The study, released
this month by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, a research center that conducts polling, surveys, and other research on popular culture, found that some news organizations have “a negative impact" on people’s knowledge of current events such that it would've been better if those in the study didn't watch any news at all.
The center found this information by asking 1,185 Americans nationwide four questions about current political and economic events in the U.S. and five questions about current international events; and from what sources – if any – in the past week did they get their information.
The results, a press release
states, confirm initial findings presented in a New Jersey focused poll (from November of 2011). On average, people were able to answer correctly 1.8 of 4 questions about international news, and 1.6 of 5 questions about U.S. affairs.
“Of course, knowledge of current events is predicted not just by watching news, but also by factors like ideology, education, age and gender,” said Dan Cassino, political scientist and poll analyst. “Based on these results, people who don’t watch any news at all are expected to answer correctly on average 1.22 of the questions about domestic politics, just by guessing or relying on existing basic knowledge.”
With that in mind, the study concluded that the news organization that had the largest negative effect on viewers was that of Fox News.
In particular, they found that regular viewers of the Fox News Channel, which typically leans to the right politically, were significantly more likely to answer just 1.04 questions about U.S. affairs correctly — a figure which is significantly worse than if they had reported watching no media at all.
"Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News," Cassino said in an earlier release
. "Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all."
But Fox didn't stand alone. The study found other cases where greater exposure to media had a negative impact on knowledge of current events. Regular viewers of MSNBC, which tends to lean left politically, scored next to last in international questions and third to last on the domestic questions. "On the whole, MSNBC, for instance, had no impact on political knowledge one way or the other."
“Ideological news sources, like Fox and MSNBC, are really just talking to one audience,” said Cassino. “This is solid evidence that if you’re not in that audience, you’re not going to get anything out of watching them.”
Fox blasts findings
Asked for comment on the study, Fox News wasn't impressed.
In fact, The Hollywood Reporter
said that a Fox News Channel (FNC) spokesperson not only blasted the findings, but had some findings to report of their own.
The spokesperson said that instead of Fairleigh Dickinson University focusing on how they do their jobs at Fox, the school really needs to focus on how they do their own.
Fairleigh Dickinson University students aren't exactly scholars themselves, the person told the Reporter.
“Considering [Fairleigh Dickinson University’s] undergraduate school is ranked as one of the worst in the country,” said the FNC spokesperson to the Reporter, “we suggest the school invest in improving its weak academic program instead of spending money on frivolous polling – their student body does not deserve to be so ill-informed.”
According to the Reporter, Fairleigh Dickinson University was No. 585 on a Forbes ranking of 650 U.S. colleges.
Here are the questions the study participants were asked to answer:
1. To the best of your knowledge, have the opposition groups protesting in Egypt been successful in removing Hosni Mubarak
2. How about the opposition groups in Syria? Have they been successful in removing Bashar al-Assad?
3. Some countries in Europe are deeply in debt, and have had to be bailed out by other countries. To the best of your knowledge, which country has had to spend the most money to bail out European countries?
4. There have been increasing talks about economic sanctions against Iran. What are these sanctions supposed to do?
5. Which party has the most seats in the House of Representatives right now?
6. In December, House Republicans agreed to a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut, but only if President Obama agreed to do what?
7. It took a long time to get the final results of the Iowa caucuses for Republican candidates. In the end, who was declared the winner?
8. How about the New Hampshire Primary? Which Republican won that race?
9. According to official figures, about what percentage of Americans are currently unemployed?
4. Dissuade them from pursuing a nuclear program
6. Approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline
7. Rick Santorum
8. Mitt Romney
9. 8.1 percent