Closing the Fox News-Misinformation Debate…For Now

By Chris Mooney | June 29, 2011 9:30 am

Despite the fact that I conclusively refuted Politifact last week over the Fox News-Jon Stewart affair, the site does not seem intent on reversing itself and affirming reality. Facts, in this case, don’t seem to matter–not even to the fact checkers.

My latest DeSmog item is just to provide a summary of this state of affairs–because this is not the last we are going to hear of this matter, I’m quite confident. But there won’t really be anything more to say until there is more evidence, either in support of me or otherwise–or until there is another controversy about Fox and the misinformation believed by its viewers.

The item begins like this:

My two posts about Fox News and misinformation are probably the most popular items I’ve contributed here. They’ve been widely linked, Tweeted and Facebooked hundreds of times, and viewed well over ten thousand times. That’s because they perform a simple task that, at least as far as I had seen when I wrote the first one, hadn’t been done elsewhere: They list studies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) showing that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed about an array of factual—but politicized—issues.

In these posts, I’ve tried to be as dispassionate as one can be on such a matter. I’ve repeatedly said that the studies don’t prove that Fox causes people to be misinformed; they just show a correlation, but the causal arrow could run in either direction (or both). I’ve also said that there may well be other studies out there than the 6 that I’ve found; and there may even be studies out there showing some cases where Fox News viewers are not the most misinformed. Indeed, I could design such a study myself–though it would have to be politically skewed by only asking about topics where liberals and Democrats are likely to be misinformed….

You can read on here.

Let’s remember why this matters–there are facts about the world, and ways of determining what they are, and these facts have significance and consequences. That’s why we have to hold the misinformers to account–and also, sadly, do the same for the fact-checkers.


Comments (32)

  1. Walker

    Politifact has demonstrated their bias repeatedly. People need to stop referring to that organization as a “fact checker”.

  2. shams

    Have you read much Assange, Chris?

    Moderator: The question has to do with the shift, alleged shift at Wikileaks from simply posting the material, having it crowdsourced, and people interpreting it, to actually interpreting what it means. Is that a change?

    Julian Assange: No. That’s part of the right-wing reality distortion field (some laughs in audience). Mother Jones has had some changes in the past few years.

    No, there hasn’t been a change, whatsoever. Although of course it was our hope that, initially, that because we had vastly more material than we could possibly go through, if we just put it out there, people would summarize it themselves. That very interestingly didn’t happen. Quite an extraordinary thing.

    Our initial idea — which never got implemented — our initial idea was that, look at all those people editing Wikipedia. Look at all the junk that they’re working on. Surely, if you give them a fresh classified document about the human rights atrocities in Falluja, that the rest of the world has not seen before, that, you know, that’s a secret document, surely all those people that are busy working on articles about history and mathematics and so on, and all those bloggers that are busy pontificating about the abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries and other human rights disasters, who are complaining that they can only respond to the NY Times, because they don’t have sources of their own, surely those people will step forward, given fresh source material and do something.

    No. It’s all bullshit. It’s ALL bullshit. In fact, people write about things, in general (if it’s not part of their career) because they want to display their values to their peers, who are already in the same group. Actually, they don’t give a fuck about the material. That’s the reality.

    That is the FOXeffect.

  3. John

    Isn’t that always the anti-american right wing’s way? they replace fact with fiction and science with faith or pseudo-science they are just trying to hide truth in a massive haystack of B.S.
    When it spills into political debate and the future of the country I call it treason.

  4. Rolf

    Next do a study on CNN misinformation.

  5. Me

    Leave politics to the politicians. A more thorough devotion to SCIENCE and the SCIENTIFIC METHOD could save us all a lot of trouble.

  6. Steve

    Chris: The fact that you appeared on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” further exposes an idealogical bias. You’re free to criticize Fox all you want. But Lawrence O’Donnell is truly the most hateful personality on television — now that Keith is gone.

  7. Chris Mooney

    @4 all of these studies *are* studies of “CNN misinformation”…fox viewers are compared to viewers of other networks in terms of what misinformation they believe. That includes viewers of CNN. Go read the studies.

    @6 I’d be happy to discuss this on Fox News too!

  8. Chris,

    I stand by my point that there isn’t a thinking person who doesn’t know that FOX is biased, but the great thing is that it’s quite obvious when it’s feeding you a line of bs. The chaps I’m worried about are the more subtle types, a point rather neatly illustrated by falsities pushed by those studies themselves.

  9. shams

    but Hugo, because of factblocking and backfire effect in conservatives, the FOX audience believes misinformation is true. That is one reason America is the industrialized nation with highest incidence of creationism belief and AGW denialism.
    As Chris points out, this is a Very Big Deal, because until the demographic timer goes off, the flat-earthers make up half the electorate.

  10. Laura Meritt

    It’s a big mistake to let a tabloid-political constant/campaign ‘show’ call themself news and get away with it. It is like treason and fox is ruining america with their lies.

  11. jeff

    so basically, if a news source tells you what you want to hear, in this case a left-wing bias then it’s “news” or “the truth” and if like fox, they come from a different point of view then it’s misinformation. sounds like fascism to me. there are other points of view and when politics are concerned there is no “truth”. what’s more harmful, fox news telling a different story or a press that won’t’ report the truth. the press gives obama a free pass on everything e.g. kill squads in Afghanistan, guantanimo bay, libya, yemen the list goes on. these are impeachable offenses and if it had been bush the press would have been all over it, obama? free pass. the man has blatantly lied about everything from unemployment to his non-kinetic military actions that are killing civilians and theres on criticism in the press whatsoever. who asks to see the caskets anymore, or the body counts of fallen soldiers which used to be headlines on the nyt site. the fact is that no one cares what is being done only who is doing it.

  12. Clarence Knight

    Talk about thinking persons. Who are they ?. The odds are you are not one of them.
    It seems to me its pure chance (A flip of a coin) whether you are a liberal or conservative.
    I figure 35% of each side can’t change their minds no matter what. That’s 75% of voters.
    Why else would elections be so close. There is only about 20 to 30% of voters that can change their minds.
    I don’t think the human mind has evolved far enough to be truly logical and evolution is so slow I don’t think there will be any change anytime soon.
    I cringe when they talk about computers becoming as smart as humans. That will be the day they become useless for logical solutions.
    Above percentages are approximate.

  13. Steve

    Is Fox biased? Sure — there’s no question about it. But no more so than any of the liberal media outlets. Moreover, nobody comes close to MSNBC when it comes to pushing an ideaology. Come on. Let’s admit reality.

  14. “The author is a liberal!”
    “George Soros is paying all the liberals off!”
    “Liberals are arrogant!”
    “Liberals are Socialists!”
    “Liberals are elitists!”

    Nothing that has been said here by the other side has been a direct response to these two facts:
    1. Fox News viewers are consistently among the most misinformed viewers.
    2. Fox News consistently misinforms its viewers.

  15. when you gate for the fact that the average fox viewer is less intelligent because conservatives sadly tend to be, the disparity is not that huge, i’d wager.

  16. shams,

    That’s true, but, to take that in order, as a practicing biologist, I don’t find my work is affected by what other people think. As to the second part, as I have observed elsewhere, the reason people deny APGW is not because of the science but because of the politics, because it is seen as placing huge power in the hands of a tiny ruling class whose ambitions are questionable to put it mildly.

    Now, I just want to concentrate on the fact that you specify a conservative backfire effect. There isn’t an American ‘liberal’ who doesn’t know how to snigger at the phrase “Fox News: Fair and Balanced”. There also doesn’t seem to be a single American ‘liberal’ who has a word to say about the antics of Michael Moore, a man who deals in the cheapest kinds of populist demagoguery, wild talk of hidden financial conspiracies and defends movements of the ultra-right and fascist tyrants who murder those they consider racially inferior with poison gas. That is far worse than FOX. That’s far worse even then the likes of Ann Coulter. This is Leni Riefenstahl and Der Sturmer stuff, and the whole of the American left embraces this stuff with, at most, euphemistic claptrap, and more usually with wild hosannas. So some choice words about motes and beams seem appropriate.

    Even the British left – well, let me give you one example. I say, and I can prove it, that the Guardian consciously took the side of the worst people in the world, the Interahamwe, in its reporting on the Congo. This matters way more than some nonsense about creationism or anti-APGW; lots of people have died and will continue to die because of this evil nonsense.

    Even if we restrict ourselves to scientific matters, the American left’s record on opposing GM crops, opposing industrialization and so on, makes it far more dangerous and far more sinister than the right could ever be. As I have said, it’s the subtle liar that you must be wary of.

    To conclude then: the problem is not “the Murdoch Empire” or “the liberal media hegemony”. The problem is an unwillingness on behalf of people to read as widely as possible, to do their own thinking, to be critical and skeptical. That is the problem that needs fixing.

  17. Incredulous

    #13 Steve:

    “Moreover, nobody comes close to MSNBC when it comes to pushing an ideaology. Come on. Let’s admit reality.”

    But the difference is that the liberals are apparently able to somehow ignore the bias but the conservatives are mindless drones that believe everything they are told.

    My usual pattern for news is to listen to NPR and hear everything skewed to the left until I get exasperated then switch to conservative talk radio until I my brain screams. I can take about two days of each.

  18. shams

    read it.
    dig jay rosen.

    Jay Rosen comments–Hi Jonah. You said… “And it’s worth pointing out that this irrationality applies to both sides of the political spectrum.)”

    But you overlooked something in the Boston Globe article you were writing about. The article is mainly about the so-called “backfire” effect, wherein contrary information not only doesn’t inform but actually strengthens the existing (and incorrect) belief, thus backfiring. Seems irrational, right? Here’s what the article says about this irrationality applying across the board:

    Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.
    For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

    In other words, the backfire effect did not occur “across the board.” It was observed among conservatives and not among liberals, at least in this portion of the study. However, blocking out facts that were inconvenient did occur among liberals, as well. This shows that liberals are not immune to these irrational tendencies, but it does not show that the irrationality discussed in the Globe article is evenly distributed across the political spectrum. I think that’s an important qualifier.

    I also think that there’s a danger of PC thinking taking over here. In being careful not to encourage fantasies among liberals of being immune from these tendencies, which is an entirely valid thing to do, some writers, I have noticed, are too quick to suggest that a kind of symmetry reigns over political behavior. I don’t think we should be doing that.

    There are emergent statistically significant between group difference.
    All men are created equal….genes and memes not so much.

  19. shams

    wild talk of hidden financial conspiracies and defends movements of the ultra-right and fascist tyrants who murder those they consider racially inferior with poison gas. That is far worse than FOX. That’s far worse even then the likes of Ann Coulter. This is Leni Riefenstahl and Der Sturmer stuff

    that is quite untrue and quite disgustingly unscientific. raving about eugenicists? i don’t believe you are a practicing biologist for a heartbeat.
    the simple truth is that there is a biological basis for all behavior, and we are starting to unpack the actual, measureable differences between conservative and liberal personality types.
    Only part of the difference is actual molecular/cellular biology.

  20. Well, speaking of eliminating unwanted facts from ones perception, none of this responds to any specific, concrete point that I made.

    I have, as per your request, looked at the study. I’ll take a look at this line:

    describe the (unsupported) belief that Iraq hid or moved
    its WMD before the U.S. invasion as an “interpretation” of that fact.

    Unsupported, huh? Try the following:

    Key words:

    “munitions production plant that international inspectors called a complete potential nuclear weapons laboratory … The kinds of machinery at the various sites included equipment that could be used to make missile parts, chemical weapons or centrifuges essential for enriching uranium for atom bombs. … systematically dismantled and removed tons of machinery from Saddam Hussein’s most important weapons installations, including some with high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms.”

    Uh-huh. I rest my case.

  21. shams


    as we sufi’s say, man cannot acquire what he cannot use.

    i think we have a field test of conservative backfire effect, where correction just increases the salience of the falsehood.
    let me guess….you are a libertarian, Hugo? or a conservative?

  22. shams

    Uh-huh. I rest my case.

    as i rest mine. shukran for the discussion.

  23. shams

    a question for Chris.

    why can’t people talk about red/blue genetics without losing their tempers?

  24. shams,

    A Sufi, huh? Yes, you guys have a good line in sayings, on the import of aggressive and imperialist war, on getting Jews to wear yellow patches, on how Hitler was God’s just punishment on the Jews, on the place of women as being at home, getting on the with the spinning.

    I have provided you with cold print proof that something asserted in your “study” was junk, and you ignored it. Go figure.

    And no, I am neither a conservative nor a libertarian. You may keep your tuppeny-happeny categorisations to yourself.

  25. Paul

    I’d like to see this issue come up in the next election as a tactic. Democratic pollsters should start asking questions of fact alongside questions of who the citizen plans to vote for. Then, once the correlation of misinformation on X is established, follow with, “, will you set the facts straight on X? Do you care whether your supports are misinformed about X? Are you afraid that if you set the facts straight on X, you’ll lose that support?” It might not work, but it would be righteous. Should the GOP candidate set the record straight, that would probably be more valuable in itself than a Democrat win.

  26. Robert Stanley

    Discover is becoming what Newsweek became: biased. Like Newsweek, as it drifts from facts to PC fixed ideas, it will lose readership.
    The entire Mooney-inspired discussion reveals the weakness of the claims against Fox. It reveals that Discover made no scientific attempt to disprove its theory nor check the reliability of its sources.
    Besides the sloppy process, Discover acts completely unaware of the liberal idea that there are no “objective” facts, just “narratives.” Despite the supposed “anti-science” bias of Conservatives (who actually promote science, but do not let it override principles such as the primacy of unborn life), as a college professor and Classical Liberal, I have always feared the “narrative” attraction of modern, “progressive” liberals. They do not recognize that opinion (such as the one Mooney confirms) is more unpredictable and dangerous than science and principle.

  27. shams


    I have provided you with cold print proof that something asserted in your “study” was junk, and you ignored it. Go figure.

    you assert that there were WMD’s? Is that your assertion?

    A Sufi, huh? Yes, you guys have a good line in sayings, on the import of aggressive and imperialist war, on getting Jews to wear yellow patches, on how Hitler was God’s just punishment on the Jews, on the place of women as being at home, getting on the with the spinning.

    i think you confuse Sufis with Salafis. 😉

    Robert Stanley;

    as a college professor and Classical Liberal

    where do you teach? Oral Roberts?

    bi la kayfah

  28. Shams,

    No, I do not confuse Sufis and Salafis. Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a sufi. Al-Ghazali, the man singly responsible for destroying Islam’s age of reason, was a sufi. What I quoted is taken directly from them. Lest anyone think that I am being especially mean, I would raise the same objections to this sort of stuff coming from any other religious background.

    As regards WMDs, there’s no question that there was the machinery to produce them and the ambition to acquire them, and that at least some of this machinery has gone for a walk. And also that there is a list of material that the Hussein government said that it had that has never been accounted for.

  29. shams

    “What I quoted is taken directly from them.”
    That is a lie.

    Or give meh page and line then. this is what i remember al-Ghazali writing, in Ihya al-Ulum al-Din or Ihya’ul Ulumuddin.

    A grievous crime indeed against religion has been committed by the man who imagines that Islam is defended by the denial of the mathematical sciences, seeing that there is nothing in revealed truth opposed to these sciences by way of either negation or affirmation, and nothing in these sciences opposed to the truth of religion.

  30. Hugo Schmidt

    Quick to accuse of lying, short on the facts. Typical religious apologist:

    As regards the rest of it, here is Al Ghazali on the position of women:

    She should stay home and get on with her spinning, she should not go out often, she must not be well-informed, nor must she be communicative with her neighbors and only visit them when absolutely necessary; she should take care of her husband and respect him in his presence and his absence and seek to satisfy him in everything… she must not leave the house without his permission and if given his permission she must leave surreptitiously. She should put on old clothes and take deserted streets and alleys, avoid markets, and make sure that a stranger does not hear her voice or recognize her; she must not speak to a friend of her husband even in need… Her sole worry should be her virtue, her home as well as her prayers and her fast. If a friend of her husband calls when the latter is absent she must not open the door nor reply to him in order to safeguard her and her husband’s honor. She should accept what her husband gives her as sufficient sexual needs at any moment… She should be clean and ready to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs at any moment.

    And so on.

  31. shams

    This thread is about FOXnews misinformation spread. I think it is actually disinformation, in that a lot of it is deliberate.
    You said both sides do it. That is not true. Only conservatives exhibit backfire effect in the linked study.
    And then you proceed to exhibit backfire effect on Iraq WMDs, and then try to discredit my thesis (also Jay Rosen’s and Brendan Nyhan’s thesis) by slurring me as a religious apologist.
    Empirically, it seems you have conservative genetic tendancy, which often expresses as Islamophobia or xenophobia in my experience.

  32. shams apparently not allowed to respond, but Hugo, you are derailing the thread.
    Neither my faith or my sex have anything to do with conservative backfire effect, FOXnews disinformation, fact-blocking, red/blue genetics or Assangian information theory.



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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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