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Media scrutiny and the quality of public officials


  • Daniel Sutter



I investigate whether attempts by the media to determine a candidate's fitness for office lowers the average quality of public officials, what I call the media scrutiny paradox. Media scrutiny imperfectly signals heterogeneous candidates' type, but imposes privacy costs and reputational costs on politicians. The quality of office holders falls if the selection effect is adverse and outweighs the screening effect. A low quality information signal, which could result if the media focus on irrelevant aspects of behavior, makes the screening effect small and the media paradox more likely to hold. Individuals of good character might invest more in their reputation and have more at stake from being (falsely) identified as a rapscallion. The actual malice standard established in New York Times v. Sullivan likely increased (relatively) the cost of candidacy for good people and lowered the quality of officials. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel Sutter, 2006. "Media scrutiny and the quality of public officials," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 129(1), pages 25-40, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:129:y:2006:i:1:p:25-40
    DOI: 10.1007/s11127-006-9025-0

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sendhil Mullainathan & Andrei Shleifer, 2002. "Media Bias," NBER Working Papers 9295, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Dixit, Avinash & Grossman, Gene M & Helpman, Elhanan, 1997. "Common Agency and Coordination: General Theory and Application to Government Policy Making," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(4), pages 752-769, August.
    3. John Ferejohn, 1986. "Incumbent performance and electoral control," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 5-25, January.
    4. Geoffrey Brennan & Alan Hamlin, 1995. "Economizing on virtue," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 6(1), pages 35-56, December.
    5. Alberto Alesina & Alex Cukierman, 1990. "The Politics of Ambiguity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(4), pages 829-850.
    6. Sendhil Mullainathan & Andrei Shleifer, 2005. "The Market for News," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1031-1053, September.
    7. Nuno Garoupa, 1999. "Dishonesty and Libel Law: The Economics of the "Chilling" Effect," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 155(2), pages 284-284, June.
    8. Crain, W Mark & Goff, Brian L, 1986. "Televising Legislatures: An Economic Analysis," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(2), pages 405-421, October.
    9. Glazer, A. & Hassin, R., 2000. "The Calculus of Stonewalling," Papers 99-00-13, California Irvine - School of Social Sciences.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jiancai Pi, 2010. "Media Capture and Local Government Accountability," Prague Economic Papers, University of Economics, Prague, vol. 2010(3), pages 273-283.
    2. Blume, Lorenz & Voigt, Stefan, 2013. "The economic effects of constitutional budget institutions," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 29(C), pages 236-251.

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