A top professor at the University of Maryland School for Public Policy, which released a scathing report last week ranking Fox News a leading source of misinformation, said the network's response to the report was “bizarre.”
Prof. I.M. Distler is on the advisory board of WorldPublicOpinion.org, which released the report titled, “Misinformation on the 2010 Election: A Study of the U.S. Electorate.”
Among its findings:
Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that:
* Most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses.
* Most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit.
* The economy is getting worse.
* Most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring.
* The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts.
* Their own income taxes have gone up.
* The auto bailout only occurred under Obama.
* When TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it.
* And that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States.
These effects increased incrementally with increasing levels of exposure and all were statistically significant. The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it -- though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.
The New York Times reported that the report found, among other things, “regular viewers of the Fox News Channel, which tilts to the right in prime time, were significantly more likely to believe untruths about the Democratic health care overhaul, climate change and other subjects.”
But when the Times asked Fox News for reaction to the survey, Michael Clemente, Fox senior vice president of news editorial, said in a statement:
The latest Princeton Review ranked the University of Maryland among the top schools for having 'Students Who Study The Least' and being the 'Best Party School' - given these fine academic distinctions, we'll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was 'researched' with."
Distler called the response “bizarre” and “irrelevant.”
“That was bizarre. It's a silly response,” Distler told Media Matters Monday. “At least that particular [Fox] spokesman chose not to challenge the study on its merits but to make an essentially irrelevant criticism of the university. And probably a dubious criticism of the university.”
Distler added, “I thought it was interesting that they didn't say the report is based on a bad sample or the questions were the wrong questions, they try to characterize the place as a party school. Whether or not that is true, it has nothing to do with what scholars and analysts associated with the university do. It is totally irrelevant.”
Distler went on to point out what he believed were key elements of the findings as relates to Fox News coverage of certain issues.
“The stuff to me that is most amazing is about the stimulus, that more people think it hasn't worked than people think it has,” Distler said. “But the fact that you pour all that money into the economy and it doesn't make a difference is not very plausible.”
Asked what part Fox had in that viewpoint, he said, “Fox is among those who are active in promoting critical views of the administration and they have a substantial audience so I am sure they play a role.
” Like a lot of people, I think it is unfortunate that the sort of advocacy journalism in which a network seems to believe it must push a certain point of view rather than tell it straight is troublesome and Fox has been the most successful in following this particular mode, that's a problem."
Distler also pointed to Fox's part in climate change misinformation: “There is clearly a consensus that climate change is going on and the prospects are that it will accelerate in the future if further action isn't taken. The notion that there isn't a consensus is wrong. If the media is where a lot of people get their information from, the media must be responsible.”
“I think Fox is by general consent the leading and most successful practitioner of that sort of news reporting with a point of view. Opinion journalism is very important, but the problem is blurring the line between [news and opinion].”
Fox News did not respond to requests for comment Monday.