Studies have already shown that regular Fox News watchers are “substantially” more misinformed about current events than consumers of other media, and that “greater exposure to [Fox] increased misinformation on a specific issue.” But a new poll suggests the conservative network may not just be harmful to viewers’ knowledge, but to their tolerance as well.
As highlighted by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute reveals “a significant correlation between trust in Fox News and negative attitudes about Muslims. The study’s authors conclude:
Americans who most trust Fox News are more likely to believe that Muslims want to establish Shari’a law, have not done enough to oppose extremism, and believe investigating Muslim extremism is a good idea.
Indeed, nearly twice as many Republicans who most trust Fox News think Muslims want to establish Sharia law in the U.S. as Republicans who trust other media outlets — 41 percent of Fox viewers compared to just 23 percent of other Republicans.
As Sargent notes, “we’ll never know whether Fox watchers harbor these views because they watch Fox, or whether they watch Fox because they harbor these views.” Nonetheless, Fox has propagated an “alternate reality” that consistently portrays Muslims as potentially dangerous, foreign, and suspect. For example, Fox disproportionately uses terms that reflect a negative view of Muslims more often than its competitors, as this graph of Nexis data from the last three months demonstrates :
And when these terms are used, they are often part of a story fear mongering about nefarious activities Muslims may be up to, such as imposing sharia law, creating a global caliphate, or plotting homegrown jihad. Other times, Muslims are subject to broad, negative generalizations:
— Host Bill O’Reilly on 1/13/11: “The American people need to know what is going on in the Muslim communities in — in our country because we really don’t. A lot of them are closed communities. We don’t know.”
— Fox legal analyst Peter Johnson Junior 2/7/11: “You have to look at the scholarly research on this issue over the years — is Democracy and Islam, are they compatible? Most scholars on the subject have said they aren’t compatible.”
— Fox and Friends’ Brian Kilmeade 10/15/10: “There was a certain group of people that attacked us on 9/11. It wasn’t just one person, it was one religion. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”
Given the daily dose of conspiracy and Islamophobia on its airwaves, perhaps it’s no surprise that more than three-quarters of those who trust Fox think Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) McCarthy-like hearings on Muslim radicalization are a good idea, compared to just 45 percent of those who most trust CNN and 28 percent of those who most trust public television.