Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

01/27/2010 (9:12 am)

Fox, the Most Trusted News Source?

FoxWinnerThis is actually not a surprise, but the press will treat it like it is. And the fact that Fox came out on top is not the most relevant result from the survey, but the press is already treating it like it is — which indicates the bias of the press, oddly enough.

Public Policy Polling, identified by Wikipedia as a Democratic-party-affiliated polling firm, published the results of a poll yesterday regarding which news network is most trusted by registered voters, under the headline “Fox the Most Trusted Name in News?” The blog associated with the PPP headed their column “Fox Leads for Trust.”

Far more significant in the data, however, is the evidence that news in America has become polarized, that fewer than 50% of viewers trust the most trusted TV news source, that women trust mainstream TV news sources more than do men, and that distrust of news sources increases as the voter gets older.

Fox News was the only news source in the survey with net positive trust figures — more respondents trust their news than distrust it — with 49% who claim they trust it as a news source, to 37% who do not. Next best was CNN News, with 39% who trust it to 41% who do not. The other three major news networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS, polled with net negatives of between 9 and 15 percentage points.

Although the research itself appears to be objective, the leftward slant of the pollsters themselves appears in their public announcements. At the end of the official press release, we have Dean Debham, the President of PPP, offering us this assessment:

A generation ago you would have expected Americans to place their trust in the most neutral and unbiased conveyors of news…But the media landscape has really changed and now they’re turning more toward the outlets that tell them what they want to hear.

Or perhaps they formerly put their trust in biased sources, but some have begun to find less biased sources. Just a thought.

Tom Jenson, on the PPP blog, steers even further into the specious assessment lane, with this:

A generation ago Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in the country because of his neutrality. Now people trust Fox the most precisely because of its lack of neutrality. It says a lot about where journalism is headed.

Um… where are the questions establishing that the viewers are looking for a lack of neutrality? Isn’t it plausible to Mr. Jenson that more people trust Fox specifically because they find it more neutral? And why doesn’t he consider that perception of neutrality accurate?

Claiming that Walter Cronkite was neutral kinda gives away the game. Yes, in the 1960s people considered Cronkite neutral, because people trusted that journalists strove for neutrality. However, his blatantly dishonest reporting of the Tet Offensive in 1968 is just one data point supporting today’s common perception that he was anything but neutral. That Jenson does not know this says more about Jenson than about anybody else.

PIPAThe left’s perception that Fox is horribly biased is just that — their perception, but it explains why leftists regard it as a surprise and a disgrace that Fox is the most trusted news source. In my experience, political leftists lack the ability to assess their own position as biased in any way, and resist to an incredible degree any suggestion that they lack objectivity.

There is, however, a well-established meme among leftists that Fox has been proved to be more biased than other sources, and that Fox viewers have been proved to be less well informed. This stems from a single, remarkably narrow bit of research conducted a year after the start of the Iraq war by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). This survey basically asked three questions of respondents in a series of polls regarding the Iraq war: whether Iraq “played a role” in the 9/11 attacks, whether weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, and how “the world” feels about the Iraq war. It doesn’t take a degree in statistics to realize that what is meant by “played a role” will be all over the map, as will be what is meant by “how the world feels.” The research was horribly constructed, and the sum of it was that Fox News viewers were less likely to conform to leftist talking points on those questions. This, the researchers regarded as “obvious misconceptions.” The most telling misconception I can see here is that some people regard this survey as objective science, and think that three, debatable questions on one topic is sufficient basis on which to dismiss an entire news organization forever.

A few quick observations about what’s really important in the data:

  • Even the most trusted TV news source was trusted by fewer than half of respondents.
  • Women tend to trust old-line network TV news a lot more than men do.
  • Distrust of TV news generally increases as voters age.
  • There’s a deep, partisan split between the left and the right, with the left trusting the mainstream sources a lot more and the right trusting Fox a lot more. However, more leftists distrust ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN than rightists distrust Fox.
  • Young people, inexplicably, seem to have a significant preference for NBC News.
  • They didn’t ask about MSNBC. Even worse, they didn’t ask about Comedy Central; I’ll just bet Jon Stewart would have achieved a net positive trust ranking.

« « Tefillin-Sniffing Dogs | Main | So, We Can’t Trust the IPCC… (Updated) » »


January 27, 2010 @ 10:16 am #

What a strange time we live in. The “Information Age” is proving to be an age of blindness to truth. Not really all that much a new age phenomenon. But a more ironic one, for sure.

January 27, 2010 @ 11:10 am #

I found that when I stopped watching commercial TV completely about 3 years ago, I started sleeping better, my overall mood improved substantially, and my blood pressure went down.

I also find that I am, if anything, better informed about politics than I was before. TV news, as it turns out, tends to be an information sink, not an information source.

I now consider TV-watching to be a self-inflicted injury.

January 27, 2010 @ 1:24 pm #

The thing about Fox news is that they’re honest about their opinions. “Fair and Balanced” may be an exaggeration if you interpret it as saying that they themselves don’t have an opinion, but not if you interpret it as meaning that both sides get to _air_ their opinion. As far as I can tell, the other channels don’t (air the opinions of both sides) – but I may not be as aware of their efforts considering the limited amount of viewing I do on those channels. The fact is though, that they _say_ they’re unbiased, and they’re not. I don’t care _what_ viewpoints someone has if they’re up front with them – it’s the deception that I find completely unacceptable.

Fox News regularly have flaming liberals on their shows. Their interviews regularly have a conservative and a liberal or a Republican and a Democrat offering their opinions. Their interviewers normally are all intelligent and can think on their feet – even if almost all of them are blonde (either they have an unspoken bias in hiring or a bottle of bleach comes with their contract, I think!)! Most are lawyers. I agree that their program “stars” are conservatives for the most part (but then you also have Shep and “Geraldo”), but they don’t hide that fact – as you point out, Walter Cronkite did.

In other words – if Rush weren’t as entertaining as he is, his views alone wouldn’t make me listen to him. If he were still as entertaining, but had liberal views, I might. That was Air America’s problem – not the fact that they were liberals, but the fact that they were boring.

January 27, 2010 @ 3:46 pm #

Not sure what the endgame here is. My perception is that as the internet and Fox have increasingly provided an alternative to left wing tilted sources, the liberal “deciders” have simply adjusted their game accordingly.

That is, (again my perception) they have become much more openly partisan for the left, all the while still proclaiming their objectivity. The best recent example is the savagery they showed toward Palin, while going completely in the tank for Obama – to the point where even Hilary and Bill started to complain about the bias.

Right now, they are overplaying their hand a bit, with Olbermann’s over the top seething, etc. But I look forward for them to recalibrate, particularly with the recent political winds. I would not be surprised to see the MSM become much more cunning and deliberately manipulative of the news medium to promote the objectives of the left.

For example, a year ago they might have produced a special on healthcare that amounted to an hourlong commercial for the Obama plan. However, going forward, they might dress up their program with a so called ‘counterpoint’ from the right, so as to appear “objective”.

But they would choose an aggressive spokesperson from the right (one, for example, that they knew would likely be radioactive to many women) and selectively edit his or her comments. Try Michele Obama pitching the plan, followed by say, Oprah. Then you do some outakes from Ann Coulter from the right at her most strident to present the “conservative point of view. Then a final kindly word from Barack himself about how we can’t let ourselves be ruled by fear and that we need to find the courage to embrace hope and change.

I know they do this to an extent now, but I look to see much more stage dressing and manipulation as we move forward.

January 27, 2010 @ 5:34 pm #

RM, I think you are probably right, but that only means that to some small extent our side is winning by making them be more nuanced.

December 29, 2010 @ 12:04 pm #

[…] For the past 7 years or so, conservatives have had to tolerate liberals, Progressives, and assorted pseudo-intellectuals informing them superciliously that it had been “proved” by “research” that Fox News viewers were badly misinformed about current issues. They were usually referring to a horribly-constructed bit of research produced by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland that examined responses to three questions about the run-up to the Iraq war. Somehow, to the left, this proved that Fox was misinforming its viewers about all subjects — and that’s leaving aside glaring concerns about the construction of the questions, and about the utter absence of any attempt to correlate private, personal opinions to particular news reports (I mentioned the report and its flaws briefly here.) […]

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