In an op-ed (“What if Fox News viewers watched CNN?”) on the Commentary page of Wednesday’s issue of The Sun, Bloomberg op-ed editor Matthew Yglesias managed to misunderstand or misrepresent roughly some research on media consumption. “Can Fox News viewers be deprogrammed? Paying them to watch CNN makes them less gullible.
Freelance writer Tim Worstall challenged the study’s assumptions, specifically noting that they asked regular Fox News watchers to watch some CNN. And when they did, those viewers were more — or maybe differently — informed about things that CNN was talking about and Fox was not. Also, vice versa, they were less knowledgeable about the things Fox was talking about compared to the control group who continued to watch him.
That’s all the study found. That people watching different news programs were differently informed on different topics. This probably comes as no surprise to most adults – we tend to think people will be more knowledgeable about the topics they just watched news shows on.
The Bloomberg writer jumps on this and insists that it shows people are less gullible, more skeptical and less inclined to buy fake news. Which, again, is not at all what the research found. The crucial point is in this little sentence:
“Yet we still found that these highly engaged supporters could be persuaded by viewing the opposition’s partisan media instead of their own.”
The study did not claim that Fox is biased and CNN is not. Quite the contrary: CNN’s choice was made specifically because it was – in the opinion of those doing the research of course – just as biased but on the other side of the median as Fox.
Thus, the conclusion is that people are informed differently depending on the medium from which they obtain their news broadcasts. This is not proof that CNN is a repository of truth and veracity that, if only people were exposed to it, would somehow benefit everyone.
At this point, being able to understand media research might be helpful. Or, if it is possible to understand, report it correctly. The scholarly article states that people who watch different media are informed differently, largely because of the story choices of these different TV channels. It says nothing at all about fake news, gullibility or skepticism. Quite the contrary, he deliberately chose CNN as the opposite of Fox News. Which, in itself, is an interesting observation, isn’t it?
Bill De Fusco