The more you watch Fox, the less you know

by Chris Bertram on October 6, 2003

Since so much of the blogospherical comment on media coverage of the Iraq war has focused on the BBC (sometimes justifiably, sometimes not), I was interested to read “this Asia Times report”: (via “Brian Leiter”: ) which tells us that there is a strong correlation between getting your news from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox and having false beliefs about the war. That doesn’t show, of course, that people got their false beliefs from watching Fox, another possibility is that having a lots of false beliefs just predisposes people to tune into that channel. Here’s the end of the article:

bq. The study also debunked the notion that misperceptions were due mainly to the lack of exposure to news.

bq. Among Bush supporters, those who said they follow the news “very closely”, were found more likely to hold misperceptions. Those Bush supporters, on the other hand, who say they follow the news “somewhat closely” or “not closely at all” held fewer misperceptions.

bq. Conversely, those Democratic supporters who said they did not follow the news very closely were found to be twice as likely to hold misperceptions as those who said they did, according to PIPA.



Brian Weatherson 10.06.03 at 7:23 pm

As Kevin Drum pointed out, there’s a pretty big methological flaw in the survey. At least from the reports, it seemed like it only checked accuracy of beliefs about propositions whose truth was unhelpful to the pro-war side. (I’m not certain this is true, hence the reference to published reports. If I’m wrong, I’d love to know.)

It’s not too surprising that Republicans were more likely to get the wrong answer to questions when the right answer seems pro-Democrat.


Doug Turnbull 10.06.03 at 7:24 pm

However, it should be pointed out that this survey was concerned specifically with facts about the war in Iraq, in which the facts disagreed with the amdinistration’s build-up and talking points. I’d imagine you could relatively easily craft a survey that would show Republicans to be better informed than Democrats, although you might not see the same interesting link to news sources.

Actually, it strikes me that this might be an interesting way to try and get a handle on the actual biases of media sources. Not through some close reading of texts and Nexis searches, but by actually looking at the effects the news sources have on it’s consumers in terms of their beliefs. Obviously there’s a self-selection problem there, but I bet you could pull something interesting out of this.


James Joyner 10.06.03 at 7:52 pm

In addition to the flaw noted above, the more obvious issue is the directionality of the results: Presumably, as I noted Friday, people predisposed to believe President Bush are more likely to watch Fox News?


PG 10.06.03 at 10:25 pm

James, are you saying that people who are predisposed to believe President Bush are more likely to have false beliefs about the war? Just what are you saying about Bush?

Anyway, I bet people who watch the Daily Show have no beliefs at all.


James R MacLean 10.06.03 at 10:48 pm

The problem with this line of reasoning is that the misperceptions in the report were verified to be misperceptions, as thoroughly as it is possible to establish the falsity of any belief or idea.

If you feel you could organize a survey testing misperceptions in the opposite direction, you could either approach the Heritage Foundation for a grant, or establish if such a survey had already been carried out. If not the Heritage Foundation, there are more foundations than I can enumerate here. (Here’s a fruitful search string you might find helpful)

Grants for these studies are easily obtained. I’ll resist the urge to made snide quips about John Lott, because I’m sure examples could be found in the other direction.

And you know what? Make your study fine-grained. Select statements which can be objectively proven. You may actually contribute to our knowledge of social policy. But if you slant your questions so respondants are forced to choose between

  • “I believe centrally planned economies will always outperform transparent, market economies”
  • “I am a strict devote[e] of Ludwig von Mises and Ann Coulter,”

don’t complain to me if no one takes your survey seriously.


kokomo 10.06.03 at 10:51 pm

To only check “the accuracy of beliefs about propositions whose truth was unhelpful to the pro-war side” doesn not seem to me to be a methodoligical flaw as asserted above.

Nothing said above invalidates the conclusion that “those who watch FOX for their news more frequently hold false beliefs about the Saddam 9/11 link, WMD, the popularity of the war in Iraq than are those who depend upon PBS.”

The study is certainly limited, but to be limited is not to be flawed. Of course it would be interesting to test the perceptions of the “anti-war” side as well, but failing to do so does nothing to invalidate the studies findings.

Are those who watch PBS for their news more deluded about, say, global warming? Perhaps. I’ll care a little more when 100 billion is allocated to air condition Antartica.


James R MacLean 10.06.03 at 10:59 pm

Actually, I read the entire report about the results and I’ve taked post graduate courses in administering surveys and in statistics. I’ve administered surveys myself, and I know how hard it can be.

The survey may focus on a subcategory that you disapprove of, but no, that does not mean it is biased or methodologically flawed. Those terms have explicit meanings. If I were to write about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and I talked 100% about bad things the Israelis did to the Palestinians, you might disapprove of my choice of subject matter (and my conclusions would probably be flawed) but if I stuck to enumerating facts, that would not make my study biased.

I don’t like it when I encounter similiarly one-sided reports like the hypothetical one I mentioned, but they are not prima facie biased.

As I say, you could design a survey which was ideologically switched, and, assuming you were sure that you were testing people’s perceptions of objectively verifiable facts, and your results were fine-grained, I would not call it biased or methodoloically flawed.

“Fine-grained” means that your results capture the actual scope of people’s possible responses. If you are testing perceptions and conclusions, then you would correlate perceptions to conclusions. If you think you can do it, write a grant. I guarantee somebody will fund it. And you’ll get far more publicity for it, too.


Anon Again 10.07.03 at 12:42 am

Well “To only check “the accuracy of beliefs about propositions whose truth was unhelpful to the pro-war side” doesn not seem to me to be a methodoligical flaw as asserted above.” — no, but it guarantees that the general conclusions will be flawed.

So, it is fundamentally dishonest and calculated to mislead, but basically fraudulent. …


James R MacLean 10.07.03 at 1:14 am

So, it is fundamentally dishonest and calculated to mislead, but basically fraudulent.

It is no such thing. It is a piece of data that doesn’t fit into your world view. People who do research are under absolutely no obligation to ensure they somehow “offset” any conclusion you might draw. Such a remark reflects a resentment at the messenger.

Listen to yourself! The point of research is to establish an item of truth, not to accommodate “all sides.” Charles Darwin wasn’t obligated to give “equal time” to creationists. If you lose an argument then you should change your opinion. You’re saying the study is fraudulent because it doesn’t find errors that liberals have. Grow up! Do you think studies linking smoking to cancer should include just so much countervailing evidence that there’s no link? And if none exists, should researchers should sit on their results until they find some?

Smoking causes lung cancer! Humans evolved from other species of life! The Invasion of Iraq was based on lies! Watching Fox misleads! If you can make a case that these propositions are not so, then do so!


Pio 10.07.03 at 4:29 am

what anon is saying is this: assuming that people who watch Fox News are more likely to have misperceptions is an amazingly nonsensical and dishonest conclusion to draw for the data.

Let’s make it nice and simple:
1. People who watch Fox News are more likely to support President Bush and the war.

2. The misperceptions in question involve ideas that support President Bush and the war.

3. No questions were asked about misperceptions likely to be held by opponents to the war (“america went to war alone”, etc.)

People who support the war were therefore only shown to be more likely to believe pro-war misconceptions than others. That is, to put it mildly, completely obvious.

If the survey had included an even set of propositions, stuff either evenly advantageous(sp?) to both sides or stuff evenly devided between the sides, then it might have actually proved something. Otherwise, the conclusions drawn are absolute partisan nonsense.


Pio 10.07.03 at 4:30 am

heh, interesting spelling on the “deviding”. Should preview next time since there’s no edit.


Chris 10.07.03 at 8:17 am

Obviously, I can see why people label these misconceptions as pro- or anti-war. But it is worth pointing out that people could be pro-war without believing any of those things and that the case for anything isn’t strengthened by being based on demonstrably false propositions.


jamesc 10.07.03 at 2:18 pm

Nobody seems to have pointed out that large proportions of the viewers of the other stations CBS etc. shared the relevent misconceptions. Strange given that most conservatives would accept Fox has a right wing bias but that the others are liberal-biased, and the figures seem to cast grave doubt on that.


Sven 10.07.03 at 4:11 pm

People seem to be dragging in a lot of baggage that the survey was not intended to address. The purpose of the survey was simply to discover where the large number of people who had been misinformed about Iraq (a group that had been identified by previous surveys) were getting their information. The survey raises a host of additional questions that the results can’t answer, like whether the misinformation affected support for the war and whether the war could have proceeded without that support.
Also, I fail to see why the survey should have addressed “anti-war” misperceptions — i.e., “It was all a neo-fascist/imperialist plot to steal Iraqi oil” — because only a small number of people believe such things, and there’s no reason to suspect those notions were being promulgated by mainsteam media outlets.


Thorley Winston 10.07.03 at 8:37 pm

People seem to be dragging in a lot of baggage that the survey was not intended to address. The purpose of the survey was simply to discover where the large number of people who had been misinformed about Iraq (a group that had been identified by previous surveys) were getting their information.

I find that claim dubious for two reasons. First, at least one of the items which the article claimed was “misinformation” is actually true – namely the ties between the former Iraqi regime and Al-Qaeda. There has been enough information put out regarding meetings between high-ranking Baathist officials and Al-Qaeda members to show a link between the two regardless of whether or not Saddam Hussein knew of or assisted in the 9/11 attacks (which has never been alleged by the administration). The WMD question is also still up in the air although the Kay Report does seem to indicate that the former Iraqi regime was planning on trying to reconstitute their WMD program if the sanctions were lifted.

Which brings up my second point, there seems to be even more misinformation believed by and put out by those opposed to the resumption of the Iraqi War. Not merely the strawman arguments about imperialism and trying to steal Iraqi oil but beliefs such as “the United States is going it alone” or “the United States armed Saddam Hussein and put or kept him in power” or “the Bush administration had no plan for the post-war Iraq” or “Bush said there was an ‘imminent’ threat and therefore lied” etc. Frankly I find it suspicious that a survey of misinformation and where people learned it from would not at least examine some of these more widely spread beliefs and their sources as opposed to merely focusing on the “misinformation” believed by pro-liberation proponents.

The one-sided nature of this “survey” and the fact that it seemed to focus on things which may not actually qualify as “misinformation” while ignoring more wide-spread misinformation, lends credence to the view that this is merely yet another partisan puff piece masquerading as an academic work IMNHO.


Antoni Jaume 10.08.03 at 6:16 pm

The claims that Al Qaeda had any relevant ties to Saddam Hussein are unproved in my knowledge. I think individuals who repeat them to be liers, or parrots. Remember BTW that Al Qaeda is not a formal organisation. In fact it seems that it is only a name that allows to magnificate the actions of small groups, as long as they follow broadly defined lines of action. That may give them the support of some of the rich Saudi fundamentalists, some of whom have been long-time associates of Bush, if they are not so now.

The USA wanted the war, it was their choice. The rest of the world was ordered to agree or shut up. The UK and some right-wing governments who don’t care about their own population have agreed. France, Germany, Russia, Brasil, Mexico, China, India and other have not.

And the USA, along other western states amongst which France, have helped Saddam in the past, till the invasion of Kuwait. You see as long as he killed communists, or that some of those he killed were called communists, the USA would not mind the deads.


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