Covering the Court: The Impact of a Modern Era of Journalism Restricted; Files Only

Bass, Leeann (Fall 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/3f462642b?locale=en
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Abstract

Public support is crucial to the institutional legitimacy of the U.S. Supreme Court. However, in recent years, public support for the Court has gone through periods of instability or decline. This dissertation presents a theory of how changes in the American media environment lead to changes in beliefs about the legitimacy of the Court among the American public. By presenting the Court as politicized, modern media undermine the Supreme Court's image as a neutral, unbiased arbiter of important societal disputes. Through elite interviewing and text analysis of an original dataset of over 100,000 news stories about the Supreme Court, I demonstrate that there are differences in the way that legacy and modern news sources produce news, leading to systematic variation in the information that the audiences of different news outlets receive about the Court. Thus, the types of coverage noted by both existing observational and experimental studies as detrimental to public support for the Court does exist, and it is growing more prevalent over time. These findings have important implications for the continuing authority of the Supreme Court and ultimately the rule of law in American society.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1

1.1 Public Support and the United States Supreme Court . . . . . . . . . 1

1.2 Instability in Support for the Supreme Court . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

1.3 Perceptions of Judicial Impartiality in a Changing Media Environment 5

2 Concepts and Theory 14

2.1 Beliefs about the Supreme Court . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

2.1.1 Individual-Level Beliefs about Judicial Reasoning . . . . . . . 15

2.1.2 Sources of Beliefs about the Supreme Court: Learning through

the Media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

2.2 Politicization in American Media: Past and Present . . . . . . . . . . 26

2.3 Concepts: Images of the Supreme Court in the Media . . . . . . . . . 41

2.3.1 Content . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42

2.3.2 Tone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

2.4 A Model of Changing Beliefs about the Legitimacy of the Supreme Court 47

2.4.1 Empirical Implications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49

2.4.2 Plan for Remaining Chapters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53

3 Changes in American Media 54

3.1 General Changes in American Media and Specic Changes in Supreme

Court Coverage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

3.2 Background: Supreme Court Reporting in 1990 . . . . . . . . . . . . 55

3.3 Supreme Court Reporting Today . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59

3.3.1 Changes Over Time Observed by Legacy Media Hard Pass

Holders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63

3.3.2 Reporting by Modern Versus Legacy Media . . . . . . . . . . 74

3.4 Implications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

4 Topics of Coverage 90

4.1 The Court in 2018, As Told By Legacy Versus Modern News . . . . . 90

4.2 Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94

4.2.1 Sample Selection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94

4.2.2 Data Collection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98

4.3 Review of Hypotheses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105

4.4 Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109

4.4.1 Results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114

4.5 Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122

5 Tone of Coverage 123

5.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123

5.2 Review of Hypotheses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125

5.3 Classication Using Naive Bayes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127

5.3.1 Naive Bayes Algorithms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127

5.3.2 Training and Test Sets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129

5.3.3 Cross Validation and Prediction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130

5.3.4 Robustness: Other Specications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131

5.4 Models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131

5.4.1 Opinion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131

5.4.2 Politicization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137

5.4.3 Dramatization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143

5.5 Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147

6 Conclusion 150

6.1 Modern Media Threaten Judicial Legitimacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152

6.2 Can Legacy Media Save the Court's Image? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155

6.3 Future Directions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156

6.3.1 Open Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156

6.3.2 Can the Court Save Itself? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157

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