Are Fox News Viewers Least Informed?
Jon Stewart told Chris Wallace that Fox News viewers are consistently the least informed. It’s actually not true.
PolitFact looks at a number of surveys on the subject and finds that Fox viewers do relatively well–indeed, Fox outperforms CNN and MSNBC–although not nearly as well as viewers of the Daily Show or listeners to Rush Limbaugh. But this is an artifact of selection bias, not the information quality of the programs.
We asked Michael Dimock, Pew’s associate director for research, what he thought Pew’s data meant for Stewart’s claim. He said it’s crucial to understand that different news sources appeal to different types of people — and that highly political programming of any type attracts regular readers and viewers “who are, most likely, already highly knowledgeable prior to their exposure to those particular sources. Separating what knowledge they bring with them from what they learn while reading or watching is virtually impossible.”
By contrast, Dimock said, for media outlets with a much broader reach — including Fox — “the average regular consumer of these sources is less informed than the more niche audiences, because these sources, by design, reach and appeal to a broader cross-section of the public. In most of our studies, the regular readers and viewers of these broad-based news sources are not significantly more or less informed than the average American, and there is no systematic pattern showing one broad-based source has a more knowledgeable audience than any other.”
Presumably, Stewart was basing his survey on a December study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. But David Zurawik correctly points out that the questions were absurdly biased and, indeed, sometimes treated liberal opinion as fact.