Saturday, December 22, 2012

7 Studies: Fox News Viewers Are Stupid



David Edwards' essay in Rawstory.com, "Mosque arsonist tells court: ‘I only know what I hear on Fox News,’" reported:

An Indiana man convicted of setting fire to a mosque in Ohio told a judge on Wednesday that he committed the crimes because Fox News and conservative talk radio had convinced him that “most Muslims are terrorists.”

Randolph Linn, 52, accepted a plea deal in which he pled guilty to all charges in connection to setting a fire in the prayer room at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo on Sept. 30. Under the deal, Linn is expected to serve 20 years in prison instead of 40.

Linn explained to the court that he had gotten “riled up” after watching Fox News.

“And I was more sad when Judge [Jack] Zouhary asked him that, ‘Do you know any Muslims or do you know what Islam is?’” one mosque member who attended the hearing recalled to WNWO. “And he said, ‘No, I only know what I hear on Fox News and what I hear on radio.’”

“Muslims are killing Americans and trying to blow stuff up,” Linn also reportedly told the judge. “Most Muslims are terrorists and don’t believe in Jesus Christ.”

The key to the piece is in the links: "A survey released by Fairleigh Dickinson University earlier this year determined that Fox News viewers were actually less informed that Americans who watched no news at all. In fact, at least seven studies in recent years have confirmed that Fox News viewers are more likely to be misinformed than other Americans."



The first story from the Huffington Post: "Fox News Viewers Know Less Than People Who Don't Watch Any News: Study":

"Fox News viewers are less informed than people who don't watch any news, according to a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

The poll surveyed New Jersey residents about the uprisings in Egypt and the Middle East, and where they get their news sources. The study, which controlled for demographic factors like education and partisanship, found that "people who watch Fox News are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government" and "6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government" compared to those who watch no news.

Overall, 53% of all respondents knew that Egyptians successfully overthrew Hosni Mubarak and 48% knew that Syrians have yet to overthrow their government.

Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson, explained in a statement, "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. 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."

And from Chris Mooney from Alternet.org, "The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers are the Most Misinformed," an excerpt from Chris Mooney’s new book The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality, we find out about seven similar studies:

In June of last year, Jon Stewart went on air with Fox News’ Chris Wallace and started a major media controversy over the channel’s misinforming of its viewers. “Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers?” Stewart asked Wallace. “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”



There probably is a small group of media consumers out there somewhere in the world who are more misinformed, overall, than Fox News viewers. But if you only consider mainstream U.S. television news outlets with major audiences (e.g., numbering in the millions), it really is true that Fox viewers are the most misled based on all the available evidence—especially in areas of political controversy.

Based upon my research, I have located seven separate studies that support Stewart’s claim about Fox, and none that undermine it. Six of these studies were available at the time that PolitFact took on Stewart; one of them is newer.

The studies all take a similar form: These are public opinion surveys that ask citizens about their beliefs on factual but contested issues, and also about their media habits. Inevitably, some significant percentage of citizens are found to be misinformed about the facts, and in a politicized way—but not only that. The surveys also find that those who watch Fox are more likely to be misinformed, their views of reality skewed in a right-wing direction. In some cases, the studies even show that watching more Fox makes the misinformation problem worse.

Iraq War

In 2003, a surveyby the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found widespread public misperceptions about the Iraq war. For instance, many Americans believed the U.S. had evidence that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been collaborating in some way with Al Qaeda, or was involved in the 9-11 attacks; many also believed that the much touted “weapons of mass destruction” had been found in the country after the U.S. invasion, when they hadn’t. But not everyone was equally misinformed: “The extent of Americans’ misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news,” PIPA reported. “Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.” For instance, 80 percent of Fox viewers held at least one of three Iraq-related misperceptions, more than a variety of other types of news consumers, and especially NPR and PBS users. Most strikingly, Fox watchers who paid more attention to the channel were more likely to be misled.

Global Warming

At least two studies have documented that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about this subject.

In a late 2010 survey, Stanford University political scientist Jon Krosnick and visiting scholar Bo MacInnis found that “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy.” Frequent Fox viewers were less likely to say the Earth’s temperature has been rising and less likely to attribute this temperature increase to human activities. In fact, there was a 25 percentage point gap between the most frequent Fox News watchers (60%) and those who watch no Fox News (85%) in whether they think global warming is “caused mostly by things people do or about equally by things people do and natural causes.”

In amuch 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.



Health Care

In 2009, anNBC 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 releasedanother 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 preciselybecause 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.”



"...Fox viewers are the most misinformed. But then comes the truly interesting and important question: Why is that the case?

To answer it, we’ll first need to travel back to the 1950s, and the pioneering work of the Stanford psychologist and cult infiltrator, Leon Festinger.

In his 1957 book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Festinger built on hisfamous study of a doomsday cult called the Seekers, and other research, to lay out many ramifications of his core idea about why human beings contort the evidence to fit their beliefs, rather than conforming those beliefs to the evidence. That included a prediction about how those who are highly committed to a belief or view should go about seeking information that touches on that powerful conviction.

Festinger suggested that once we’ve settled on a core belief, this ought to shape how we gather information. More specifically, we are likely to try to avoid encountering claims and information that challenge that belief, because these will create cognitive dissonance. Instead, we should go looking for information thataffirms the belief. The technical (and less than ideal) term for this phenomenon is “selective exposure”: what it means is that we selectively choose to be exposedto information that is congenial to our beliefs, and to avoid “inconvenient truths” that are uncongenial to them.

If Festinger’s ideas about “selective exposure” are correct, then the problem with Fox News may not solely be that it is actively causing its viewers to be misinformed. It’s very possible that Fox could be imparting misinformation even as politically conservative viewers are also seeking the station out—highly open to it and already convinced about many falsehoods that dovetail with their beliefs. Thus, they would come into the encounter with Fox not only misinformed and predisposed to become more so, but inclined to be very confident about their incorrect beliefs and to impart them to others. In this account, political misinformation on the right would be driven by a kind of feedback loop, with both Fox and its viewers making the problem worse.



Multiple studies have shown that political conservatives—e.g., Fox viewers--tend to have a higher need for closure. Indeed, this includes a group called right-wing authoritarians, who are increasingly prevalent in the Republican Party. This suggests they should also be more likely to select themselves into belief-affirming information streams, like Fox News or right-wing talk radio or the Drudge Report. Indeed, a number of research results support this idea.

In a study of selective exposure during the 2000 election, for instance, Stanford University’s Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues mailed a multimedia informational CD about the two candidates—Bush and Gore—to 600 registered voters and then tracked its use by a sample of 220 of them. As a result, they found that Bush partisans chose to consume more information about Bush than about Gore—but Democrats and liberals didn’t show the same bias toward their own candidate.

Selective exposure has also been directly tested several times in authoritarians.

The psychologist Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba has also documented an above average amount of selective exposure in right wing authoritarians. In one case, he gave students a fake self-esteem test, in which they randomly received either above average or below average scores. Then, everyone—the receivers of both low and high scores—was given the opportunity to say whether he or she would like to read a summary of why the test was valid. The result was striking: Students who scored low on authoritarianism wanted to learn about the validity of the test regardless of how they did on it. There was virtually no difference between high and low scorers. But among the authoritarian students, there was a big gap: 73 percent of those who got high self-esteem scores wanted to read about the test’s validity, while only 47 percent of those who got low self-esteem scores did.

Authoritarians, Altemeyer concludes, “maintain their beliefs against challenges by limiting their experiences, and surrounding themselves with sources of information that will tell them they are right.”



In summary, then, the “science” of Fox News clearly shows that its viewers are more misinformed than the viewers of other stations, and are indeed this way for ideological reasons. But these are not necessarily the reasons that liberals may assume. Instead, the Fox “effect” probably occurs both because the station churns out falsehoods that conservatives readily accept—falsehoods that may even seem convincing to some liberals on occasion—but also because conservatives are overwhelmingly inclined to choose to watch Fox to begin with.

At the same time, it’s important to note that they’re also disinclined to watch anything else. Fox keeps constantly in their minds the idea that the rest of the media are “biased” against them, and conservatives duly respond by saying other media aren’t worth watching—it’s just a pack of lies. According to Public Policy Polling’s annual TV News Trust Poll (the 2011 run), 72 percent of conservatives say they trust Fox News, but they also say they strongly distrust NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. Liberals and moderates, in contrast, trust all of these outlets more than they distrust them (though they distrust Fox). This, too, suggests conservative selective exposure.

Fox News is both deceiver and enabler simultaneously. First, its existence creates the opportunity for conservatives to exercise their biases, by selecting into the Fox information stream, and also by imbibing Fox-style arguments and claims that can then fuel biased reasoning about politics, science, and whatever else comes up.

But at the same time, it’s also likely that conservatives, tending to be more closed-minded and more authoritarian, have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape from the belief challenges constantly presented by the “liberal media.” Their psychological need for something affirmative is probably stronger than what’s encountered on the opposite side of the aisle—as is their revulsion towards allegedly liberal (but really centrist) media outlets.

And thus we find, at the root of our political dysfunction, a classic nurture-nature mélange. The penchant for selective exposure is rooted in our psychology and our brains. Closed-mindedness and authoritarianism—running stronger in some of us than in others—likely are as well.

But nevertheless, it took the emergence of a station like Fox News before these tendencies could be fully activated—polarizing America not only over politics, but over reality itself.

In yesterday's posting, "Punishing Conservatives, Revisited," (http://www.criminalizeconservatism.com/2012/12/punishing-conservatives-revisited.html) and the stories listed in http://www.criminalizeconservatism.com/search/label/punishment, we have begged for mercy for the intellectually challenged Conservative followers when Conservatism is criminalized, as their deficiencies are not totally their fault and thus may be corrected in re-education camps, and new neurological studies may find the cure for the sheeplets' sub-IQs, as well as their propensity for Authoritarian behavior.  Punishing the Conservative leaders, of course, is another matter.


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"A man on a date wonders if he’ll get lucky. The woman knows."

Monica Piper


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