This scares me, in two ways:
- How can public opinion be so malleable?
- How can different reporters draw such different conclusions from the same research?
Four reports on one research study:
- Researchers Paid Fox News Viewers to Watch CNN – and Many Changed Their Minds on COVID, Mail-in Ballots and More (The Wrap)
- An experiment on Fox News viewers had some shocking results (MSNBC, Opinion)
- Over 700 Fox News viewers were paid to watch CNN for a month and the results are illuminating (Fortune)
For the month of September 2020, two months before the Presidential election, 726 people who normally watched Fox News up to 14 hours per week, were paid $15 an hour to watch CNN instead for up to seven hours per week. Now, I’m about to use the word “drastic” several times. There were drastic changes in subjects’ opinions, after as little as three days.
The Raw Story article suggests that participants became more adept at disbelief in fake news, albeit for you who are reading my words just now the meaning of “fake news” may be debatable. Some of the “lies” in question will be spelled out here below in a quotation from the Fortune article.
The Fortune article specifies some of the — drastic — differences between Fox’s and CNN’s news coverage in the month in question:
In transcripts of the September 2020 news coverage, Fox News used 15,003 words to mention the negative consequences of “extreme racial ideologies” and protests as opposed to CNN, which used 1,712 words. Also in the September 2020 transcripts, Fox News used over 15,000 words to highlight Democratic support of extreme racial ideologies and protests while CNN only used 1,300, as reflected in the study.
CNN used over 21,000 words to describe Trump’s failures to protect the U.S. and his supporters from COVID in the September transcripts whereas Fox News used a mere 2,086. Also, CNN dedicated 10,251 words to information on the severity of COVID while Fox News used 709, citing the study.
The Fortune article indicates some the drastic changes in participants’ beliefs:
After one month of an altered media diet that included CNN, study participants showed notable changes in attitude. They were five percentage points more likely to believe that people suffer from long COVID, 11 points less likely to say it’s more important for the president to focus on containing violent protesters than on the coronavirus, and 13 points less likely to agree that if Biden were elected, “we’ll see many more police get shot by Black Lives Matter activists,” citing Bloomberg’s analysis of the study. Perhaps most notably of all, study participants were significantly more likely to disagree with the statement “If Donald Trump did something bad, Fox News would discuss it.”
The Fortune article concludes:
As a result, the study authors concluded that “watching CNN instead of Fox thus led participants to conclude that Fox engages in partisan coverage filtering.”
I’m inclined to question that. I question whether Fox viewers would even understand the concept of “partisan coverage filtering.” And in the end, if Fox news is biased, who’s to say CNN is not?
Unanswered questions include these: How can merely watching certain presentations effect the greater maturity needed to become honest? The answer can’t be found in word counts.
Related: Fareed Zakaria
Do those who love you
want you to be afraid?
- Who or what can we believe?
- The news we want, true or not
- Science and the left wing and the right
The driving narrative, the employee suggested, was one that made viewers believe they’re in danger. “They’re coming for you, the Blacks are coming for you, the Mexicans are coming for you,” the employee told The Times.
The Business Insider article says little that regular readers of this blog have not heard before. Social conservatives are motivated by fear and anger, so it is not surprising that a network that seeks that audience will appeal to those emotions. A moral question rises as to the goodness of intentionally stirring up dark emotions. Another moral question rises as to whether or not one who does so, can actually be telling the truth.
For The William Tell Show to be “A Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for adults,” it will not do to disapprove of the expression of those feelings. On the contrary, the best to hope for is that fearful people will recognize and respond to unconditional love.