Warning: “Greater exposure” to Fox News will lead to “increased misinformation” on policy issues, especially climate science


A World Public Opinion (WPO) poll finds that a remarkable 60% of those who watched Fox News almost daily believe that “Most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring,” whereas only 30% who never watch it believe that. Only 25% of those who watch CNN almost daily hold that erroneous belief — and only 14% who listen to NPR or PBS almost daily.

This is not terribly surprising given that, as we learned this week, as of last December, Fox News managing editor Bill Sammon has required reporters and producers that report on even the most unequivocal scientific facts about global warming to dispute those facts “ IMMEDIATELY.”

Erroneous views turn out to be commonplace among regular Fox News viewers, as ThinkProgress explains:


Last week, World Public Opinion (WPO) released a poll exploring political information in a post-Citizens United national election and found that 90 percent of voters “said that in the 2010 election they encountered information they believed was misleading or false, with 56% saying this occurred frequently.” More troubling, the poll also found “strong evidence that voters were substantially misinformed on many of the key issues of the campaign.” WPO said that voter misinformation contained beliefs about current issues such as TARP, the Recovery Act, health care reform, the economy, and climate change that were “at odds with the conclusions of government agencies, generally regarded as non-partisan, consisting of professional economists and scientists.”

WPO found one bright spot in its lengthy report: “Those who had greater exposure to news sources were generally better informed. In the great majority of cases, those with higher levels of exposure to news sources had lower levels of misinformation.” However, there was one exception, Fox News:

There were however a number of cases where greater exposure to a news source increased misinformation on a specific issue. Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that:

– Most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely) (91 percent of those who watch Fox News “almost every day”)

– Most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points) (72 percent)

– The economy is getting worse (26 points) (72 percent)

– Most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points) (60 percent)

– The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points) (63 percent)

Their own income taxes have gone up (14 points) (49 percent)

The auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points) (56 percent)

– When TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) (38 percent)

– And that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)(63 percent)

As Mark Howard at AlterNet notes, this data coincides with results of previous surveys finding that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about public policy issues. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out last year found that Fox News viewers were overwhelmingly misinformed about health care reform proposals. A 2008 Pew study ranked Fox News last in the number of “high knowledge” viewers and a 2007 Pew poll ranked Fox viewers as the least knowledgable about national and international affairs. And a 2003 study from the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that Fox News viewers were most likely to believe that Saddam Hussien had links to Al-Qaeda, that coalition troops found WMD in Iraq, and that world public opinion supported President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

The WPO reports that 62% of those who voted Republican believed “There is not agreement among most scientists that climate change is occurring, whereas only 26% who voted Democrat believe that. The WPO has a nice box that explains the facts of the matter:

Status of Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

In 2005 the United States’ National Academies of Science joined the national science academies of Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom in making a joint statement about all aspects of the climate change issue. As to the reality of climate change, the academies stated: “Carbon dioxide levels have increased from 280 ppm in 1750 to over 375 ppm today — higher than any previous levels that can be reliably measured (i.e. in the last 420,000 years). Increasing greenhouse gases are causing temperatures to rise; the Earth’s surface warmed by approximately 0.6 centigrade degrees over the twentieth century.”6

The US Congress in 2008 requested The National Academy of Sciences to research climate change. The NAS’s information base, in turn, rests in great part on climate change research that was mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 and has been conducted by various government departments and agencies.

In April 2010 the Proceedings of the NAS published a study of expert opinion, “Expert credibility in climate change,” which found””after surveying the publications of 1,372 climate researchers””that “97% of self-identified actively publishing climate scientists agree with the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change].”7

In May 2010 the NAS released its most recent report, which stated: “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for””and in many cases is already affecting””a broad range of human and natural systems. This conclusion is based on a substantial array of scientific evidence, including recent work, and is consistent with the conclusions of recent assessments by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, and other assessments of the state of knowledge on climate change.”8

Actually, the traditionally conservative and staid NAS made a stronger statement in May:

A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems”¦.

Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.

Global warming is “unequivocal,” that climate change is occurring is a “settled fact” — unless you watch Fox News, of course, in which case there are no settled scientific facts, at least if they interfere with conservative ideology.