The release this week of yet another survey indicating the more you watch Fox News the less they know, has once again shone a spotlight on one of the unique features that defines Rupert Murdoch's cable news outlet - it is very, very good at misinforming people. And it's very bad at reporting the news. In other words: Propaganda? Yes. News? Not so much.
It's true that the most recent survey, conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, only polled adults in New Jersey and doesn't represent national indictment against Fox. Nonetheless, the findings created a media stir because they reinforce what pollsters and academics previously discovered; that one of the country's all-news channels consistently leaves viewers less informed.
What's stunning is how many different areas of the news and public policy Fox viewers are misinformed about. For instance, the Fairleigh Dickinson survey asked viewers about recent grassroots uprisings in Arab nations [emphasis added]:
For example, people 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..... 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.
That just means we can add the Arab Spring to the laundry list of issues Fox fans are less knowledgeable about. Here are some previously documented examples.
--2010, the proposed New York City mosque. Two Ohio State University researchers released their study, "Fox News Contributes to Spread of Rumors About Proposed NYC Mosque."
In this study, the results are very clear: the more people use Fox News, the more rumors they have heard the more they believe.
2010, mid-term elections. A "Misinformation and the 2010 Election" survey conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, and showed that regular Fox News viewers "were significantly more likely" to hold misinformed views.
--2011, health care reform. The Kaiser Foundation released the findings of its health care reform "pop quiz." It asked respondents ten questions about the topic and graded the responses. The Foundation found loyal Fox News viewers knew less about health care reform than did CNN and MSBNC viewers.
--2003, the Iraq War. the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) study found widespread public misperceptions about the Iraq war, but some media consumers were more misinformed than others:
Those who primarily watch Fox News are significantly more likely than average to have misperceptions.
--2009, health care reform. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Fox fans were overwhelmingly misinformed about health care reform:
In our poll, 72% of self-identified FOX News viewers believe the health-care plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly.
2010, global warming. Stanford University, in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, released a report titled "Frequent Viewers of Fox News Are Less Like to Accept Scientists' Views of Global Warming."
More exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists' claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy.