How Selective Reporting Shapes Inferences about Conflict


Baum, Matthew A., and Yuri M. Zhukov. “How Selective Reporting Shapes Inferences about Conflict,” Working Paper. Copy at


By systematically under- or over-reporting violence by different actors, media organizations convey potentially contradictory information about how a conflict is likely to unfold, and whether outside intervention is necessary to stop it. These reporting biases affect not only statistical inference, but also public knowledge and policy preferences. Using new event data on the ongoing armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine, we perform parallel analyses of data from
Ukrainian, rebel, Russian and third party sources. We show that actor-specific reporting bias can yield estimates with vastly different implications for conflict resolution: Ukrainian sources predict frequent unilateral escalation by rebels, pro-Russian rebel sources predict unilateral escalation by government troops, while outside sources predict that transgressions by either side should be quite rare. Experimental evidence suggests that news consumers tend to support intervention against whichever side is shown to be committing the violence. We argue that these kinds of reporting biases can potentially make conflicts more difficult to resolve — hardening attitudes against negotiated settlement, and in favor of military action.