Attacking the Gatekeepers: A Survey Experiment on the Effects of Elite Criticism on the Media

Patrick F. A. van Erkel, Karolin Soontjens


Using a survey experiment in Belgium, this study investigates to what extent media criticism voiced by political elites affects citizens’ media perceptions. In the experiment, citizens are exposed to tweets in which political parties attack the public broadcast for (1) being ideologically slanted and (2) being inaccurate. The study shows that by attacking a news outlet elites are able to increase citizens’ perceptions of partisan bias in that outlet. However, we also find that this does not spill over to their general perception of bias or trust in the traditional media. In addition, we demonstrate that not all types of elite attacks on the media have a similar effect, as we find no evidence of tweets where elites criticize the news for being inaccurate impact citizens’ perceptions of the media.



media perceptions, media bias, elite cues, survey experiment

Full Text: