In Fox We Trust? (or, A Sinking Tide Lowers All Boats)

February 2nd, 2010

Fox News took out a full page ad in Sunday’s Washington Post trumpeting that “more Americans trust Fox News than any other news network,” citing a poll by Public Policy Polling in January 2010. For more, read Fox: The Most Trusted Name in News – Tuned In – TIME.com (in particular this very insightful comment), Huff TV: Arianna Discusses Roger Ailes And Glenn Beck On Countdown, Bill Mann: Sorry That I Hurt Fox News Czar Roger Ailes’ Tender Feelings, Fox Is The Most Trusted Name In News According To New Poll (NewsBusters.org), The Most Trusted Name in News : Rolling Stone, Fox the most trusted name in news? (Public Policy Polling 1/26/10), and Is Fox Suddenly ‘The Most Trusted Name in News’? (TheWrap.com 2/01/10). For more detailed analysis (in prose this time), read my discussion after the poem, and/or download the spreadsheet with the detailed data and calculations.

“A generation ago you would have expected Americans to place their trust in the most neutral and unbiased conveyors of news. But the media landscape has really changed and now they’re turning more toward the outlets that tell them what they want to hear.” — Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling
 
“Fox is less to the Right than all other networks are to the Left. Closest one to the real neutrality – wins…” – Comment by Dusanmal (Dvorak Uncensored 1/27/10)


You’re the most trusted name in news?

If so, that’s a trust you most sorely abuse.


“More Americans trust Fox News than any other news network,”

Your self-satisfied commentators claim with a smirk.

What have you done to earn that self-declared position,

But make lies seem like truth through endless repetition.


You’ve been factually wrong so many times,

One has to think you do it on purpose sometimes.

And your “fair and balanced” portrayal of news

Is so blatantly biased in favor of right-wing views.


This survey is yet another case in which you facts pick and choose–

The truth is that less than half of those surveyed said they trust Fox News.

The survey’s margin of error is +/- 2.8 percent, so the level of trust could be even lower.

In reality, all the networks’ trust is eroding, but maybe Fox’s is just eroding slower.


The survey firm’s president seemed surprised at the reviews,

Saying you’d expect people to trust “neutral and unbiased conveyors of news.”

He said the results show people turn to “outlets that tell them what they want to hear”

I’d hardly call that a reason for Fox News to be so cavalier.


More interesting that the averages is where Fox’s “trust” comes from

(Not that I’d suggest that the trusters are dumb).

But if you look at the stats, it becomes very clear

That Fox’s report of viewer trust is quite insincere.


For both liberals and moderates, Fox was the least trusted of all–

It’s only conservatives that for Fox’s “fair and balanced” trick fall.

The trust gap between moderates and liberals was small,

While the trust gap between moderates and conservatives was the biggest of all.


Fox tells it’s viewers about the “Liberal media bias,”

And viewers assume that’s true (they never bother to try us).

If Fox viewers distrust other networks based on what Fox tells them,

Is it fair for Fox on that basis other networks to condemn?


I am a Liberal, and I too distrust Fox’s far-right new screening,

But I also realize that MSNBC’s views are left-leaning.

I trust CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC to report the facts as best they can,

And remain objective in their news reporting by anchorwomen.


What Fox doesn’t seem to get is the difference between commentary and news

With the former, one’s expected to have political views.

But with the latter, one’s supposed to be objective

(At least that’s supposed to be the objective).


Other network news shows are pretty good at that separation

(E.g. NBC News keeps MSNBC commentary as a separate affiliation),

But with Fox everything’s mixed together, and the facts are up for grabs,

And the news anchor periodically in commentary dabs.


How else can one explain that most Fox viewers

Still believe Iraqis were the 9-11 evildoers?

How else can one explain that Fox was the only news show

To recently cut off the President’s statements and to its own commentators go.


If you diss all the other networks, and everybody else disses you,

The general lack of trust will affect you too.

It’s kind of like the GOP saying Dem poll numbers are down,

When theirs are even closer to the ground.


So remember, a sinking tide lowers all boats.

Your carping about everyone else’s “liberal media bias” your own extremity denotes.


***

More detailed analysis of the statistics shows even more conclusively that Fox’s “most trusted” is unfounded and highly misleading. Less than half (49%) of all those surveyed (including conservatives) said they trust Fox News. As shown in the table below, conservatives are the only one who trust Fox.


Who

Trust

Fox

CNN

NBC

CBS

ABC

All

Trust

49

39

35

32

31

All

Don’t trust

37

41

44

46

48

Liberals

Trust

26

63

64

56

50

Liberals

Don’t trust

66

21

22

29

31

Moderates

Trust

33

47

44

41

39

Moderates

Don’t trust

48

31

33

33

34

Conservatives

Trust

75

22

15

14

16

Conservatives

Don’t trust

13

60

66

68

67


This table also shows that for both liberals and moderates, Fox was the least trusted and most distrusted of all the networks, by significant margins. So, if Fox wanted to be accurate (which of course they don’t), their full-page ads should have read “the news network least trusted by everyone but conservatives.”

It’s also interesting to note that conservatives tend to be more unquestioning in their views than either moderates or liberals. Even liberals (including myself) acknowledge that MSNBC is left-leaning in its commentary (though I do believe they, unlike Fox, are truthful in their presentation of facts), as evidenced by the 22% of liberals that say they distrust NBC. Only 13% of conservatives, on the other hand, distrust Fox. And remember, those 75% of conservative viewers (and 74% of GOP viewers) that trust Fox are the same people who believe that Obama is (or might be) a racist socialist Kenyan elected thanks to ACORN fraud who wants the terrorists to win (see the Daily Kos/Resarch 2000 poll summary here and full results here).


As shown in the table below, the “trust gap” (the degree to which liberals and moderates differed in their trust for each network, calculated from the raw data above) between moderates and liberals is small. Liberals and moderates differed only by 7% in the extent to which they trust Fox. They differed a little more in the extent to which they distrust Fox (18% fewer moderates than liberals distrusted Fox), for a total trust gap of 25%. 


Who

Trust

Fox

CNN

NBC

CBS

ABC

Lib-Mod

Trust gap

-7

16

20

15

11

Lib-Mod

Distrust gap

18

-10

-11

-4

-3

Lib-Mod

Total gap

25

26

31

19

14

Cons-Mod

Trust gap

42

-25

-29

-27

-23

Cons-Mod

Distrust gap

-35

29

33

35

33

Cons-Mod

Total gap

77

54

62

62

56

Extremism factor

3.1

2.1

2.0

3.3

4.0


The conservative-moderate total trust gap was more than three times the liberal-moderate one (77% versus 25%, which I refer to in the table as the “extremism factor”), i.e., libs were close to moderates, but conservatives were far off in their own world in their trust and distrust. The same is true (though to a lesser extent) about attitudes towards NBC: liberals and moderate total trust levels differ by 31%, while the total trust gap between moderates and conservatives is twice that. For the other, non-politicized networks, the total trust gaps between liberals and moderates are even smaller than the NBC trust/distrust gap (14-26%), while conservatives remain highly distrustful, even of the un-politicized networks (54-62% total trust gap), for “extremism factors” of 2.1-to 4. What that shows is that liberals are not far from the political center in terms of their attitudes, but that conservatives are far from the political center (quantitative evidence that you’re wrong, Dusanmal). In fact, according to this indicator, conservatives are two to four times as far from the center as liberals are, which just shows how extremist supposedly “conservative” views have become.


As shown by the table below, the same basic conclusions hold when comparing liberals, moderates, and conservatives to survey averages. However, the impact of comparison to the survey averages is muted (and mutated) by the extreme views of the conservatives, and is therefore not as useful. It’s like if you have four people whose salaries are $30K, $40K, $50K, $80K, and $100 million (say the last guy is a hedge fund manager in a bad year), their average salary would be $25.05 million. To conclude from those figures that the “average” worker earns (as Fox does when they trumpet their “average” trust levels) is severely misleading, which is why economists and statisticians often use the median instead of average incomes. “Median” means the person in the middle of the range, which in this case is $50K—much more representative of the “average” person in this case. The same effect of using average instead of median figures is shown in the table below when one compares moderates (which are the equivalent of the “median” in this survey) and “average” attitudes: the moderates differ from the average because the average figures are mutated by the extreme conservative views, just like that extremely high salary above makes the “average” salary much, much higher than the average person’s salary.


Who

Trust

Fox

CNN

NBC

CBS

ABC

Lib-All/Av.

Trust gap

-23

24

29

24

19

Lib-All/Av.

Distrust gap

29

-20

-22

-17

-17

Lib-All/Av.

Total gap

52

44

51

41

36

Mod-All/Av.

Trust gap

-16

8

9

9

8

Mod-All/Av.

Distrust gap

11

-10

-11

-13

-14

Mod-All/Av.

Total gap

27

18

20

22

22

Cons-All/Av.

Trust gap

26

-17

-20

-18

-15

Cons-All/Av.

Distrust gap

-24

19

22

22

19

Cons-All/Av.

Total gap

50

36

42

40

34


Unfortunately, the survey did not collect separate statistics for NBC News and MSNBC (NBC’s news commentary group), which means that all those responses were lumped together. If they had been separated out, it’s likely that NBC would have been more trusted and less distrusted (maybe even higher than Fox overall), since NBC was the most trusted among liberals and the second most trusted among conservatives. It’s also unfortunate that Comedy Central wasn’t included, since an increasing number of people now apparently get their news from The Daily Show. Sure, Jon Stewart is a comedian, but he still is more truthful about the facts than Fox News, as evidenced by Time magazine’s July 2009 poll in which Stewart trounced the competition with 44% of the vote, compared to 29% for Brian Williams, 19% for Charlie Gibson, and 7% for Katie Couric.


Please not that in my spreadsheet, I show both the “ideology” categories (liberal, moderate, and conservative) and the “party” categories (Dem, Republican, and Independent), but I think the former are more useful in understanding the data than the latter (that’s why they’re what I focused on in my discussion above). While most Republicans fall in the conservative category and most Dems in the liberal one, the “Independents” mess things up, since some of them are even farther right than the Republicans, and therefore throw off the comparison. Still, even with that influence, the same broad conclusions described above for the “ideology” categories apply to party affiliation as well.


For the raw survey data, download my spreadsheet analysis, which include the full survey results.


PS: For more on the female anchor trend, read these two articles.

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9 Responses to “In Fox We Trust? (or, A Sinking Tide Lowers All Boats)”

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