June 23rd, 2011

When Jon Stewart appeared on Chris Wallace’s Fox News show, he made the statement that Fox News viewers are the most consistently misinformed media viewers–which is likely correct–but then added a tag which he probably regretted, saying that this was proved “consistently, every poll.”

Politifact then gave Stewart a “False” rating on their Truth-O-Meter, pointing out that they are not the most consistently misinformed on every poll, pointing to polls which show the statement to be untrue. While Politifact is technically correct, their determination nonetheless gives an impression which is decidedly contrary to actual fact.

In the following video, Stewart both owns up to his own factual misstatement–and proves that, in his more general meaning, he was precisely correct, using Politifact’s ratings on Fox News’ statements as evidence:

I saw the Politifact story before the Stewart piece, and frankly, was disappointed. Yes, they were correct about Stewart being wrong; factually, it is not true that every poll shows Fox News viewers to be the most misinformed. However, the spirit of Stewart’s comment was, as he demonstrated in the bit, very much correct.

In fact, Politifact’s article itself is misleading.

Here’s why: in most of the polls about being informed, the status of “informed” with “high knowledge” is determined with questions like:

  • who is the vice president?
  • who is the president of Russia?
  • is the Chief Justice a conservative?
  • does the U.S. has a trade deficit?
  • which political party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives?
  • what is the name of the current U.S. Secretary of State?
  • who is the current prime minister of Great Britain?
  • which company is run by Steve Jobs?
  • which country has an active volcano that has recently disrupted international air travel?

Frankly, in the context of whether Fox News misinforms its viewers, these questions are meaningless. The charge is not that Fox misinforms its viewers about general facts, like who the vice president is, but politically charged facts, like whether the president wants to kill your grandmother.

This 2010 study (PDF), meanwhile, was discounted, because it contained determinations of truth that, while accurate, were challenged–by organizations like Fox News. Questions like:

Is it your impression that most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus has (a) saved or created several million jobs, (b) saved or created a few jobs, or (c) caused job losses.

That’s a perfectly legitimate question, but was challenged because, supposedly, it measured whether the respondent is a person “who agrees with the conclusions of experts in government agencies.” That criticism, however, is BS–the questions did not ask if the respondent agreed with the experts, but rather what the experts were saying. Which is a legitimate measurement of knowledge and misinformation.

Nevertheless, this was used to dismiss the results–even though this one survey was the only one that actually measured the political misinformation for which Fox News has become so infamous.

What Stewart should have said was that in a 2010 survey, one designed to measure political misinformation due to bias, Fox News viewers scored worst on almost every single point. The points Fox News viewers were the most misinformed on:

  • 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)

Many of these points are legitimate for measuring viewer knowledge because they represent knowledge which is necessary to make wise, informed judgments on which policies and politicians are most likely to benefit the country at large; all points measure whether viewers have been swayed by political attacks driven by raw bias.

I think it’s safe to say that, yes, Fox News viewers are, if not the most misinformed, consistently, then they are pretty damned misinformed.

Categories: "Liberal" Media, Right-Wing Lies Tags: by
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