Monday, December 27, 2010

A better survey for media ratings

A reader wrote a reply about the flawed study that proposed to show Fox News misinforms the public. Because Blogger is having some comment section problems right now, the reply was emailed and I have reproduced it in its entirety:

It is irrelevant to the Obama-tax question whether or not deficits are future taxes. The fact is taxes have not gone up under President Obama; that was the question and most people got it wrong.

That said, the study takes a small correlation and goes much too far with it, especially since its entire methodology sucks. Of course, we always have other studies to show how misinformed FOX News viewers are. And is there any question about that? Does anyone doubt that those who watch FOX News as their primary news source - and especially if it's their only news source - are getting bad information or highly selective information? Nobody goes to that channel to actually see anything fair and/or balanced.

(Also, I find Klein saying that to agree to the statement that "American companies exploit workers overseas" is to be unenlightened rather...cute. It's such an ambiguous question. Does it mean all companies? Most? Just some? At least 2? Are we talking about American companies taking advantage of cheap goods from China where workers and especially child workers are not treated well? And what does "exploit" mean? Surely it can be argued that most companies exploit most workers, especially young ones. Should we be applying some ethical theories to this question in order to derive an answer? The others parts of the survey seem reasonable, but this question is just doltish.)

While I still insist that the tax question was worded poor enough to attract wrong answers, like the Palm Beach butterfly ballots were designed poor enough to fetch incorrect votes, I think Michael is right - people who want biased news get it, and Fox News is one of those outlets. The study he linked was exactly what I insisted would show a misinformed public; general questions about the news, such as who is the president of Russia.

Interesting to note that the study showed Fox News viewers a little bit behind CNN viewers, but it showed the most informed were fans of The Daily Show, PBS, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.

As an occasional Limbaugh listener, I think it's clear why - he dissects the news stories of the day, often in great detail. It'd be hard to listen and not pick up who Nancy Pelosi is. I imagine the same is true for Daily Show and O'Reilly viewers. I suspect the PBS watchers are a self-selected group who happen to follow things closer, but that's conjecture.

Unfortunately, MSNBC viewers were not listed for comparison. I'd be curious to see how they panned out, as I wonder if self-selected political extremists bring down the numbers for both sets of viewers. It's also possible that some of these viewers only tune in for commentary shows, and miss some of the questions asked, such as the name of their state governor.

Even if it does, that effect may be small and I think this study makes a real case for biased new stations like Fox concentrating too much on following a political narrative then on informing the public.

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