Fox News Viewers are the Most Misinformed: A Seventh Study Arrives to Prove It — and Vindicate Jon Stewart!

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"Fox News Viewers are the Most Misinformed: A Seventh Study Arrives to Prove It — and Vindicate Jon Stewart!"

by Chris Mooney, in a DeSmogBlog cross-post

Two of my most popular posts here at DeSmogBlog were a pair of items documenting 1) just how many surveys have found Fox News viewers to be more misinformed about factual reality and 2) taking PolitiFact to task for giving Jon Stewart a “false” rating when he pointed this out.

Stewart wasn’t wrong, PolitiFact was.

In these pieces, I identified 6 separate studies showing Fox News viewers to be the most misinformed, and in a right wing direction—studies on global warming, health care, health care a second time, the Ground Zero mosque, the Iraq war, and the 2010 election.

I also asked if anyone was aware of any counterevidence, and none was forthcoming. There might very well be a survey out there showing that Fox viewers aren’t the most misinformed cable news consumers on some topic (presumably it would be a topic where Democrats have some sort of ideological blind spot), but I haven’t seen it. And I have looked.

There really does seem to be a “Fox News effect,” then, and one that is playing a central role in driving our political divide over reality in the U.S. And now comes a true tour-de-force seventh study showing that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed, this time once again about global warming.

The new paper, already flagged here by Farron Cousins, is just out in the International Journal of Press/Politics, by communication scholar Lauren Feldman of American University and her colleagues. The paper is quite sophisticated, and performs several powerful analyses. But for our purposes, here’s what matters.

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. Viewers of CNN and MSNBC were the opposite.

And no wonder: Through a content analysis of Fox coverage in 2007 and 2008, Feldman and her colleagues also demonstrated that Fox coverage is more dismissive about climate science, and features more climate skeptics. That’s no shocker, but the paper does a very good job of linking up the coverage itself with the reality denial that results in Fox viewers.

There is also a fascinating finding that those Republicans who do watch CNN/MSNBC are more persuaded than Democratic viewers are to accept global warming. In other words, Republicans in the study seem much more easily swayed by media framing than Democrats. Put them in the Fox information stream, just add water, and watch denialism sprout. Put them in another information stream, though, and something very different might happen.

I noted in my prior posts that the studies documenting the “Fox News effect” do not necessarily show causation. In other words, watching Fox may make you more misinformed, but people who believe lots of political misinformation may also gravitate towards Fox.

I actually think both things are going on simultaneously—but the new Feldman study does make a strong causal case that Fox is actively driving a lot of the problem.

In other words, why are Americans so divided today over reality and what is factually true? There are surely many causes—but one is that a news network with a powerful sway is constantly sowing right wing misinformation, and an army of followers are watching and believing it.

This article was originally published at DeSmogBlog.

— Chris Mooney is author of the bestselling book The Republican War on Science.

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25 Responses to Fox News Viewers are the Most Misinformed: A Seventh Study Arrives to Prove It — and Vindicate Jon Stewart!

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    People are not wired to observe global warming, due to its gradual and erratic characteristics. Information about it comes mostly from the media, which is why Americans are so far behind the rest of the world here.

    This is where the battle has to be fought, since Congress is obviously bought. Progressive corporations must step up here to help set up a new TV network that is not afraid to tell the truth. They will attract far better creative and journalistic talent, and the public will learn that their reports have the ring of truth.

    This network cannot be limited to talking about solar panels, either. It’s time to call the dark side to account- those who lie on television to support the investments of banks, fossil fuel companies, and wealthy investors.

    • Absolutely on target! I rarely watch TV news of any stripe, even our own CBC (I’m Canadian) because I can get so much factually better info from alternate news online, Twitter and Facebook. I never did watch very much US News but once watched Ann Coulter tell a top CBC correspondent to go home and check his facts and he would find that Canada fought alongside the US in Vietnam. Funniest thing I have ever seen on TV!!!

    • kawmstar says:

      Yes, watch Al Jazeera. So far, it does not seem like they are bought off by 1% Corps.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Actionable Implications? (a question for Chris)

    Alas, I watch Fox News fairly frequently, in small doses, because I have a relative who watches it, and I watch with him in order to keep somewhat up-to-speed with what they (BO, SH, and all the young ladies they surround themselves with) are saying.

    But I digress. I can tell you, first-hand, that there is nothing — nada, zilch — surprising or new or profound about the fact that Fox News isn’t factual, or the fact that Fox News misinforms and confuses people. And I see, first-hand, almost daily, how their misinformation misinforms and confuses people.

    So, here is the larger and actionable question: What can be done about that, i.e., to counter its influence and actually inform people?

    It seems to me that we — the movements, and the members of the press/media who are presumably more on the fact-based side — must be lacking in something, because we can’t seem to address and remedy the influence of the misinformation shoveled out by Fox. We seem lacking in imagination, verve, persistence, clarity, leadership, or SOMETHING! What is it that we’re lacking? It must be something — or many things — and BIG.

    With ALL of the science on our side; and with ALL of the major scientific bodies; and with ALL of the scientists in the (presumably) great universities; and given ALL the people who ARE deeply concerned — at least presumably — about climate change; and with the media outlets that are — at least presumably — in some sort of loose partnership with the facts; GIVEN ALL THESE THINGS, why is it that we are so “held hostage” by the misinformation of Fox News?

    Really. I’m asking a real, and important, question.

    Why do I ask? Because it is inconceivable to me that, if we really wanted to, and if the above-mentioned people and institutions REALLY wanted to, that we couldn’t actually counter and remedy the influence of the Fox News misinformation.

    So something is wrong. Incompetence? Lack of imagination and creativity? Lack of verve and persistence? Lack of courage? What is it?

    Chris, what do you think? What could WE be doing differently? What could CP and Joe be doing differently? What could you be doing differently? What could I do differently? What could we do differently that would influence The New York Times to do something differently?

    I’ve listed a number of concrete ideas in recent weeks, here, and haven’t heard back about any of them, nor have I seen them implemented. I think there’s a great deal that we could be doing differently.

    So, given that you apparently understand the problem of Fox News, put on your “hard hat”, please, and pretend that you’re the tough coach of a football team in a high-stakes game, or pretend that you’re a general in a war, and let us know what you think, in concrete terms, about what we’ll all need to DO DIFFERENTLY in order to address the information-and-understanding gap among a great deal of the American public.

    (And, of course, poll results are barely meaningful. It’s one thing to answer a poll question in a way that indicates, presumably, that you understand something or are aware of something, but it’s another thing entirely to understand it enough, or feel strongly enough about it, to actually DO something — to change your vote, or behavior, or etc. Even most viewers of MSNBC, for example, may “understand” that climate change is “real”, and call it “important”, but not enough to actually change much of anything in their voting behaviors or daily behaviors.)

    So, Chris, what do you think we should do differently, and what is missing (imagination, creativity, verve, persistence, clarity, talent, courage, or what?)?

    Tonight I’ll be watching the Repub debate, and I’ll probably watch Fox News for awhile too (to hear the latest nonsense). I don’t need to be told that it’s nonsense. I’d like to figure out what we can and should do differently, to counteract the nonsense. After all, it would be a sad outcome if we let the Fox News nonsense bring about the destruction of human civilization, yes?

    Be Well,

    Jeff

    • EDpeak says:

      Yes we are missing something, and something big.

      Several BILLION things is how big..

      And “green pieces of paper” is what they are.

      Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time the left/progressives beat up on themselves for “blundering” or “shooting self in foot” or “not communicating right”….I say: PUH-LEEEZE!

      Not that we don’t do these things…we do..but so does the right, and in many more ways….

      Historians in the future will shake their heads at our blindness, like a fish not seeing the water it is in…that having hundreds of billions of dollars worth of business interests against you is something their side has, and our doesn’t (no need to point out to me that long term a destroyed earth is bad for business…what matters is this year’s profits, or next year’s,. or this quarter, short term profits, as both institutional analysis and theory show, and as countless examples prove without a doubt, is what runs the corporate dominated global economy…)

      and even other reasons…such as cultural memes about “regulation is bad” and “environmentalists are dirty smelly hippies” that work for the other side…where to THOSE come from? They are just one or two more steps removed away, but the same root cause multi-billion dollar for-(short-term) profit interests over past decades created those memes, those framings, etc

      Does this mean we shouldn’t or can’t do a better job or public outreach or better communication?

      Of course not, we can and should.

      Let’s not blind ourselves to the reason “our side” has it so hard (swimming against the current of that hundreds of billions of dollar strong stream) while an “affable idiot” swimming WITH the stream, “beats” us time and time again..D’oh! it’s the stream folks, not that Fox is an intellectually better “swimmer” than us..

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        I absolutely agree. As long as the world is run by capitalists, according to capitalist ‘principles’, to capitalist ends, then human destruction is assured. Capitalism is innately anti-life, turning everything, with the Midas touch, into gold, lifeless gold. And the capitalist Masters have latterly, having escaped the ‘Communist menace’, turned to creating an impregnable system of eternal privilege and inequality. This neo-feudal project relies crucially on the serfs being unaware of their chains, welcoming their servitude and worshiping their masters. That is what the MSM, the Murdoch apparatus a supreme example, is for-to brainwash the masses. When they wake, if they ever do, it will be very, very, much too late.

  3. adelady says:

    Jeff, I think that the 6 part series John Cook is putting together with Stephan Lewandowsky can help … a bit.

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/Debunking-Handbook-Part-1-first-myth-about-debunking.html

    The big question I think you’re getting at is how do we find, or make, opportunities to present our improved communication strategies and content. Because the main difference is that media like Fox and their imitators among websites and media generally are very, very clear about drawing in and hanging on to a subset of the general population. And their commitment and enthusiasm is then drawn on to advance certain political aims.

    Realist based communication is trying to reach everyone. A much harder task.

  4. EDpeak says:

    Found this provocative essay; I don’t agree with every part, but it makes some very good points:

    “The other great behaviour modifier is fear. Fear is a survival mechanism that is rooted in the reptilian brain. Its expression is controlled by our hyperbolic discount function: near term threats cause more fear than distant ones, regardless of the sizes of the threats. This plays out in two ways in the global warming debate. Climate change activists ask us to fear the inexorable long-term change we are inflicting on the planet, while their opponents ask us to fear the loss of jobs and personal income that fighting global warming could entail. Which fear is more powerful? Which one will influence our behaviour more?”

    “That’s the innocent side of the equation. Now let’s look at the darker, more cynical side. Politics. In the USA your representatives are elected by the people I just described above. If an individual politician awakens and starts promoting renewable energy, this leaves an opening the size of the Kasserine Pass for their opponents. All the opponent has to do is appeal to the three instincts I described above, toss in a bit of short-term fear, and the result is virtually a foregone conclusion. They paint the concerned politician as slightly hysterical, say that the proposals are going to cost people their jobs, point out that even if there is a potential problem it can be taken care of later since everything is just fine right now, trot out a few dissenting scientists to weaken the perception of consensus, and reassure the voters that they have their best interests at heart – unlike the self-serving, hysterical greenie they’re opposing. On Election Day it’s game over.”

    “Now why would a politician be so cynical? It all comes back to the power-seeking aspects of the reptilian brain. To an alpha, being top dog is more important that anything else in the universe. Ordinary people are simply resources to them, because they have a very strong sense of separation between self and other. As long as their nest is appropriately feathered today, they really don’t care if ten million Bangladeshis will be displaced by a rising ocean in 30 years. It’s simply not an issue”

    “This applies in spades to the corporate interests that control many (or most) of the successful politicians in the world today. In most countries you don’t become a successful politician unless you have a commonality of interest with the corporate power brokers..”

    “Cynical politicians tend to win because they’ll do whatever it takes to win. Their agenda is always in favour of the moment, they are supported by corporate interests that are both risk-averse and amoral, and the voting public is easily led by those who know a bit about evolved neuropsychology and are prepared to put their own interests ahead of those of the voters.”

    “This is the recipe for Business as Usual. The boffins can develop all the clever technology they want, the activists can rant and rail, the enlightened policy wonks can write papers until their fingers are worn to stubs – in the face of the forces I’ve described above, nothing will change until the problems are so overwhelming that they can no longer be denied. Even then, the politicians will misdirect the public away from the real causes (generally by scapegoating a person or a group) if it’s in the interests of their corporate string-pullers to do so.

    Found at: http://www.paulchefurka.ca/COP15.html

    Makes similar points to those I made in my reply to Jeff..we have to not “give up” but to work to address the factors (which are also “overwhelming” in their power) which give a huge tild to the playing field in favor of corporate short-term-profits winning 9 times out of 10..

    “As they follow their instincts, people won’t see themselves as rejecting affordable, abundant, clean renewable energy in favor of dramatically lower standards of living. Instead they will see it in the terms presented to them by the politicians, business leaders and the media. They will see themselves as rejecting the lower standard of living that the greenies want to impose on them ”

    Where I disagree with the essay is, among other things, that the focus of the blame (along with corporate power)is the limbic system..even if it were true that this reptilian part was 99% of the reason, it’s something we cannot change so we must focus on the 1% we can change…(while also having our tactics informed by understanding how emotions are used by the denier to deceive the public) Clearly as flawed as policies are in Australia and EU, they are not in the same flat-earth denialism of the USA…so the political system and media system can make a difference if less under the thumb (still under the thumb, but a bit less so) of the corporate capitalist Amoral machine

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Do you think he means a literally ‘reptilian’ brain, or just that part we share with the ‘lower’ beasts? And how ‘low’ can they be, when they have survived hundreds of millions of years while we are checking out after a few tens of millennia.

  5. Jim says:

    I thought it was spelled Faux News.

  6. A critical piece of information here is that the median age of Fox News viewers is 65 years old. The oldest of all the news networks.

    For major networks it is 50. For the American population as a whole it is 38.

    Fox News watchers, like the GOP party are mostly older white males. These are the people most responsible for climate change. And also the ones that study after study show are most hostile to admitting the problem exists or paying to fix it.

    The desire to create alternative news sources to Fox is already happening because the youth are turning away from TV and towards other “screens.” They certainly aren’t watching Fox News in any large numbers. More like The Daily Show and Colbert Report and online news sources.

    You aren’t going to create an alternative news source for the over 65 white male crowd I don’t think.

    A famous saying says that Physics changes one funeral at a time. Perhaps that is what will happen with the public acceptance of climate physics as well.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      It is precisely because this type do not care what happens after they are dead, and that appointment is nigh, that they do not care what is happening. There may be an element of revenge on those who will be living when they are dust, as well. Sane older people think differently, but we are dealing with Rightwingers and their multi-faceted psychopathologies here.

    • DonB says:

      The problem with waiting for those bowing to the “reptilian-like” portion of their brain is that the human race does not have the 20 years that will take (even 10 years will saddle following generations with horrendous costs).

      • biphenylene says:

        The chlathrate gun is already firing. Our actions now simply act to attenuate the apocolypse, not prevent it…

  7. Robert Sweetmann says:

    From the top I subscribe to no political party platform because both parties play to the same piper. Since both require vast sums of money to run for office weather your a Republican or Democrat they will embrace those who write them the big checks for endorsement victory on election day.
    They have not worked for what is in the best interests of the American people for several decades now, ever since the advent of TV when the day of whistle stops & bus tours were replaced by the global domain of digital media communications.

    Most anyone who has the slightest ability to engage in critical thinking knows full well that what is known as mainstream media, going back some 40+ years now report on very little news worthy events that have any real importance to your life and instead engage in political dogma.
    They all do it & why decades ago I if I wanted to ever expect to know the truth I needed to look elsewhere for credible news information. Besides political pundits on TV have no more authority & horsepower than I do, and furthermore I refuse to engage in a philosophy that says I know better than you how you ought to live your life & what values & belies systems you must be beholden to in order to have credibility.
    The 1st Amendment put that notion to rest over 250 years ago by our Founders.
    A philosophy about inalienable rights rooted in human nature itself.
    Thus I refuse to start practicing in ethnocentric behavior or what is essentially a “God Complex”.
    .
    When I was 16 back in the mid 1960’s it became apparent that propaganda was running a muck & those corporate giants who gained control of major news outlets would use them for advancing their own brand of political causes known as “Yellow Journalism”.
    It was at that point I shut the boob toob off for getting news and began utilizing my local university library by examining a treasure trove of scholarly journals & world news papers, and even then have learned to take the world with a large grain of salt.
    Today most all MSM news networks use their air waves as political battle grounds based on personal political ideologies.
    What I would be more interested in is the demographics that represent the vast array of viewers who watch the big 4 major news networks.

  8. Peter Baldo says:

    They should have phrased it, “most climate scientists”, not “most scientists”. Most scientists are not climate scientists, and can be just as ignorant and just as opinionated on the subject of climate change as the general public. I have no idea what “most scientists think”, and I don’t really care.

  9. brad says:

    I remember someone doing a thesis to prove that dragons couldn’t have existed. Air-wing dimensions, weight studies, oxygen-fire respirational… the whole 9 yards.

    A study to find Fox viewers are ignorant of events is a little like that.

  10. al says:

    I like the network idea and we may already have one on our side (Comedy Central) so eventhough this will sound ridiculous here goes. We all know that sex sells and even men who are 65 still have ample amounts of testosterone. The answer to Fox is to deliver climate science news in the flesh. Hire the very best looking female science grads, dress them scantily, and watch the ratings soar. The show could be a half hour long and filled with little educational skits, we’d make good use of props- hula hoops for orbits (get my drift), etc. Additionally, bring in Richard Alley or Bill Nye as host, John Stewart or Cobert could make appearances, interview climate scientists, etc. but in a way that is funny, sexy, and engaging. Don’t call me a chauvinist pig please…..but this is war, we need to fight them on their own turf and it isn’t in the halls of academia or within the editorials of a peer reviewed journal. We are running out of time- let’s ask John Stewart to help!

  11. james corbett says:

    Correlation is not causality. While this study provides some evidence self identified conservatives who get information from sources other than Fox News are more informed and understanding of issues like global warming, it may also be that those who self identify as “conservatives” comprise a wide variety of intelligence and critical thinking ability. In short, it could be that knuckle dragging, Sarah Palin supporting,anti-intellectual conservatives are the ones who tune into Fox to the exclusion of all other outlets. They are not persuaded by Fox, they are reinforced by Fox. At the same time, there are self described conservatives who are capable of rational critical thinking and that sort of conservative is open minded enough to accept scientific fact, even if it diverges from his political views. Don’t blame Fox News for making people stupid, most of their viewers were stupid long before Fox News went on the air.

    • Al says:

      So true James. Does anybody know anyone who works for Current TV, Oberman’s network? I think the “sexy” weather/climate show may work there but Comedy Central would probably be a better fit.

      It is difficult not to get discouraged as “whole” picture is undeniably grim. Some readers on this blog and other sources predict that 450 ppm is our Earth’s Waterloo. We will reach that tipping pt in less than 20 years. We must now mobilize all sectors for action otherwise it will be impossible to transition to a new energy economy without significant economic turmoil or collapse. We must have a Marshall style program of green energy infrastructure building now! Perhaps we must occupy Congress! The top 5 petroleum corp. have made nearly 900 billion in profit in the last 10 years but have spent about 4% in RD on green or alternative energy…..they must be taxed or their assets seized and nationalized for the good of the country and the planet. They continue to pay exorbitant salaries to their execs, lobby Congress against cap and trade, and put out slick adds on natural gas when we know about 40% of their wells have integrity problems. Nothing short of dramatic action is needed. What say you?