Fox News is probably the largest cable news network but how credible is their news? Recently, Fairleigh Dickinson University conducted a Public Mind Poll. The poll asked New Jersey residents about current events at home and abroad and from which sources they got their information. According to the survey results, Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while news outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who say they don’t watch any news at all.
The New Jersey respondents were asked about a variety of topics including the outcome of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East this past year. While 53% of respondents knew that Egyptians were successful in overthrowing Mubarak’s government, 21% said that the uprisings were unsuccessful while 26% admitted that they didn’t know. Additionally, 48% knew that the Syrian uprising has thus far been unsuccessful, while 36% said they don’t know, and 16% said the Syrians had already toppled their government. But the real finding was that the results depended on which media sources people turned to for their news. For example, people who watched Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, were 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watched no news at all. Fox News watchers were also 6-points less likely to know that Syrians had not overthrown their government than those who watched no news.
“Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the Public Mind Poll. “Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all.”
By contrast, some news media sources have a positive effect on political knowledge. For example, people who reported reading a national newspaper like The New York Times or USA Today were 12-points more likely to know that Egyptians had overthrown their government than those who had not looked at any news source. And those who listened to NPR radio were 11-points more likely to know the outcome of the revolt against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. However, the best informed respondents were those that watched Sunday morning news programs leading to a 16-point increase in the likelihood of knowing what happened in Egypt and an 8-point increase in the likelihood of knowing what happened in Syria.
“Sunday morning news shows tend to spend a lot more time on a single issue than other news broadcasts, and they are less likely to degenerate into people shouting at each other,” said Cassino. “Viewers pick up more information from this sort of calm discussion than from other formats. Unfortunately, these shows have a much smaller audience than the shouters.”
This isn’t the first study that found that Fox News viewers were more misinformed in comparison to others. Last year, a study from the University of Maryland found that Fox News viewers were more likely to believe false information about politics. This study judged how likely consumers of various news outlets and publications were to believe misinformation about a wide range of political issues. Overall, 90% of respondents said they felt they had heard false information being given to them during the 2010 election campaign. However, while consumers of just about every news outlet believed some information that was false, the study found that Fox News viewers, regardless of political information, were “significantly more likely” to believe that:
–Most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely)
–Most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points)
–The economy is getting worse (26 points)
–Most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points)
–The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points)
–Their own income taxes have gone up (14 points)
–The auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points)
–When TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points)
–And that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)
“Almost daily” viewers of Fox News, the authors said, were 31 points more likely to mistakenly believe that “most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit”; were 30 points more likely to believe that “most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring”; and were 14 points more likely to believe that “the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts.”
They were also 13 points more likely to mistakenly believe “the auto bailout only occurred under Obama”; 12 points more likely to believe that “when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it”; and 31 points more likely to believe that “it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States.”
The study’s authors continued, “These effects increased incrementally with increasing levels of exposure and all were statistically significant. The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it — though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.”
Asked for comment on the study, Fox News seemingly dismissed the findings. In a statement, Michael Clemente, the senior vice president of news editorial for the network, said: “The latest Princeton Review ranked the University of Maryland among the top schools for having ‘Students Who Study The Least’ and being the ‘Best Party School’ – given these fine academic distinctions, we’ll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was ‘researched’ with.’”
For the record, the Princeton Review says the University of Maryland ranks among the “Best Northeastern Colleges.” It was No. 19 on the Review’s list of “Best Party Schools.”The study was backed by two parts of the University of Maryland, the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies.
I guess with the false information consistently passed on by Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson, Brian Kilmeade, Greta van susteren, and others at Fox, I can understand why many of their viewers are “news ignorant” but that’s just my take.
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