In the current age of information technology, one would think the American populace would be more informed and educated about issues of importance that affect their lives. Sadly, this is not the case. A study of consumers of online news done in 2009 showed that almost half of the readers read only the headlines![i]
Cable news networks with 24 hours to fill load up their time slots with opinion shows built around the personality. They may cover some current event or news story, but it will be covered with their given slant, either supported by the guests they have on or fought over with a guest who has an opposing view.
This is what passes for news and information in today’s America. Scanning online headlines and watching your favorite cable news personality tell you what he or she thinks. Since this is how we get our information, let’s see how accurately we are being kept informed.
A study conducted by World Public Opinion and Knowledge Networks, a project managed at the University of Maryland, was aimed at determining the level of misinformation in the US Electorate at the time of the 2010 Mid-Term elections.[ii] The key findings of the study were that American voters frequently encountered misleading or false information on the relevant topics. They also found that increased exposure to news sources decreased the misinformation, but increased exposure to certain news sources actually increased misinformation!
Here are the news sources the study asked about:
- Newspapers and news magazines, both print versions and online versions
- Network TV News Broadcasts
- Public broadcasting, both NPR and PBS
- FOX News
All sources had misinformation, and the study analyzed the level of misinformation by topic. On most topics, NPR, PBS, and MSNBC had the lowest levels of misinformation. Again, the study confirmed that those with higher exposure to news sources were generally better informed. However, there were cases of those with higher exposure to a news source that had increased levels of misinformation.
Those who indicated they watched FOX News on a daily or almost daily basis were significantly more misinformed on key issues. Here are a few examples:
- FOX News viewers believe that most scientists do not think climate change is occurring
- FOX News viewers believe the government stimulus package did not include any tax cuts
- FOX News viewers believe their own taxes have gone up
- FOX News viewers believe the auto industry bailout occurred only under President Obama
- FOX News viewers believe it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States
In case you’re wondering, all of the above statements are incorrect.
The study also shows that the more the viewers watched, the more dramatically the level of misinformation increased. For example, when asked if they believe that more economists felt the health care law would increase the budget deficit over the next ten years, 41% of people who never watched FOX said Yes. Of those who tuned in to FOX once a week, 50% said Yes. Of those who watched FOX every day, 72% said Yes. To provide some contrast, viewers of NPR and/or PBS got better informed on this issue the more they watched. 55% of those who never watched felt the statement about the economists on health care and the deficit to be true. But if they watched every day, that number dropped to 40%.
The climate change question is also telling. Daily FOX viewers were twice as likely to think that most scientists believe climate change is not occurring, as opposed to those who never watch FOX.
Corporate ownership of media has an impact on the way news and information is presented. It’s a sad but true situation we need to be aware of. FOX News is the most egregious of the agenda setting news outlets as stated by the owner himself, Rupert Murdoch, who tries to influence public opinion with his media outlets. This study confirms the effectiveness of that agenda on an American public who scans headlines and watches cable news channels to get their information. If you’re watching FOX for your news, you need to understand that you’re getting your information as Rupert Murdoch and his people want you to get your information. And as the study shows, the information you’re getting is wrong. It is political spin.
Do yourself a favor and stop watching cable news channels. Get news from various sources and look for independence. The Associated Press is a non-profit news cooperative that’s been bringing the world information since 1846. They’ve received 49 Pulitzer prizes, more than any other news organization, including 30 photography Pulitzers. That’s a great place to start and if you’re reading online, remember to click on the article and read it. Be informed.