“Pseudo facts”

    A new major survey has found that regular viewers of Fox News are the most ill-informed Americans of all. But I doubt that you are shocked to learn this. The infauxtainment channel has been fomenting stupidity for a long time – other surveys have unearthed such evidence – and it’s tempting to just treat Fox News as an annoying natural occurrence, like a flood or a blizzard. But no. This new study, by Fairleigh Dickinson University, is actually a fresh opportunity to examine the damage that is done to the body politic when credulous people ingest junk factoids that have no basis in factual reality.The shorthand conclusion of the survey is that, on average, regular Fox viewers are dumber than Americans who watch or hear no news at all. That’s even harsher than the finding announced in 2010 by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, where researchers merely concluded that self-identified Fox loyalists are less cognizant of factual reality than Americans who regularly get their news from all other outlets.The Fairleigh Dickinson folks asked 1,185 respondents nationwide what news sources they consumed in the past week, and followed up by asking for the correct answers to five questions about domestic affairs. Few of the respondents appeared to be particularly well-informed; regular NPR listeners scored highest, on average, with 1.51 correct answers, and consumers of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show finished second, at 1.42. The survey team determined that, on average, Americans who don’t watch or hear any news posted a correct score of 1.22. The Fox viewers finished dead last, at 1.04.That sounds about right. That’s consistent with previous surveys. Indeed, using different measurements in 2010, the University of Maryland people also determined that Fox devotees were the most clueless – for instance, 60 percent of Fox regulars mistakenly believed that climate change is not occurring and that scientists are evenly divided, whereas, among those those who never watch Fox, only 30 percent believed those lies; and whereas 63 percent of Fox regulars believed it was unclear whether Barack Obama is American-born or believed for sure that he is not, only 30 percent of non-Fox viewers bought those lies.At the risk of my stating the obvious: The problem with Fox is not its conservative ideology; rather, it’s the concocting of fake information to support the ideology. There have been some beauts recently, like when host Steve Doocy made up a quote and stuck it in Obama’s mouth, falsely reporting that Obama had prided himself on not being born with a silver spoon in his mouth “unlike some people” – a Doocy-invented reference to Mitt Romney. Naturally, this Foxfactoid ricocheted around the conservative bubble, as evidence by all the emails I received from Foxfans, who dutifully quoted Doocy faux-quoting Obama and who then raged at the president’s supposed impertinence. (Doocy finally was compelled to admit that he had “seemed to misquote” Obama.) Last November, I also got emails raging at Obama for supposedly imposing a tax on Christmas trees – fresh evidence, I was told, of the (alleged) socialist’s (alleged) war on Christianity. Naturally, these emails came within days of a Fox report about “a new Christmas tree tax.” It later turned out, of course, that the Foxfactoid, and especially the innuendo attached to it, was a fraud. The issue at hand was actually a 15-cent fee per tree that had been proposed not by Obama, but by a trade group, the National Christmas Tree Association, which wanted to use the money for a marketing campaign to promote domestic trees and thus compete more effectively with the artificial trees imported from China. The idea had been kicking around for 20 years. The U.S. Agriculture Department considered the fee, as a way to help the domestic Christmas tree industry – and ultimately rejected it, thanks to the right-wing heat.The list of Fox falsehoods is way too long to tabulate here, although I was fascinated earlier this month to watch Sean Hannity reiterate a Koch brothers lie about how Obama supposedly spent “$39 million to build traffic lights in China” – whereas, in reality, American cities used that stimulus money to install new energy-efficient street and traffic lights that included some components from China.Suffice it to say that David Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter and longtime conservative author-commentator, got it right not long ago when he skewered Fox News for inventing “an alternative knowledge system,” for immersing its audience “in a total environment of pseudo facts and pretend information.” He hardly needed the results of yet another survey to state what he sees with his own eyes; as he remarked on CNN last December about the Christmas tree tax scare, the pseudo story reinforced Fox-generated fears of “this Muslim-y kind of president trying to destroy a Christian holiday.””The question is,” he said, “what is the impact on the viewer?” Indeed, what is the impact on our political discourse? But we already know the answer.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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