Fox News viewers tend to be less informed about current affairs than people who obtain their news from other news sources and are even less informed than people “who don’t watch any news at all.” That is the controversial conclusion of a new study by Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist, Treasury Department official under President George H.W. Bush and former adviser on domestic policy to President Ronald Reagan.
The study, titled “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics,” observed that since Fox News Channel launched in October 7, 1996 to 17 million cable subscribers, it has become the sole source of news for many Americans with conservative political leaning who previously had no access to a news outlet providing news exclusively from a conservative point of view.
But by restricting themselves to only one major news source, refusing “to even listen to any news or opinion not vetted through Fox” and accepting as truth every information that appears on the channel, many Fox News viewers have become victims of what the study termed “self-brainwashing.”
“Like someone dying of thirst in the desert, conservatives drank heavily from the Fox waters. Soon, it became the dominant – and in many cases, virtually the only – major news source for millions of Americans. This has had profound political implications that are only starting to be appreciated. Indeed, it can almost be called self-brainwashing – many conservatives now refuse to even listen to any news or opinion not vetted through Fox, and to believe whatever appears on it as the gospel truth.”
Bartlett said that after the September 11, 2011 attacks, Fox News shifted farther right and transformed from a network set up to present news with a conservative tilt into one peddling misinformation and propaganda to the effect that Fox News viewers became the least informed among media consumers.
The observation echoes frequent accusations from critics of the network that it is often guilty of news reporting inaccuracies. In February, 2015, The Daily Show released a spoof video titled “50 Fox News lies in 6 seconds,” which listed examples of the network’s alleged reporting inaccuracies.
The study found that even after taking into account or controlling for news obtained from other sources, educational attainment, partisanship, and other relevant demographic factors, Fox News viewers were still 18 points less likely to know that the Egyptians overthrew the government of former President Mohamed Morsi. They were also 6 points less likely to know that the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria has not been overthrown.
Commenting on the findings, Dan Cassino, Farleigh Dickinson University professor of political science, said, “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.”
Citing a University of Georgia study, Bartlett said that Fox News‘ misinformation and propaganda during the 2012 general election helped to lull Republican viewers into a false sense of security
“Exposure to programs featured on Fox News, such as those hosted by Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, resulted in a greater wishful thinking effect by Romney supporters. While Romney supporters were substantially more likely to predict their candidate would win the 2012 presidential election, watching Fox News programming exacerbated this effect.”
Based on the results of the University of Georgia study, Bartlett concluded that “it may be that some Republican Fox viewers became complacent and didn’t work as hard as they might if they had been more aware of how badly Romney was doing in the final days of the campaign.”
The study also concluded that Fox News viewers often subscribe to beliefs about major issues of foreign and domestic policy, such as the Iraq War and the Affordable Care Act, that were not based on objective facts. Fox News viewers also tend to be biased against minorities.
“It appears that right-wing bias, including inaccurate reporting, became commonplace on Fox,” the study said.
Fox’s slanted coverage of political news, according to the study, has kept the GOP base in a constant state of anger, forcing GOP politicians to shift further right to satisfy the demands of their voter base.
The study quoted Lincoln Mitchell, a Columbia University political scientist, who said in 2010 that Fox News’ success in keeping the right wing base mobilized and angry has made it difficult for the party to implement a move to the center as a way of widening its voter appeal and improving its competitiveness.
According to Mitchell, the 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was unable to implement a strategic pivot to the center during the general election due to sustained pressure from the party’s far right with the backing of Fox News propaganda.
Bartlett is not the first conservative public figure who has criticized the network over perceived reporting inaccuracies and bias.
The former Republican Senator Tom Coburn, from Oklahoma, also alleged that Fox News was “totally not fair and totally not balanced” in its new coverage.
Newt Gingrich, 2012 Republican presidential candidate, accused the network of biased coverage of the GOP primaries and “distortion of facts.” He said that in his experience “CNN coverage of the primaries was fairer and more balanced than Fox News’.”
The study conclusions are bound to be controversial and Fox News viewers will reject it as biased.
Do you think that Bartlett’s study conclusion reflects a true and fair view of Fox News?