Just so you know

By the time you read this I’ll probably already be on my way to Chicago for a Political Science conference.  This will surely slow considerably the pace of blogging (as had the need to write a paper for the conference in the past week) for the next few days while I take the opportunity to learn about all the cutting edge research in political science.  Or while I spend time catching up with all my favorite political scientists from around the world.  Okay, maybe a little bit of that first one.

Fox News and Politifact

Nice excerpt from Chris Mooney’s new book on just why Fox News viewers are so misinformed.  There’s a side note on the utter cluelessness of Politifact (so annoying how those fact checkers have to try so hard to pretend that they are fair and unbiased when one side is clearly systematically out-and-out lying more than the other).  Apparently, Politifact does understand the difference at all between informed and misinformed, but it’s a damn important one:

“Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers?” Stewart asked Wallace. “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”

Stewart’s statement was factually accurate, as we’ll see. The next day, however, the fact-checking site PolitiFact weighed in and rated it “false.” In claiming to check Stewart’s “facts,” PolitiFact ironically committed a serious error—and later, doubly ironically, failed to correct it. How’s that for the power of fact checking?

There probably is a small group of media consumers out there somewhere in the world who are more misinformed, overall, than Fox News viewers. But if you only consider mainstream U.S. television news outlets with major audiences (e.g., numbering in the millions), it really is true that Fox viewers are the most misled based on all the available evidence—especially in areas of political controversy. This will come as little surprise to liberals, perhaps, but the evidence for it—evidence in Stewart’s favor—is pretty overwhelming.

So, why all the misinformation?  Well, for starters, selective exposure.  People seek out information sources that confirm their pre-existing beliefs.  And why should this be worse for Conservatives?

When are people most likely to seek out self-affirming information? Hart found that they’re most vulnerable to selective exposure if they have defensive goals—for instance, being highly committed to a preexisting view, and especially a view that is tied to a person’s core values. Another defensive motivation identified in Hart’s study was closed-mindedness, which makes a great deal of sense. It is probably part of the definition of being closed-minded, or dogmatic, that you prefer to consume information that agrees with what you already believe.

So who’s closed-minded? Multiple studies have shown that political conservatives—e.g., Fox viewers–tend to have a higher need for closure. Indeed, this includes a group called right-wing authoritarians, who are increasingly prevalent in the Republican Party. This suggests they should also be more likely to select themselves into belief-affirming information streams, like Fox News or right-wing talk radio or the Drudge Report. Indeed, a number of research results support this idea.

Well, there you go.  (And here’s a post a wrote some time back on the really interesting research on authoritarianism).  Anyway, the whole thing is an excellent read that really brings the social science.

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