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Opinions as Facts

Leonardo Bursztyn (), Aakaash Rao (), Christopher Roth and David Yanagizawa-Drott ()
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Leonardo Bursztyn: University of Chicago and NBER
Aakaash Rao: Harvard University
David Yanagizawa-Drott: University of Zurich and CEPR

No 159, ECONtribute Discussion Papers Series from University of Bonn and University of Cologne, Germany

Abstract: The rise of opinion programs has transformed television news. Because they present anchors’ subjective commentary and analysis, opinion programs often convey conflicting narratives about reality. We experimentally document that people across the ideological spectrum turn to opinion programs over “straight news,” even when provided large incentives to learn objective facts. We then examine the consequences of diverging narratives between opinion programs in a high-stakes setting: the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. We find stark differences in the adoption of preventative behaviors among viewers of the two most popular opinion programs, both on the same network, which adopted opposing narratives about the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We then show that areas with greater relative viewership of the program downplaying the threat experienced a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Our evidence suggests that opinion programs may distort important beliefs and behaviors.

Keywords: Opinion programs; Media; Narratives (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C90 D83 D91 Z13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 111 pages
Date: 2022-04
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cbe and nep-cul
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