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Studies show that the majority of Americans still get their news from television despite the fact that they are constantly on their phones. The average adult in the US consumes around nine-and-a-half hours of television news each week.

A new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that cable news channels with political leanings are more likely to be shown on a day-to-day basis. Fox moved to the right in response to events that caused MSNBC and CNN to move to the left after the 2016 election.

Yphtach Lelkes is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and co-author of the study. MSNBC is a left-wing network. The thing we see is that it moves quickly.

Visibility bias is a form of media bias that Lelkes and his colleagues studied. The news channel would be seen as liberal if the majority of guests were liberal. Between January 2010 and August 2020 they analyzed thousands of hours of CNN, Fox, and MSNBC to find out who appeared on screen during news shows.

The guests were assigned media bias scores based on their financial contributions to political candidates and organizations.

"If a person donates to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, they're given a media bias score based on their financial contributions to political candidates and organizations considered more conservative." They are more liberal if they give to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. We can identify their ideology when we see them on screen.

The team used the scores to show that Fox has moved further to the right while CNN and MSNBC have moved further to the left. The ideological gap between the channels became extreme after the presidential election.

For a long time, Fox News was to the right of MSNBC and CNN. MSNBC and CNN were the first to move to the right. They all flowed in a straight line. They reacted to events in the news by leaning away from each other and more towards their own beliefs.

The gap between channels is more pronounced during prime time. "Anderson Cooper 360" on CNN and "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC are prime time shows that skew more to the left than "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on Fox.

The morning and afternoon shows are more hard news and fact based.

A recent study in the journal Science Advances was written by University of Pennsylvania Stevens University Professor Duncan Watts and his team. It found that Americans who get their news from TV are more likely to watch channels that reflect their ideology and less likely to stray outside their partisan bubble.

The studies show that partisan audiences on cable news are growing while the outlets themselves are becoming more extreme.

Do good ratings on a show encourage an entire network to move to the right or the left? Is the ideology of a news channel affected by viewer boycotts. Will the ideological gap between channels ever get smaller or will it continue to grow?

The team is trying to make its data available to the public.

"Soon we will have a platform where people can play with the data, where they can go down to the show level and see what the bias scores are for any one show," he said.

"Measuring Dynamic Media Bias" is co-authored by Columbia University assistant professor of political science Eunji Kim and the University of Utah assistant professor of political science Josh McCrain

More information: Eunji Kim et al, Measuring dynamic media bias, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2202197119