Anett Varga: Media Representation of the U.S. Supreme Court—Polarized Coverage of Politically Salient Decisions

Executive summary

The American public relies on the media to receive information about Supreme Court decisions. The reports of highly salient Supreme Court decisions are often politically polarized and distorted because of the nature of modern media. The relevance of this issue is heightened by the Supreme Court’s recently commenced session, which will argue politically divisive issues concerning LGBTQ+ rights, gun laws, and abortion.

Journalists and reporters are pressed for time to produce content immediately. This need for immediacy can lead to misinterpretation and misreporting of important cases.
Oversimplification of the decisions can also lead to confusion. This plays into the Internet phenomenon called the “echo-chamber effect.” Hashtagging the news about the decisions enables the creation of echo-chambers because they act as a filter with which people can select content in line with their political beliefs.
The language of misleading reports about Supreme Court decisions often frames the decision in a way that fits the given media outlet’s preexisting agenda. Writing the news to fit certain frames, such as the “game frame,” can change the way people think about and understand certain issues.

In the current media environment, it seems unlikely journalists would prioritize careful reporting over newsworthiness and immediate reporting. The disagreement between reporters and the Supreme Court concerning how to best cover the decisions seems to remain unresolved.


Anett Varga - Media Representation of the U.S. Supreme Court - 2019.11.01..pdf
PDF download