Independent Christian Voice


Media and Misperceptions

A discussion on regarding Bush's declining approval ratings witnessed an all too common occurrence among those on the right: blaming the "liberal" mainstream media.
(Discussion thread > Bush Approval Rating)
Originally Posted by MadMonk
When the MSM controls the perceptions of how we see things, yes, it is partly to blame. That's why the libs can't stand conservative media. They are losing their monopoly on the way things are presented and can't count on people only seeing their skewed, "blame America for all the world's problems" messege.
Here was my response… Consider the following. An October 2003 research study by The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and Knowledge Networks released a report entitled "Misperceptions, The Media and The Iraq War." PIPA is a joint program of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and the Center on Policy Attitudes. PIPA undertakes research on American attitudes in both the public and in the policymaking community toward a variety of international and foreign policy issues. It seeks to disseminate its findings to members of government, the press, and the public as well as academia. Knowledge Networks is a polling, social science, and market research firm based in Menlo Park, California. Knowledge Networks uses a large-scale nationwide research panel which is randomly selected from the national population of households having telephones and is subsequently provided internet access for the completion of surveys (and thus is not limited to those who already have internet access). Here is some of what the study found:
Because it provides the best overview of the relationship between media sources, we will first analyze the relationship between media sources and the presence of multiple misperceptions, to determine the variance in the level of misperceptions according to the respondent’s news source. Afterward we will analyze the variance for specific misperceptions. An analysis of those who were asked all of the key three perception questions does reveal a remarkable level of variation in the presence of misperceptions according to news source. Standing out in the analysis are Fox and NPR/PBS--but for opposite reasons. Fox was the news source whose viewers had the most misperceptions. NPR/PBS are notable because their viewers and listeners consistently held fewer misperceptions than respondents who obtained their information from other news sources. … Fox News watchers were most likely to hold misperceptions—and were more than twice as likely than the next nearest network to hold all three misperceptions. In the audience for NPR/PBS, however, there was an overwhelming majority who did not have any of the three misperceptions, and hardly any had all three. To check these striking findings, we analyzed the data a different way, using the larger sample of 3,334 who had answered at least one of the three questions just mentioned. For each misperception we determined how widespread it was in each media audience (these will be discussed below), and then for each media audience averaged this frequency for the three misperceptions. The table below shows the averages from lowest to highest. Again, the Fox News audience showed the highest average rate of misperceptions—45%--while the NPR/PBS audience showed the lowest—11%. Evidence of Links Between Iraq and Al Qaeda We will now look more closely at the presence of each specific misperception. When asked whether the US has found “clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-Qaeda terrorist organization,” among the combined sample for the three-month period 49% said that such evidence had been found. This misperception was substantially higher among those who get their news primarily from Fox—67%. Once again the NPR-PBS audience was the lowest at 16%. … Weapons of Mass Destruction As discussed, when respondents were asked whether the US has “found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction” since the war had ended, 22% of all respondents over June-September mistakenly thought this had happened. Once again, Fox viewers were the highest with 33% having this belief. A lower 19-23% of viewers who watch ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN had the perception that the US has found WMD. Seventeen percent of those who primarily get their news from print sources had the misperception, while only 11% of those who watch PBS or listen to NPR had it. World Public Opinion Respondents were also asked to give their impression of how they think “people in the world feel about the US having gone to war with Iraq.” Over the three-month period, 25% of all respondents said, incorrectly, that “the majority of people favor the US having gone to war.” Of Fox watchers, 35% said this. Only 5% of those who watch PBS or listen to NPR misperceived world opinion in this way. As usual, those who primarily get their news from print media were the second lowest, with 17% having this misperception. Numerous respondents also chose the option of saying that in world public opinion, views are evenly balanced between favoring and opposing going to war—a misperception, though less egregious. Combining those who said views were evenly balanced with those who assumed that the majority favored the Iraq war—a more inclusive definition of misperception--the same pattern obtained. Fox viewers had the highest level of misperceiving (69%) and PBS-NPR the lowest (26%). The others also formed a familiar pattern: CBS at 63%, ABC at 58%, NBC at 56%, CNN at 54%, and print media at 45%. … The Effect of Demographic Variations in Audience Variations in misperceptions according to news source cannot simply be explained as a result of differences in the characteristics of each audience. It is true that some audiences vary according to such demographics as party identification and education—Fox viewers are more Republican, PBS-NPR is higher in education and less Republican, print readers are more educated, and CBS is less educated and more Democratic. It is also true that Republicans and those with lower education are more likely to have misperceptions. However, controlling for these demographic differences by examining the variations in misperception within demographic groups reveals persisting variations in the level of misperceptions according to news source, consistent with the analysis above. Looking just at Republicans, the average rate for the three key misperceptions was 43%. For Republican Fox viewers, however the average rate was 54% while for Republicans who get their news from PBS-NPR the average rate is 32%. This same pattern obtains with Democrats and independents. Among those with a bachelor’s degree or more, the average rate of misperceptions was 27%. However among those who get their news from print media the average rate was 20%, while among those who get their news from PBS-NPR the average rate was 10%. This pattern obtains at other educational levels as well.
Perhaps, the reality is that the conservative media is feeding the misperceptions. Finally, if attitudes and the political power has shifted significantly to the right, those who were once moderate Republicans or centrist are now considered left of center because the whole spectrum has shifted. So, maybe the media isn't really liberal; perhaps the right is so skewed to the right that everything they see to the left of them (even those who are moderates and centrists) have now become "liberals."


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