Monday, August 22, 2005

Fair and Balanced?

According to a recent report in The New York Times, a new academic study has found that the impact of Fox News is not at all what panicked liberals seem to think. More than that, the people who watch Fox aren't all Christian redneck right-wing yahoos.

The first paragraph of the NYT report isn't at all surprising:

The share of Americans who believe that news organizations are "politically biased in their reporting" increased to 60 percent in 2005, up from 45 percent in 1985, according to polls by the Pew Research Center.

Some people, particularly liberals of the mainstream media and academia, spend a lot of time crying about the sky falling. As they see it, Fox News is providing a dangerous alternative to the dogma of the three broadcast networks, CNN, and other liberal media. In their view, that can only be bad. However, the authors of the study "found that Fox had no detectable effect on which party people voted for, or whether they voted at all."

Even more startling for some folks, the study found that:

...towns that offered Fox by 2000 increased their vote share for the Republican presidential candidate by 6 percentage points (to 54 percent, from 48 percent) from 1996 to 2000, while those that did not offer Fox increased theirs by an even larger 7 percentage points (to 54 percent, from 47 percent).

And this one will have them all staggering around with the vapors:

Fox's viewers were about equally likely to identify themselves as Democrats as Republicans, according to a poll by the Pew [Research Center] in 2000.

What does all this mean? Well, first, the great unwashed masses are a lot smarter than the self-appointed kahunas of the media and academia take them to be. Second, most Democrats (they're not all extreme liberals) and most Republicans (they're not all extreme conservatives) are very poorly understood by the ideologues of both parties. They know bullshit when they smell it, whether it comes from Dan Rather or Bill O'Reilly.

So, what it comes down to--and this is a bitter pill for extremists of both parties--Democrats and Republicans alike need to stop flinging cow patties around and start developing rational positions that tell people where they stand. Pandering only works if the voters are truly stupid, and they aren't. The Democratic Party, in particular, needs to pay attention.


Anonymous Kevin said...

What do you think explains this poll which shows a strong disconnect between what Bush supporting Republicans believed and what the best available data showed?

It seems clear that there certainly is a segment of the great unwashed masses that is either too stupid or too lazy to distinguish between the smell of bullshit and the smell of apple pie. And the PIPA polls indicates that most of them tilt decidedly to the right just as Faux News does. Coincidence?

The thing that I keep coming back to in my mind as I consider what you've written here, and it's a good post... is that those folks in the PIPA polls were getting their news from somewhere. There's far too much specificity to be the result of folks just pulling positions out of their ass. And we know that "extreme conservatives" don't even come close to constituting a large enough percentage of the population to explain those stats.

If not Faux News, then where?

7:17 PM, August 22, 2005  
Blogger Dingo said...

is it just me, or is it scary that the most "informed" people on current events are the ones who watch fake news (no, not Fox... I am referring to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart).

2:08 PM, August 23, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Very funny Tom. I think you are right about the "bitter pill".

6:16 PM, August 23, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Kevin, there are indeed a lot of folks out there who believe cockamamie things. For example, some Bush supporters believe Saddam was involved in 911, although the Administration never said so, the 911 Commission confirmed that, and so far as I know Fox didn't promote it. For another example, some Bush haters are convinced that he led us into war in Iraq to steal Iraqi oil and enrich his wealthy friends, despite the complete lack of evidence and the sheer inanity of the idea. There are plenty of other examples on all sides.

The point of the post is that Fox news isn't the magnificently effective propaganda machine it's been accused of being. The great majority of people are smart enough not to be taken in by media bias, notwithstanding the fact that there will always be kooks on the left and right fringes hunkered down at home wearing aluminum foil skull caps to ward off the evil spirits of the other Party.

10:31 AM, August 24, 2005  

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