PIPA Study: "Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War"

The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) released a report entitled "Misperceptions, The Media and The Iraq War." They examined consumption of various news media and correlated the results with the following three misperceptions about Iraq War II:

· that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11 attacks and that evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda have been found

· that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the war and that Iraq actually used weapons of mass destruction during the war

· that world public opinion has approved of the US going to war with Iraq

I have excerpted some highlights below:

"The extent of Americans' misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news. Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions. Those who receive most of their news from NPR or PBS are less likely to have misperceptions." (p. 12)

(p. 13)

"While it would seem that misperceptions are derived from a failure to pay attention to the news, overall, those who pay greater attention to the news are no less likely to have misperceptions. Among those who primarily watch Fox, those who pay more attention are more likely to have misperceptions. Only those who mostly get their news from print media, and to some extent those who primarily watch CNN, have fewer misperceptions as they pay more attention." (p. 16)
"Among those who say they will vote for the President, those with higher exposure to news are more likely to misperceive and to support the war. The opposite is true for those who say they will vote for a Democratic nominee: those with higher exposure to news are less likely to misperceive and to support the war." (p. 19)

(p. 20)

I've discussed the issue of media bias with some of you - especially that of the "Faux News Network" - and this study illustrates one of the myriad reasons I'm so skeptical about their "Fair and Balanced" [sic] coverage. Rupert Murdoch has claimed that Fox is "challenging the established and often stagnant media," but Fox's popularity - outside of some excellent programming like The Simpsons - frequently relies on marketing salaciousness as entertainment and blatant bias as evenhanded news. Their ratings may be good, but popularity does not equal truthfulness. I don't fault Fox for disseminating the administration's lies about Iraq - all media outlets did, to some degree - but rather for their exacerbation of people's misconceptions in support of war and in opposition to the facts.

Not to make too much of one study, but I don't find it surprising that the media outlets most often derided as "liberal" (CNN, PBS, and NPR) had the most well-informed audiences outside of print. (As an aside, I heard about a study several years ago that compared people's estimation of their own informedness with their actual knowledge. It found that talk radio listeners - who rated themselves as the best informed - actually knew the least of any group surveyed.) If anyone has information about any study on media bias, regardless of results, please let me know; I'm always looking for more data.

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

"There has never been a just [war], never an honorable one - on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful - as usual - will shout for the war. The pulpit will - warily and cautiously - object - at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, 'It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.' Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers - as earlier - but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation - pulpit and all - will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."

Mark Twain, "The Mysterious Stranger"

update: David Barker's Rushed to Judgment: Talk Radio, Persuasion, and American Political Behavior was the study to which I had referred, although it took quite some time to locate. Here is his summarization:

It is interesting to note that frequency of exposure to conservative talk radio displays a significant negative correlation with political information, indicating that although conservative talk radio listeners are more interested in politics, read the newspaper more often, and are more likely to vote, they are less likely to hold accurate beliefs even regarding nonideological facts (such as which branch of government determines the constitutionality of a law) when other factors are controlled, such as political talk activity. (p. 115)

Thus it appears that not only are conservative talk radio listeners in the sample less informed about general information than nonlisteners, the conservative talk devotees tend to be more misinformed as well, likely drawing false inferences from show content about political facts... (p. 117)

[the emphases are mine]

Barker later states, "We posit that listening to liberal talk shows would likely result in the spread of misinformation as well, only in the opposite ideological direction." (p. 140) If Air America and Michael Moore ever dominate our national political discourse, we may indeed be subject to systemic liberal misinformation. Since we do not live in that world, however, it is primarily conservative bias with which we must contend.

update 2 (7/13/2010 at 1:52pm):
The study by James Kuklinski, "Misinformation and the Currency of Democratic Citizenship" (Journal of Politics, 2000), may have been the source of the other part of my recollection: that "those holding the least accurate beliefs perversely expressed the highest confidence in them:"

[those who] hold wildly extreme beliefs...are a substantial minority who also represent a potentially influential segment of the population. For example, those who are both highly inaccurate and highly confident tend to be the strongest partisans and thus the very people who most frequently convey their sentiments to politicians.

In sum, although factual inaccuracy is troublesome, it is the "I know I'm right" syndrome that poses the potentially formidable problem. It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs, but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be the least likely to do so. (pp. 798-801)


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