Fox Viewers think Mubarak Still runs Egypt

A study by Fairleigh Dickenson University researchers has found that frequent viewers of Fox Cable News are worse informed than people who watch no news at all!

It is not that Republicans (more likely to watch Fox) are less informed. The researchers took that possible source of bias into account in their finding. No, it is watching Fox itself that makes people more ignorant.

The discrepancy showed up in a question on whether the Egyptian protests last February managed to unseat Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Among respondents over all, 21% said that the movement had failed, and 26% said they just don’t know! I don’t know whether it is more unsettling that a fifth of Americans may think Mubarak is still president of Egypt or that a fourth of Americans has no idea whether he is or not!

A bare majority of 53% gave the correct answer that Mubarak was overthrown.

But Fox Cable News viewers were less likely by a full 18 points to get the right answer than people who said they never watched the news at all!

(I’ll bet some of the latter watch Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report, which are in fact better at informing the public on news than Fox, since they not only cover issues but also teach audiences to be skeptical of political spin in the news).

Fox viewers were also 6% less likely than others to know that the uprising in Syria has not yet succeeded in unseating president Bashar al-Assad.

The best informed consumers of news media were those who listen to National Public Radio or read a daily newspaper such as the New York Times or USA Today.

Fox News’ graphic department has been known to misplace Egypt on the map, which can’t help.

Fox Map Misplaces Egypt

I wonder if the highly ideological character of Fox “news” is the culprit here. Fox was upset at the prospect of Mubarak being overthrown, and reported negatively on the revolution. Did they inspire their viewers to an attempt to wish the whole thing away as a kind of nightmare best ignored?

12 Responses

  1. In education, we call these people “belligerent non-learners.” They refuse to learn anything that upsets their world view. Fox News is the culprit in the sense it provides Republican belligerent non-learners with an excuse.

    Fail!

  2. Another factor (besides what you have mentioned) will be that the New York Times readers are more intelligent than Fox News viewers and will thus be more knowledgeable and discerning.
    That will of course not be because the New York Times somehow increase the intelligence of their readers!
    Less intelligent/sophisticated people are naturally drawn to media that take advantage of that and Fox News caters for its viewers sensibilities.
    Besides traditional media like Fox News you have today thousands of websites that targets specific groups of people which will increase peoples insular beliefs and world view.
    To solve the problem you will need to legislate against news media of a sub-par or exploitative nature but doing so is of course extremely dangerous.
    It looks like Americans are stuck with people who think that people like Herman Cain are presidential material and media who play along.

  3. Dear Professor Cole

    Your point about reading newspapers is well made. I was surprised (mea culpa) when Tom Friedman mentioned this morning Egypt’s illiteracy rate of 30%. Despite having spent a lot of time there I had overlooked this point.

    I was so surprised that I went to CIA worldfactbook to check and found that the statistics are even worse with male literacy at 83% and female literacy at 59%.

    Syria in contrast has 86% male literacy and 73.6% female literacy, despite all its handicaps.

    It surely must be one of the most telling comments on the Mubarak regime that despite the vast sums of foreign aid supplied by the Americans since Sadat went to Jerusalem that a third of the country lacks elementary schooling.

    I now understand why I was seeing elementary Arabic classes being run at Al Ahzar in Al Cahairo. It wasn’t just Arabic that was being taught but also basic literacy.

  4. Perhaps it’s because Fox News viewers tune in to their opinion shows rather than news. Who needs news when you can join the hate and anger fest against the “un-amerikun librals” with their communist conspiracies to debase and destroy Amerikah.

    • The big problem is that Fox as a fundamental strategy blurs the distinction between its news shows and opinion shows. We have always had the option in America of believing the editorials and disregarding the front page, but our reluctance to do so shows that we had some inkling that wishful thinking can’t overcome reality. 19th Century papers were blatantly partisan party organs (survivors still have “Democrat” and “Republican” in their names), yet in the 20th Century this faded – though the new “objective” journalism came with plenty of traps of its own, the mere fact that our grandfathers turned away from party organs shows that they sensed they needed to hear some unpleasant truths to survive.

      Now, not at all.

  5. Dear Professor Cole

    No sooner did I finish writing about literacy in Egypt, than Nick Kristof pops up with an interview with a literate lady member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    link to nytimes.com

    Nick tells it as he sees it and I learn quite a bit from his articles.

  6. @JamesSpeaks,thank you for introducing the term “belligerent non-learners” into my lexicon this morning. Obviously there are also more than a few working for Fox, perhaps whomever decided that Egypt is Iraq.

  7. I know not why, but in my travels I find public TV’s in airports and assorted waiting rooms set by default to FOX.

    The drumbeat of FOX advocacy/commentary, and how this programing (and even its formatting) is positioned right up next to formal reporting, is what makes them such a powerful political force. In this way, by design FOX works to confuse what is (ostensibly) objective reporting with opinion. This is while it is an ongoing challenge for the MSM to be even-handed: the right always thinks they’re being misrepresented while the left thinks its being screwed over by the same segment

    With all these networks there is pressure to gain and hold an audience, in order to keep selling soap. Aside from plots, I rather think (hope) this is what’s driving FOX, and CNN has suffered by not following suit. It seems like I read where CNN is now trying to move more in the direction of sensationalism. I watch and talk to people in waiting room settings, and they are indeed drawn to FOX presentations because of the element of indignation/inflammation you can reliable get from segments with guys like Bolton. What they do not get is how they are being manipulated, and I don’t get them as being stupid people, just naive.

    Similarly, being more/less “intelligent” doesn’t strike me as so pertinent. Few people with busy and responsible lives outside of current events have time to follow the news critically. What most people have is a “sense” of things, so the background noise, impacted by comparing impressions with friends socially, combine to give them their opinions.

    IMHO

    • Yes, and the giant TV in the cafeteria at Exxon here is usually tuned to Fox News. Big shock – the ownership class owns the buildings and controls the TV. Fox is the organ of the business class. Its lies please our owners, so they keep the TVs blaring the lies. Yet another way that inequality of wealth leads to increasing inequality of power.

  8. Well, that makes perfect sense to me. When they threw Mubarak out, he just moved Egypt to Iraq and kept his presidency. Fox just has more of the story.

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