Fox News Viewers Are Misinformed

I always had been a bit leery of people who like their news with a hard right or hard left political spin. Why in the world would you want reporters or talking heads not only telling what the facts are, but also how to view them? Why would you want them selectively presenting some facts, but not others, in order to fit into a preordained political view?

Oh, I get it. I guess everyone to some extents wants their preconceived opinions and views justified rather than challenged. For that reason I never had any problems with people tuning in whatever political commentators they liked because the opinions expressed reinforced their own. I think it would be better if they heard different views of issues or situations before forming an opinion, but again, I get it. It seems to me that a lot of people, especially the ultra conservatives, go through life with a matrix built into their brains through which all new situations or experiences must be filtered. That filtering process rearranges and amplifies or diminishes the facts to fit their preordained views. However, the real question is whether this selective filtering not only reinforces their opinions, but also distorts their view of reality and leaves them misinformed.

I have rhetorical evidence that Fox News viewers are more misinformed than average. Some of my most conservative friends who get their news exclusively from Fox News insist that recent conservative tails such as “President Obama was not born in the United States” or “the President is secretly a Muslim” are true. Probably more to the point, I have recently read several scholarly articles which make the same point. One of the best articles was written by Chris Mooney entitled, “The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers are the Most Misinformed.

It is very long article, but you can read for yourself using the link provided.   However, for brevity sake I will summarize it for you. The article sites seven studies performed by psychologists who used surveys to try to understand whether people’s propensity to be misinformed was affected by their media habits. The studies were all similar. They were all based on public opinion surveys that asked participants about their beliefs on factual but contested issues and surveyed their media habits. The data from these studies point to the phenomenon that those who get their news from Fox News are more likely to be misinformed than those who get their news from other media outlets such as CNN and even MSNBC. In some cases, the studies even show the more study participants watched Fox News to the exclusion of other networks, the more misinformed they were.

What is even more interesting is why this is happening. In his Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, noted physiologist Leon Festinger notes, “Human beings have a tendency to contort the evidence to fit their beliefs rather than conforming those beliefs to the evidence.” Those individual who are authoritarian in nature are more likely to engage in this activity.  The article points out that conservatives are more authoritarian than average and this explains why conservatives need outlets like Fox News and conservative commentators. Not only are they likely to seek out media outlets that tell them what they want to hear, they are more likely to believe information obtained from those outlets, even when it consists of inaccurate information. A quote from the article: “It’s one thing to be not informed,” explains David Barker, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied conservative talk-radio listeners and Fox viewers. “It’s another thing to be misinformed, where you’re confident in your incorrectness.”

Providing people with the kind of news that they want to see, hear and read is nothing new for media king Rupert Murdoch who founded Fox News in 1996. While his company has more recently bought mainstream media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Posts, Murdoch made most of his millions by publishing sleazy tabloid rags which his company runs in many countries around the world.

Much of Murdoch’s income still comes from his tabloids. The topless Page 3 women have been a feature of his British tabloid, the Sun, since 1970, the year after Murdoch acquired the paper. Murdoch was recently forced to shut down another one of his very profitable British tabloids, The News of the World, when its staff was found guilty of hiring private detectives to hack into the cell phones of celebrities, including members of the British royal family. However, that’s really not really surprising for a paper that prospered by digging up dirt and sex scandals. So providing conservatives with facts slanted to conform to their belief systems on Fox News is certainly not a far stretch for Murdock’s media team. I am not even sure that he is a conservative himself. Murdoch is simply excels in the business of subverting the normal media ethics of honest reporting and good taste to provide people with news they way they want it delivered whether it is with bare breasts, sex scandals, or stories slanted to confirm to a political view point.

If your conservative friends are like mine, they are constantly quoting Fox News or some conservative radio personality like Rush Limbaugh as they argue their conservative themes. So how do you counter some of the nonsense they spout, especially when they misstate the facts? I found it is best not to even try. These folks are constantly seeking and finding validation for ideas and views that they already hold sacred. Your chances of changing their minds, even when they are wrong on the facts, are slim and none. You would probably have a better chance of convincing that little old lady ahead of you in the supermarket line that the picture of the alien shaking hands with the President on the cover of the tabloid she just bought isn’t real.

Cajun   11/3/14

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