Monday, July 31, 2006

Chicken & the Egg

Mark Hyman’s latest editorial is mistitled “Bias in the News According to Harris Poll.” In fact, it’s about the perception of bias in the news media by Americans. Both actual bias and the perception of bias are significant phenomenon, but they are not the same.

Having said that, Hyman’s editorial does little more than sum up some of
the Harris Poll’s findings, among which is that 38 percent of respondents said the media has a liberal bias, while 25 percent say that there is a conservative bias.

Hyman probably assumes that this somehow indicates the “realness” of a liberal bias as compared to a conservative bias. Given the constant drumbeating on the right about alleged lefty bias, however, it’s both surprising and heartening (at least to me) to see the perception of liberal vs. conservative bias so close. It suggests, among other things, that advocacy groups such as Media Matters for America are getting their message through, and that the American people are gradually wising up to the right wing mythology that portrays an increasingly consolidated and corporate media as leftwing agent provocateurs.

One more shaded statistic Hyman uses is the difference between “heavy” news users (who the study says prefer FOX News) and “light” news users (who prefer CNN). The unstated implication is that people who take the news seriously go to FOX to get their fix.

But this leaves out some data that’s not in the Harris poll, but important in looking at the demographics of news consumption. A
study done by the Program on International Policy Attitudes in late 2003 found conclusively that those who got their news from FOX were demonstrably and significantly more likely hold erroneous beliefs about some objective facts concerning the Iraq invasion and its aftermath.

Significantly, viewers who got most or all of their news from other commercial television sources also tended to have relatively high levels of erroneous beliefs about the war. The most knowledgeable group? Those who got their news from PBS and/or NPR.

So while FOX viewers might be “heavy” consumers of the news, it doesn’t make them better informed. Quite the opposite. The more you watch FOX, the dumber you get.

This leads us to a philosophical quandary: do people become dumb by watching FOX, or do people choose to watch FOX because they are dumb to begin with? I’m guessing it’s a bit of both. In any case, FOX News is a statistically-proven force multiplier when it comes to stupidity.

I can’t help but wonder how Hyman devotees would fair on a PIPA’s content quiz.

But, to again quote Mr. Stephen Colbert, facts have a well-known liberal bias, right?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.35


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