The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has published a new study that measures the public’s knowledge of national and international news. The results are not likely to surprise anyone but Fox viewers, who come in at the bottom of the list (they probably don’t know that there is a list – or what a list is). And, although I’m not surprised to see the Daily Show/Colbert Report place high on the list, it is a bit of a jolt to see them at the very top. It would not likely shock Stephen Colbert, and not just because he would have felt it in his gut. While still with the Daily Show he explained why their audience reportedly got much of their news from the comedy program.
“Stephen Colbert, a Daily Show correspondent, has said that he doesn’t believe that viewers learn anything from the show. He contends that, if they weren’t already knowledgeable about political and social affairs, they wouldn’t get the jokes.”
That, of course, is true, and may help to explain these new statistics.
|Knowledge Levels By News Source:|
|Daily Show/Colbert Report||54||25||21|
|Major Newspaper websites||54||26||20|
|News Hour w/Jim Lehrer||53||19||28|
|National Public Radio||50||29||21|
|TV News websites||44||33||23|
|Google, Yahoo, etc.||41||35||24|
|Network evening news||38||33||29|
|Online news blogs||37||26||37|
|Local TV news||35||33||32|
|Network morning shows||34||36||30|
These results confirm previous studies that showed Fox viewers as being, not only the least informed, but also more likely to hold beliefs about news that were demonstrably false. You might think that the quantity and frequency of these studies would have some effect on how the rest of the media deals with Fox. They are simply not to be taken seriously. And their viewers are not an audience that is open to diverse points of view. They are too focused on their fabrications of reality.
While I have not seen a study that confirms this, I don’t believe that Fox viewers are misinformed because of Fox. I believe that they self-select the news source that comports with their prejudices. Anyone who suggests that such an audience presents an opportunity for progressives to convey an alternate view is ignoring the deep-seated, built-in biases that attract an audience to Fox in the first place. Consequently, Democrats would have absolutely nothing to gain by appearing on a Fox-sponsored debate.
The study also makes some good points in support of the position that a decentralized and diverse media universe promotes greater knowledge. The study reports that…
“…people who use more news sources know more than those who use fewer sources.”
Some of this may seem obvious, but the Republican majority commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission still have to be convinced. They are presently conducting public hearings to determine whether media ownership caps should be loosened or repealed. This, despite the fact that numerous studies have agreed with the Pew Center’s conclusions. In October of 2006, the Benton Foundation released a set of studies that…
“…make clear that media consolidation does not create better, more local or more diverse media content. To the contrary, they strongly suggest that media ownership rules should be tightened not relaxed.”
And even the FCC’s own research concurred in a report that was buried, and ordered destroyed, by then FCC Chairman Michael Powell. [You can help persuade the FCC not to allow more consolidation by contacting them through the FreePress-sponsored StopBig Media campaign].
The importance of having varied and independent sources for news has never been clearer. The myopia of Fox and it’s audience is both frightening and depressing. If we ever hope to address the larger issues that face our country and our world, we will need an informed and energized citizenry. But the effect of corporate media megaliths works in diametric opposition to that goal. They are, in fact, producing a nation steeped in ignorance and division, and this study is just another nail in that coffin. Those of us who see through the veil must continue to fight for a truly free press, the keystone of democracy and the only path to true liberty.
The Pew Center has an online version of the survey that you can complete and compare your score with the rest of the survey group.