Saturday, October 23, 2004


We are what

Okay, lousy metaphor! But I did come across a couple of fascinating studies concerning the news and peoples perception of it. Both come from the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. The first study measured the accuracy of peoples perceptions of major hard news stories, and what source they get most of their news from. The study looked at 3 major news stories from Iraq. They concerned whether or not the U.S. had found weapons of mass destruction, whether there was strong evidence linking Saddam to al-Queda, and the opinions of citizens of other countries concerning the invasion of Iraq. The results are startling.

On the positive side, if you get the bulk of your news from PBS/NPR, you are one smart sonnavabitch (or dotterovabitch).
23% of these people were misinformed on one or more of the news items. On the other hand, if you get the bulk of your news from Fox, you are likely to be about as informed as their most popular personality, Homer Simpson. An astonishing 80% of this group were wrong on at least one story, and well over 60% on two or more. While there are a couple of factors that slightly skew the lousy results of Fox and CBS (which I will discuss momentarily), both these networks should be humiliated. And that's without taking into consideration the Dan Rather and Bill O'Lielly debacles. The complete breakdown goes like this.


Print Media 40%
CNN 55%
NBC 55%
ABC 61%
CBS 71%
FOX 80%

In some VERY small defense of Fox and CBS, these networks have a much larger percentage of conservative news viewers than the other networks. Fox has the bulk of the under 55 conservatives, while, in spite of Dan Rather, CBS has the bulk of older conservatives. The latter is due simply to tradition (Lowell Thomas, Edward R Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Eric Severeid et al). These are people who, in the wake of 9/11, are much more likely to have a deep emotional investment in President Bush. Having bought into the media hype that the U.S. was forever changed by 9/11, these groups are by far the staunchest supporters of Bush. And, as the second study shows, they appear emotionally unable to absorb any information that might bring the wisdom of this investment into doubt. Even though, as venerable British historian, journalist and NYC resident Alistair Cooke put it,"it turns out that the exact length of forever is about three months."

Having posited this defense, I must say, the results are still appalling. It is imperative that journalists and news organizations take a long hard look at how they deliver the news. Democracy and freedom depend on an informed public. A public this badly informed is an invitation to disaster!

The other study has to do with who understands their candidates position more clearly, Bush supporters or Kerry supporters. Again, the difference is astonishing. While over 70% of Kerry supporters can correctly identify their candidates policy on matters ranging from environment, to transportation, to the economy, etc., close to 70% of Bush supporters thought their candidates policy to be exactly opposite of what it is. They appear to believe that his position is whatever they believe it should be.

I have already discussed the first reason why Bush's supporters appear unable to digest information that might reflect badly on him. But there is another, I believe, even more basic reason. I'll call it the faith factor.

Because he has worn his evangelical faith like a red badge of courage, George W. Bush has the one thing his father lacked. The overwhelming support of Fundamentalist, Evangelical, and conservative Catholic Christians. These are people who believe deeply and fervently that God works through George Bush, that God's guiding hand is directing the Bush presidency. It is absolutely emotionally impossible for many of these people to accept anything that might indicate that God's guidance is either wrong or, in Bush's case, nonexistent. So, facts be damned, they believe what their psyches will allow them to believe. As a caller to TOTN stated the other day, "it's very disconcerting to realize that your next door neighbor lives on another planet!"

To see both studies in their entirety, go to

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