Political Animal


November 21, 2011 1:50 PM The most misinformed news consumers

By Steve Benen

Over the summer, there was an interesting dispute when Jon Stewart appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” and made a provocative observation: “In polls, who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox. Fox viewers. Consistently. Every poll.”

PolitiFact said Stewart was wrong, and “The Daily Show” host walked the claim back, but he shouldn’t have — Stewart was right and PolitiFact was wrong.

But the larger issue continues to be a fascinating one, and the evidence that shows Fox News viewers being the most misinformed news consumers continues to pile up.

According to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll, some news sources make us less likely to know what’s going on in the world. In the most recent study, the poll asked New Jerseyans about current events at home and abroad, and from what sources - if any - they get their information. The conclusion: Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who they don’t watch any news at all. […]

[P]eople who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all (after controlling for other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors). Fox News watchers are also 6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government than those who watch no news.

“Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the PublicMind Poll. “Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all.” [emphasis added]

As it turns out, this new report coincides with another study published in the International Journal of Press/Politics that found Fox News viewers are far more misinformed about climate change than those who rely on other news outlets.

It’s important to remember that this isn’t at all new — the problem has been ongoing for several years. Data from the Program on International Policy Attitudes, NBC/Wall Street Journal, and the Pew Research Center all found Fox News viewers knowing less about current events than everyone else. My friend Chris Mooney cited five (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) separate public opinion studies that showed the same thing.

In some cases, regular Fox News viewers would have done better, statistically speaking, if they had received no news at all and simply guessed whether the claims about current events were accurate.

What’s more, this isn’t necessarily about party affiliations — Democrats who watch Fox News were worse off than Democrats who relied on legitimate news organizations.

It would take an unlikely twist of self-reflection, but at a certain point, Fox News and its audience might take a moment to ponder why these viewers are so wrong, so often, about so much. That almost certainly won’t happen, of course, in part because the network and its viewers aren’t quite informed enough to realize they’re misinformed.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • DavidNOE on November 21, 2011 1:55 PM:

    For one thing, how are those people ever going to hear about the poll results? I'm very sure that Fox News isn't going to report it! So how would they realize that they're actually being misinformed more than informed?

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on November 21, 2011 2:00 PM:

    Good ol' Benen and his rhetorical assumptions of good faith. Yeah, Murdoch and Ailes sure are misinformed. Misinformed to the tune of millions.

  • George on November 21, 2011 2:01 PM:

    Um, I'm sure it's been said, but it's a feature, not a bug.

  • c u n d gulag on November 21, 2011 2:01 PM:

    i r a FUX vue... vew... wacher.

    n i no alat bowt da nuwx, u stewpid libturds.

    n i kan jus sah FUX. i don kneed 2 spehl mi newz chanel lik u libturds dew wid cn 'n msn watever dad ress ov da leters r.


  • Danp on November 21, 2011 2:03 PM:

    The conclusion: Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events,

    At this point, I dismiss the poll. I suppose two is larger than one, but it's still close to nothing. People who watch the Sunday shows (or PBS News Hour, for that matter) are more likely to know where Dems and Republicans stand on minute issues than anything about the issues, especially if they involve economics, legislative process, non-war foreign issues or science. And I have no doubt lobbyists will start doing polls asking what gift Obama gave some foreign dignitary, or what Dem had an affair recently, just to disprove studies like the Farleigh Dickinson one.

  • Rochester on November 21, 2011 2:05 PM:

    People who see FOX as an extension of their political philosophies are suckers. Similarly, people who see FOX as the antithesis of their world view are the truly misinformed.

    It doesn't get more simplistic than that.

  • bob on November 21, 2011 2:06 PM:

    Of course it's only the LIEberal media saying that Fox News viewers are more ignorant than the comatose, so obviously it's the Fox News viewers who have the facts right, while everyone else has the facts wrong.

  • kevo on November 21, 2011 2:21 PM:

    Murdoch's empire is a big business looking to maximize its profit. As such, fidelity to news reporting as a source of usable information is not even considered by his editorial staff.

    The scheme is to hook as many ill-informed, unassuming Americans into its viewership so ratings sustain a high advertising price charged to its sponsors.

    So, the dynamic as I see it, is to get our loved ones weened off the ignorance spewed by the FOX Propagandists, and re-direct them to other information sources worthy of their efforts to be informed.

    Remember, friends don't let friends watch FOXNEWS! -Kevo

  • stormskies on November 21, 2011 2:28 PM:

    The people who watch Fox Propaganda want to watch it. They psychologically need to have their existing delusions reinforced by Fox propaganda. In essence, they need to have their stupidity validated through the stupidity of Fox propaganda itself. These are these citizens who then vote for and elect the like of Michelle Bachman, Louie Gomert,John Boner, Eric 'pig shit' Cantor, and all the rest of these stupid, ignorant clowns. These stupid clowns are but the symptom of a cause and that cause in the very nature of the citizens that elect them, and who desperately listen to Fox propaganda to have their purposeful stupidity reinforced.

  • Rich on November 21, 2011 2:35 PM:

    It's not difficult to figure why Faux viewers have less knowledge. Faux News and the rest of the rightwing noise machine are all about "The Big Lie" and implanting into the national discourse in a way that enables it to take root, with a solid constituency who don't recognize its disconfirmation or don't access alternative news sources are are too lazy to chack-out the nonsense they hear from their peers.

  • Old Uncle Dave on November 21, 2011 2:38 PM:

    What do you expect from a "news" organization that went to court and got a judge to say they can lie if they want to?

  • Spiny Norman on November 21, 2011 3:02 PM:

    Are viewers ignorant because they watch Fox News, or does Fox News attract particularly ignorant viewers? Or are both hypotheses correct?

  • oh my on November 21, 2011 3:25 PM:

    Steve, you're talking about a "news" organization that routinely falsifies everything right down to a subliminal level. Who can forget when Mark Sanford was caught screwing a Brazilian he was the (D) governor of South Carolina. Or, when John Kasich's little fuck-you union busting law was recenlty rejected he became the (D) governor of Ohio. Hell just within the past few days, an insane person from Idaho, who probably got his worldview watching FOX, became the "Ocuppy Shooter". Everything, EVERYTHING, FOX reports to it's viewers is meant to dumb them down to pudding.

  • oh my on November 21, 2011 3:37 PM:


    Mark Sanford was screwing an Argentinian.

  • ColeDBiers on November 21, 2011 3:41 PM:

    The advertisers on Fox News are the smartest advertisers in the world.

    The Fox News Idiocracy will buy ANYTHING.

  • tmsynnott on November 21, 2011 3:50 PM:

    I find it very cool that you and Chris Mooney are friends. Another reason to like you both.

  • CostOfEverythingValueOfNothing on November 21, 2011 4:00 PM:

    Equal Opportunity Cynic - your 'rhetorical assumptions' post is kind of dumb, in a WTF way.

    Extend and revise: And I'm confident Wilde would consider your adoption of 'Cynic' is appropriate in a way that does not reflect well on you.

  • TCinLA on November 21, 2011 4:22 PM:

    It always amazes me when I go for an appointment to the VA, to see Faux Snooze on the TV in the waiting room. I've asked the clerks why they have something on dedicated to their destruction. "Well, the patients like it" is the usual response. A further reminder that I was never around so many morons in my entire life outside the military as I was when I was in the military.

  • Anonymous on November 21, 2011 4:26 PM:

    The conclusion: Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events,

    Anyone who believes they are "informed" about anything after watching All-Republicans0Every-Sunday probably believes the sun rises in the west.

    Obviously the people doing this poll are dumber than the Fux Snooze viewers. Unsurprising.

  • BAL Indiana on November 21, 2011 5:19 PM:

    To have viewers be mis-informed is a Fox News feature, not a bug.

  • excitable boy on November 21, 2011 6:36 PM:

    It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so -
    Mark Twain

  • Auto Insurance Framingham MA on November 22, 2011 4:36 AM:

    very good post, i was really searching for this topic as i wanted this topic to understand completely and it is also very rare in internet that is why it was very difficult to understand thank you for sharing this.

    Insurance Framingham MA

  • Anonymous on November 22, 2011 7:01 AM:

    The only thing Fox News viewers are uninformed about is the left leaning tripe the other news networks endlessly spout. Fox news continues to dominate and the others continue to sink because most Americans feel this way in thier hearts, whether they want to stand up and say it or not.

  • Tom Maguire on November 22, 2011 10:48 AM:

    Folks who make it all the way to page 2 of the "study" learn about other dumb bunnies:

    "New Jerseyans are not necessarily more likely to be knowledgeable about domestic politics than international events. Just 47% are able to identify the Occupy Wall Street protesters as predominantly Democratic: 11 % think they are Republicans. Viewers of cable news on MSNBC are the most likely to think the protestors are Republicans. Watching the left-leaning MSNBC news channel is associated with a 10-point increase in the likelihood of misidentifying the protesters.

    Lean Forward and smell the coffee!

    The small sample size (612 total respondents) makes the results statistically suspect. Compounding the confusion, the authors focused on this question about Egypt in concluding that Fox viewers were least informed:

    "To the best of your knowledge, have the opposition groups protesting in Egypt been successful in bringing down the regime there?"

    The authors claim that anyone who knows Mubarak is out knows the correct answer; I would say that current events in Cairo suggest that a lot of the locals have their doubts as to whether the military takeover represented regime change they can believe in.

  • WJW on November 22, 2011 4:58 PM:

    Muburak is NOT the current regime in Egypt. He resigned 9 MONTHS AGO.

    If somebody asked me if protestors have been successful in bringing down the regime there, I would assume that the pollster is talking about the CURRENT regime of a military junta. Not the regime of 9 MONTHS AGO.

    My goodness most of the posters here are very intolerant and close minded about people who watch Fox News. Why do you people hate diversity so much?