May 25th, 2012
04:46 PM ET

Facts and Fiction: how one survey was reported in the media

How many times has a headline caught your eye, only to read the article and find out it isn’t quite what that catchy phrase described?

It’s no surprise that liberal commentators might jump on a survey that portrayed Fox News viewers as ignorant. Headlines proclaimed “Watching Fox News makes you dumber” and loyal Fox viewers slammed the survey saying it was biased and unscientific.

But is that really what the survey found? A survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll looked at popular news sources and how informed their audiences are. Dan Cassino, professor of political science at the university and director of experimental research, says the findings have been distorted and manipulated by the media. Ironically, he says, this kind of proves the point of the survey.

The survey found, says Cassino, that hard news is not being explained properly or given enough context. Cassino believes the findings confirm that reporters and anchors are quick to jump to “sexy” headlines and opinions, rather than delve into the intricacies of hard news.

“People gloaming onto the sexiest way they can show it,” Cassino says of much media coverage. “Hard news, stuff that’s hard to explain, we’re just not explaining.”

He says is that there is no evidence that watching Fox News makes you dumber. But what the study did find, in statistically significant numbers, is that watching Fox News means you are less informed about current events than if you watched no news. But the findings are complicated.

The survey found that all ideologically slanted opinion TV shows have a “negative impact on people’s current events knowledge,” not just Fox News. Whereas Sunday morning political talk shows, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and NPR have the most informed audiences.

Cassino acknowledges that knowledge of current events is not just determined by what news you watch, but by personal ideology, education, age and gender. Thus the results of the survey can be self-selecting. Cassino argues that prime time shows on cable networks like “The O’Reilly Factor” are opinion reporting and often provide the least amount of informational context. But, Cassino says, that’s what these viewers want.

Cassino says he’s been disappointed by reporters calling him up to talk about the survey but ultimately not really understanding the intricacies of the findings.

“The results that get publicized have little to do with the results of the survey,” says Cassino. “There is a bias towards sensationalism. They are trying to find the biggest sexiest story that will make a flash, even if that means distorting the news.”

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Filed under: Bias • Blog • Fox News • Media • Media Criticism • MSNBC • Reliable Sources
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