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The Hostile Media Effect, Biased Assimilation, and Perceptions of a Presidential Debate1


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    An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association, Boston, MA, November 2005.

John D. Richardson, 3515 Aspen Lake Drive, Manvel, TX 77578. E-mail:


This study examined the relation between 2 seemingly inconsistent phenomena: hostile media effect and biased assimilation. Participants (N = 156) reported their preference for George W. Bush or John Kerry and then viewed a live broadcast of the first Bush–Kerry Presidential debate. Consistent with biased assimilation, candidate preference influenced participants on both sides to perceive their candidate won the debate. Nevertheless, candidate preference modestly induced participants to perceive hostile bias from the debate moderator, Jim Lehrer. The influence of anticipated third-person effects was also examined. Overall, the results suggest biased assimilation and the hostile media effect are not inconsistent. In some situations, they occur simultaneously. Moreover, the hostile media effect appears to extend beyond news reports to other forms of mediation.