Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fox News is Bad for our Country

Politifact reports that 60% of the Fox News statements they fact-checked were false. Politifact reports that MSNBC (combined with NBC) scored 43% false. Of the cable news networks, CNN scores highest on Politifact of the cable news networks (57% true to 21% false).

Why does this matter? After all, it is just opinion and entertainment, right?

Wrong. What voters believe guides their voting behavior. For example, exit polls taken after the 2010 mid-terms showed big majorities of voters had false beliefs about important issues in the election. The findings suggest the GOP landslide was largely driven by misinformation.
  • 8% correctly believed the stimulus created millions of jobs (68% thought a few jobs were created, 20% thought it resulted in fewer jobs).
  • 13% correctly believed health care reform would decrease the deficit (53% believed hthe ACA increased the deficit).
  • 44% correctly believed the economy was improving (55% believed it was getting worse).
  • 28% correctly believed the auto bailouts were implemented by both Bush and Obama (53% thought they were all Obama).
  • 43% correctly believed the stimulus contained tax cuts (54% believed it did not despite a THIRD of the stimulus being tax cuts).
  • 10% correctly believed taxes had been cut under Obama (86% believed they had stayed the same or gone up).
This exit poll also questioned respondents about where they got information on these issues with the following results.
  • Self-identified Republicans were far more likely than self-identified Democrats to hold false beliefs on these issues.
  • Fox News was by far the most common source of information for those holding these false beliefs.
  • More frequent exposure to Fox News was correlated with higher endorsement of false beliefs.
The false narrative on Fox News can thus have results in the voting booth. This phenomenon on the political right has been referred to by pundits on both sides as "epistemic closure." Julian Sanchez of the libertarian Cato Institute has written that right-wing media have "“become worryingly untethered from reality as the impetus to satisfy the demand for red meat overtakes any motivation to report accurately.”
As a result, he complained, many conservatives have developed a distorted sense of priorities and a tendency to engage in fantasy, like the belief that President Obama was not born in the United States or that the health care bill proposed establishing “death panels.”
Soon conservatives across the board jumped into the debate. Jim Manzi, a contributing editor at National Review, wrote that Mr. Levin’s best seller, “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto” (Threshold Editions) was “awful,” and called the section on global warming a case for “willful ignorance,” and “an almost perfect example of epistemic closure.” Megan McArdle, an editor at The Atlantic, conceded that “conservatives are often voluntarily putting themselves in the same cocoon.”
Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush’s administrations, wrote that in the last few years, “epistemic closure” had become much worse among “the intelligentsia of the conservative movement.” He later added that the cream of the conservative research institutes, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, had gone from presenting informed policy analyses to pumping out propaganda.
Nothing comparable seems to exist on the Democratic side as misinformation plays of smaller role in those voting Democratic and self-identified Democrats endorse a far more diverse set of information sources.

Your thoughts?

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