Monday, January 24, 2011

So, about those Fox News Polls

In a recent episode of the Podcast, I mentioned a recent poll showing that Fox News viewers know less about current events than viewers of other news channels. Sadly, I forgot to cite my source, and a few of you Rioters - rightly so - called me out on it. I am so pleased! Really, I couldn't be happier. When the Riot first started, I made several mistakes that were hardly - if ever - caught. This not only tells me my listener/reader base is growing, but it tells me you all are growing SMARTER! (I'd like to think I had a little something to do with that. Though, I am constantly wrong.)

So, to clarify a few things, here are a few very interesting recent polls having to do with Fox News still not being news.

Back in December poll results were published by a University of Maryland based organization called World Public Opinion discussing how the television media - especially cable television media - swayed American opinion on several key issues to believe incorrect information. The study further postulated that political advertisements were largely to blame, and the more partisan the network, the more biased the ads. While viewers of network news, MSNBC, CNN, and others were found to believe some incorrect information, it was viewers of Fox News that believe the most incorrect information to be the truth.

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it 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). 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.
There were cases with some other news sources as well. Daily consumers of MSNBC and public broadcasting (NPR and PBS) were higher (34 points and 25 points respectively) in believing that it was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending money raised from foreign sources to support Republican candidates. Daily watchers of network TV news broadcasts were 12 points higher in believing that TARP was signed into law by President Obama, and 11 points higher in believing that most Republicans oppose TARP.

When I said that this was the second time this decade that Fox News' viewers were rated as the least competent when it comes to current events and political matters, I was discussing a study that came out (and for the life of me, I cannot find the paperwork. It's back in a box of college notes from political science. So...take my word or not...) around 2004 which stated (remember, this info was true in 2003/2004, and has since changed):

  • The majority of people that keep up with the news get it from TV.
  • The majority of people that get their news get if from Fox.
  • The majority of people that get their news from Fox were wildly misinformed about several key issues. At the time of this study they were:
    • Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.
    • The terrorists that performed the acts of 9/11 were in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and possibly several other Middle Eastern countries. 
Again, since I cannot find the exact source for this study, you may discount it at your leisure.

The most recent poll dealing with Fox News broke just about 4 days ago. A polling agency called Public Policy Polling ranked various news networks in order of viewers' trust in said network's ability to convey true information. Now, this is an interesting kind of poll, one that you may or may not want to put a bit of stock in. Personally, polls like this seem like popularity contests swayed by the ferocious manner in which cable news hosts bash on the other networks with which they disagree. Here are the poll results:

-A year ago a plurality of Americans said they trusted Fox News. Now a plurality of them don't. Conservatives haven't moved all that much- 75% said they trusted it last year and 72% still do this time around. But moderates and liberals have both had a strong increase in their level of distrust for the network- a 12 point gain from 48% to 60% for moderates and a 16 point gain from 66% to 82% for liberals. Voters between left and center tend to be more trusting of the media across the board, which is why a fair number of them were still rating Fox favorably even a year ago at this time. But it looks like with a lot of those folks it has finally crossed the line to being too political to trust.
-Democrats trust everything but Fox. Republicans don't trust anything but Fox. And independents don't trust much of anything. For Democrats 73% trust PBS, 64% NBC, 61% CBS, 60% CNN, 56% ABC, and 22% Fox. For Republicans 67% trust Fox, 29% PBS, 22% CNN, 21% NBC, 17% ABC, and 15% CBS. For independents 44% trust PBS, 36% Fox, 34% CNN, 33% NBC, 27% CBS, and 26% ABC.
Basically, what this final poll tells me is that we have allowed - not really to the shock of anyone - partisan politics to enter into our media. Officially. And nobody seems to really care that we did it. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a news source that we can trust as impartial and straight-shooting. The past 3 elections - the last one, especially - was so contemptuous when it came to speaking to the American public that it set a firm dividing line in nearly every aspect of life. It's gross, and it is indicative of the kind of political climate that is being brewed these days in which politics is entertainment and not a way to run the country.

That being said, it is worth noting what networks are spewing the most bile and incorrect information. So, take the poll results for what you will. But, make sure that - whatever your source of choice - you're taking in more than one or two sources for news. I recommend a combination of a cable talking head (O'Reilly, Maddow, one of those) to get your blood pumping, a network like NBC or ABC or a middle-way cable network like CNN to keep your head level, and NPR or PBS to really get some straight shooting.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

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