Friday, May 25, 2012

I Get My Misinformation from the New York Times!

There's been some excitement in liberal circles about a new study which shows that people who depend on Fox News for their news are worse-informed than people who use other media.  NPR listeners did the best, followed by viewers of "Sunday Morning Shows" and The Daily Show.  Metaphorical high fives were exchanged across the Intertoobz; the sound of liberals patting themselves on the back could be heard across the nation.  But I wanted to know more, so I looked at the numbers.

True, NPR listeners did much better than Fox News viewers.  But not even the NPR listeners did very well.  On four questions about US politics, for example, Fox News viewers would answer 1.08 questions correctly, while NPR listeners would answer 1.51 questions correctly.  So the star pupils scored 38 percent; not exactly a result to brag about, even if the dunces only scored about 25 percent.

Not that I'm surprised.  When stories like this emerge, I always point out that after the first Gulf War, in 1991, a study "conducted by the University of Massachusetts' Center for Studies in Communication, found that the more people watched TV during the Gulf crisis, the less they knew about the underlying issues, and the more likely they were to support the war."  Fox News didn't exist in that day, so the other corporate media, like CNN and the broadcast networks had to shoulder the task of misinforming the public -- a task at which, as the study showed, they succeeded admirably.

And since 1991, the "mainstream" media have continued to do their part for the war effort.  FAIR documents the malfeasance not only of Fox but of more respectable news outlets, including print media.  A discriminating reader who wanted to be misinformed in the run-up to the second Gulf War, for example, didn't have to go slumming with Fox News, because the New York Times was running Judith Miller's dispatches which passed along Bush administration's fraudulent propaganda.  Just this month, MSNBC's Chris Matthews went for a double-dip: he claimed before an audience of cable-TV professionals that the government would have more trouble making false claims about weapons of mass destruction today because the vigilant 24/7 cable news networks would have brought about a "reckoning."  As FAIR points out, Matthews is not only ignoring the fact that the cable news networks existed in 2002, he and his colleagues embraced Bush administration claims and cheered on the war.  The most prominent opponent of the war at MSNBC in those days, Phil Donahue, was fired, and Matthews seems to have lobbied management to get rid of him.  Matthews is definitely bipartisan, though: nowadays he's passing along the Obama administration's false claims about Iran's (non-existent) nuclear program.

So, I think the celebration over Fox News's inadequacy is overreaching a bit.  One of Tabloid Friend's commenters remarked: "Every time any other media is compared to Fox their viewers always come across as morons."  So how do NPR's listeners, with their score of 38 percent, come across?  Ben Adler at The Nation claims that Fox News "fails the fundamental test of journalism: are you informing your audience?"  True, but so do the rest of the corporate media, who should be regarded with as much skepticism as Fox.