing on the literature on partisan motivated reasoning, I propose that these practices can potentially damage partisans’ credibility assessments of fact-checking outlets. Using three preregistered experiments, I examine how asymmetric coverage of political parties and the breadth of topic coverage affect partisans’ source assessments. I found that asymmetric coverage of the two political parties—regardless of the party challenged—lowered source credibility among both partisan groups, compared to balanced coverage. Compared to exclusive coverage of partisan issues, the coverage of scientific issues was conducive to raising source credibility across party lines, whereas the inclusion of apolitical issues (e.g., entertainment) tended to lower source credibility. My work sheds light on the conditions under which Democrats and Republicans are likely to converge on evidence-based news sources, which would increase citizens’ potential to work together on today’s important challenges.