Images of protest: Dimensions of selection bias in media coverage of Washington demonstrations, 1982 and 1991

John David McCarthy, Clark McPhail, Jackie Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

374 Scopus citations

Abstract

Protest is now central to politics in Western democracies, but it is known to citizens mainly through portrayals in the media. Yet the media cover only a small fraction of public protests, raising the possibility of selection bias. We study this problem by comparing police records of demonstrations in Washington, D.C. in 1982 and 1991 with media coverage of the events in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and on three national television networks. We model the consequences of demonstration form, context, and purpose on the likelihood of media coverage. The estimated size of a demonstration and its importance to the current media issue attention cycle are the strongest predictors of its coverage. Additional analyses support our claim that heightened media attention to an issue increases the likelihood that protests related to that issue will be covered. Comparing 1982 to 1991 suggests that television coverage of protests is increasingly subject to the impact of media issue attention cycles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-499
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican sociological review
Volume61
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Images of protest: Dimensions of selection bias in media coverage of Washington demonstrations, 1982 and 1991'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this