FOX News Top Source of Voter Misinformation, Study Finds
In the 2010 election, the big winners were lies and liars
In the first election since the Citizens United decision, misinformation played a central role. That’s the finding of a new study, Misinformation and the 2010 Election, from the University of Maryland’s World Public Opinion. Voters believe they heard more lies than in past elections. Researchers found voters were also influenced by the lies they didn’t catch.
The bad news for FOX News viewers is that merely watching the channel appears to be toxic. Most voters believed a few whoppers during the 2010 election cycle. But daily watchers of FOX News believed more misinformation than everyone else.
Are FOX viewers simply people who watch the station to reinforce misinformed views they already have? “No,” says Clay Ramsay, Research Director for the project, “Even Democratic voters who watched FOX News were more misinformed than others.” While all cable news earns some criticism from Ramsay, “FOX displays a particular pattern of misinformation. The more you watch the more inaccurate your views.”
The researchers didn’t originally intend to rank news outlets. They simply wanted to know sources of voter misinformation. Ramsay discovered the unusual FOX correlation—the more you watch the worse it gets—unexpectedly, while sifting through the data. FOX was alone in this regard.
The study strengthens a widely held view that FOX News is a source of political propaganda. Days after the study was released, Media Matters reported leaked e-mails from FOX’s Washington managing editor to on-air talent. He instructs them to call “the public option” “the government option,” wording recommended by a Republican pollster (according to Media Matters.) In another e-mail, the editor instructs them to muddy the waters concerning settled science about climate change. These leaks offer further corroboration of the surprise findings of the study—that FOX News Channel is a singularly notable source of misinformation.
While less of a bombshell, the study also made other important findings about the information used by voters in 2010. “I believe the most significant aspect of the study is that people believed they’d been exposed to much greater levels of misinformation,” said Ramsay. An overwhelming ninety-one percent said they encountered misinformation “frequently” or “sometimes” during the election cycle. Fifty-four percent said the level of misinformation was higher than in past elections.Continued on the next page