In my critical thinking courses I like to make the claim that watching or consuming Mainstream Media, particularly outlets like Fox News makes individuals dumber and more misinformed. The line usually gets a laugh or two, and-for those with a more liberal bent-the sentiment seems obviously true. However, as critical thinkers we must be careful about believing things because they fit with our own biases or preconceptions. We are interested in the truth and getting it right, regardless of how that might make us feel or hurt our feelings. So, is it true that watching Fox News makes you dumber?
Fortunately, I am by no means the first to articulate such a question, and a fair degree of research has been performed on exactly this question, looking to answer it concerning a variety of issues of great public importance. Chris Mooney at Alternet has a great roundup of the research, and much of the following discussion is taken from his article.
Mooney looks at 7 studies that support the claim that viewers of Fox News are more misinformed about the world than people who get their news from non-Fox sources. All of these studies basically took the form of interviews with with individuals, and then correlated the beliefs of those individuals with their media consumption habits. Every single one of these studies showed that people who get the majority of their information from Fox News were significantly more likely to believe things that are not true about the world.
I want to focus in one one of the studies looked at by Mooney. This study, published at the end of 2010 was conducted by PIPA, and looked at misinformation among voters during the 2010 midterm elections. Summarizing the results of the study to Mooney, one of the authors drew the following conclusion:
“With all of the other media outlets, the more exposed you were, the less likely you were to have misinformation,” explains PIPA’s director, political psychologist Steven Kull. “While with Fox, the more exposure you had, in most cases, the more misinformation you had. And that is really, in a way, the most powerful factor, because it strongly suggests they were actually getting the information from Fox.”Similar results were born out by other studies consulted by Mooney, and collectively these make clear that consuming too much Fox News leads to a greater degree of misinformation among those viewers, and thus among the electorate generally. This is a significant problem and a real threat to democracy, but one without a clear solution.