The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers are the Most Misinformed
Continued from previous page
In a much more comprehensive study released in late 2011 (too late for Stewart or for PolitiFact), American University communications scholar Lauren Feldman and her colleagues reported on their analysis of a 2008 national survey, which found that “Fox News viewing manifests a significant, negative association with global warming acceptance.” Viewers of the station were less likely to agree that “most scientists think global warming is happening” and less likely to think global warming is mostly caused by human activities, among other measures.
In 2009, an NBC survey found “rampant misinformation” about the healthcare reform bill before Congress — derided on the right as “Obamacare.” It also found that Fox News viewers were much more likely to believe this misinformation than average members of the general public . “72% of self-identified Fox News viewers believe the healthcare plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly,” the survey found.
By contrast, among CNN and MSNBC viewers, only 41 percent believed the illegal immigrant falsehood, 39 percent believed in the threat of a “government takeover” of healthcare (40 percentage points less), 40 percent believed the falsehood about abortion, and 30 percent believed the falsehood about “death panels” (a 45 percent difference!).
In early 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation released another survey on public misperceptions about healthcare reform. The poll asked 10 questions about the newly passed healthcare law and compared the “high scorers”—those that answered 7 or more correct—based on their media habits. The result was that “higher shares of those who report CNN (35 percent) or MSNBC (39 percent) as their primary news source [got] 7 or more right, compared to those that report mainly watching Fox News (25 percent).”
"Ground Zero Mosque”
In late 2010, two scholars at the Ohio State University studied public misperceptions about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”—and in particular, the prevalence of a series of rumors depicting those seeking to build this Islamic community center and mosque as terrorist sympathizers, anti-American, and so on. All of these rumors had, of course, been dutifully debunked by fact-checking organizations. The result? “People who use Fox News believe more of the rumors we asked about and they believe them more strongly than those who do not.”
The 2010 Election
In late 2010, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) once again singled out Fox in a survey about misinformation during the 2010 election. Out of 11 false claims studied in the survey, PIPA found that “almost daily” Fox News viewers were “significantly more likely than those who never watched it” to believe 9 of them, including the misperceptions that “most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring” (they do), that “it is not clear that President Obama was born in the United States” (he was), that “most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses” (it either saved or created several million), that “most economists have estimated the healthcare law will worsen the deficit” (they have not), and so on.
It is important to note that in this study—by far the most critiqued of the bunch—the examples of misinformation studied were all closely related to prominent issues in the 2010 midterm election, and indeed, were selected precisely because they involved issues that voters said were of greatest importance to them, like healthcare and the economy. That was the main criterion for inclusion, explains PIPA senior research scholar Clay Ramsay. “People said, here’s how I would rank that as an influence on my vote,” says Ramsay, “so everything tested is at least a 5 on a zero-to-10 scale.”