Rasmussen on perceptions of media bias Posted by: McQ
on Monday, July 23, 2007
Polls that measure perceptions are interesting if you believe in the maxim "perception is reality". In terms of biases, though, perception usually is reality:
In the final poll of a series measuring perceptions of media bias, the Associated Press, local television stations, MSNBC, and CNBC are all perceived as tilting to the left when reporting the news.
Earlier releases showed that Americans tend to believe the major broadcast networks, CNN, and NPR have a liberal bias. Fox News is seen as having a bias in the other direction. In print, the New York Times, Washington Post, and local newspapers were also seen as having a liberal bias.
Of course those of us in the blogosphere have seen these arguments, or perceptions, voiced for years. So they really don't come as a suprise. Whether or not the organizations actually exhibit the bias they're accused of is really irrelevant for the most part. That is, and has been, and remains the prevailing perception of a significant portion of consumers of news out there in fly-over country:
The current survey finds that 30% of American adults believe the Associated Press has a liberal bias and only 12% believe it leans the other way. Local television news is viewed as having a liberal bias by 30% and a conservative bias by 17%. MSNBC is seen as being a bit more to the left—33% say it has a liberal bias and 13% say the opposite. For CNBC, 29% say it has a liberal bias and 14% say a conservative bias.
Thirty-seven percent (37%) say local television stations deliver news without bias while 36% say the same for the Associated Press.
Interesting stuff but it really does little to settle the argument which persistently rages from time to time about the bias of the media. It simply gives numbers to it. As it turns out, I pretty much perceive those named organizations the same way a most see them in the survey, other than local news, which I never watch. Anyway, interesting fodder for conversation and something to keep in mind as discussions of reimplementing the "Fairness Doctrine" begin to pick up steam.
Of course, there is also the question of truth and accuracy. Bias is always there, but are some biases closer to truth. If, say, one side — conservative or liberal — had a better analysis, would it not be best if the bias was almost completely in that direction? Isn’t it a bit post-modern to say that each "side" is equivalent and there should be "balance." Where does that end — liberal, conservative, fascist, socialist, communist, nationalist, etc. For instance, my students are always amazed — and angered — by how our media sanitizes violence from not only Iraq, but third world countries, and in general foreign affairs. But if we showed the truth, there would be an accusation of bias against war since the images inspire emotion. But how can we pretend that emotion over the human cost of conflicts shouldn’t be considered? Ultimately I think our media has an establishment bias, Fox strikes me as more ’post modern’ because it takes often the most extreme "stories" and places them side by side, as if these are two discourses one chooses between.
It’s not in showing the "human cost", it’s in not showing the "human cost". Any news report decides what to show and what not to show because something has to be left out.
It can only be a bias against the war to show the human cost if it tends toward the "Oh, well, brown people die horribly all the time but LOOK an American soldier blown to shreds! Let’s interview his distraught mother!" we’ve come to expect.
The recent rash of "we should leave even though it will mean horrific conditions for a time" seemingly sincere suggestions show that the "human cost" has no meaning whatsoever to people here. Those people, over there, if we see them on television or not, simply aren’t *real*.
What might do more to show the human cost is if the news reporters worked on making Afghan and Iraqi people real. They could do this by showing the "good" stories of people doing normal people things. Stuff we can identify with, that we can see ourselves doing. Mothers doing mother things. Kids doing kid things. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so cavalier about the "human cost" of our political decisions.
Synova, I agree with pretty much all of what you wrote. Showing Iraqis as human is important, though we have to show the violence as well if it will have an impact. One reason human cost has no meaning here because it is just a number. During the Rwandan genocide the Clinton Administration calculated that it would take 85,000 Rwandan lives saved to be worth 1 American life.
I co-taught a course on "Children and War," going over everything from child soldiers, sexual slavery in war zones, children born of war, children simply caught in a combat zone, etc. We compared cases, talked about child development, PTSD, therapies and how organizations are trying to work on this. We have also gaven public talks with a power point presentation that wasn’t near as graphic as it could be. The response has been amazing. Students in class were shocked, and many of them have become involved in the issue since the class. At presentations the most common reaction is "I had no idea..." or "Why aren’t we doing anything?" I answer that, "What should we do? Should we intervene? Do we send troops?" Even many peace activists believe we should intervene in some of those situations. If we showed the impact of violence on average people we’d have a much different debate in this country. It probably would increase support for making sure that when we leave, we do it right.
Fear of the kind of situation like we have in Iraq regarding the victims is the primary reason I opposed starting the war. Now, it’s the strongest argument for not leaving too fast. Connecting with the reality of the suffering of children — or of whole populations like Rwanda and Sierra Leone are the strongest reasons pulling me to see military intervention as perhaps necessary. Yet since most people don’t see the suffering, we get a surreal debate built around American deaths, interests, and fears.
A number of pacifist German Greens went to Bosnia in 1994 and came back with an entirely different perspective after seeing the suffering and realizing there was no way to stop the Chetniks without NATO force. My own views tend towards a Gandhi approach — non-violent resistance to oppression. But seeing, even in book and film, this suffering causes me to question that the same way the Germans did after going to Bosnia. At the very least, if people do connect with the victims and see them as human like themselves, people would be more likely to act. Non-violent resisters could take risks to try to go and tell the story and help the victims, or support NGOs that do that. Others might argue for a stronger UN force with a real ability to act.
Doesn’t this survey tell us more about the perceivers than the perceived? Conservatives see themselves as embattled, under siege. That’s part of being conservative, standing athwart history and all that rot. So, of course, they will see the media as part of the vast and vague enemy. And they’ve been told for years that discrepancies between their ideology and reality are the fault of the people reporting on reality. As for actual bias’ relevance, people whose primary news source is Fox News believe more false things than anybody else. Wasn’t somebody saying something about an informed citizenry around here not long ago?
I think Gandhi is fine if a group is opposing the British.
That’s a critical point, Synova. Unless your opponent has a philosophical foundation that revers human rights and really does what it can to protect them, tactics like those Gandhi used are simply useless. Same with MLK. When the pictures of what was happening in the South during the Civil Rights era were flashed across the country, the majority recoiled in horror and then demanded those wrongs be righted.
If those same tactics had been attempted in Mao’s China or Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia, those using the tactic would simply be seen as an obstruction and imprisoned, "re-educated" or killed without much in the way of a second thought.
And that is the basic flaw of those who argue that civil disobedience is always the best choice as a tactic. No. It’s not. Like it or not, your tactics actually depend on who your enemy is. Only in some cases would you actually be able to use the tactics you prefer and, for your sake, you’d better realize that and choose the proper one for the situation ... if actual survival is a priority, that is.
Conservatives see themselves as embattled, under siege. That’s part of being conservative, standing athwart history and all that rot. So, of course, they will see the media as part of the vast and vague enemy.
How then to explain that the primary proponents of the "Fairness" doctrine are democrats and/or progressives? It appears that they are the ones feeling under siege.
McQ and Synova: Your point on Gandhi is correct if you are using a ends-means calculation (as McQ’s final line about Gandhi recognizes). Gandhi’s approach did, of course, fail to prevent the Hindu-Muslim clash — it was a Hindu extremist who killed Gandhi. Gandhi’s ideas, however, would essentially say that if you oppose violence with violence, you may achieve your short term goal, save lives, and even defeat evil, but in so doing you have reinforced the belief that violence is the solution, and actually are making it more likely that violence would be repeated.
For someone really espousing Gandhi’s approach, the response would be "resist, and if you are killed, you are killed. At least you didn’t add to the problem, and you may never know what your resistance might spark. Even the most cruel state is run by humans, and few humans are incapable of compassion. Perhaps your killer will regret what he did and make positive choices later, but perhaps it won’t change history." The key is to resist, not acquiesce.
For someone like Gandhi, who is driven by a spiritual belief, the material world is ultimately less important than the spiritual, and doing the right thing as an individual trumps achieving what seems to be the best social consequence. Christianity isn’t that much different: "love your enemy as yourself, be kind to those who would hurt you, turn the other cheek, what does it gain a man to have the whole world but lose his soul, be in the world not of it, etc." Christian and Hindu pacifists ultimately have those beliefs that cause them to focus on the act not the consequence. If you lack those beliefs, then, of course, such thinking seems naive or even dangerous. (Of course, if survival is your primary priority, it’s not one you can maintain forever!)
My biggest problem with pacifism: violence is too vague a term. If I can grab a gun from someone and escape death, I’ve used minimal violence, but it was violent. If I can grab a rapist off his victim it may give the victim time to escape, etc. This spiral ends up back at the point the Christian church, originally pacifist, was at: it seems violence necessary, but when and to what extent? That, I think, has to be answered in context, on a judgment call.
An excellent example, Retief, of a common liberal bias. However, you didn’t go anywhere with it. Should we consider the sheeple who get their information exclusively from the NYT to be well-informed?
Yes, better informed than Fox viewers.
Why would consider retief’s statement to be an example of bias? Do you think it’s not true, or were you trying to obfuscate?
With respect to the top news story since 2003, Iraq, Fox News viewers have been shown to be more misinformed that pretty much anyone.
October 06, 2003 Study shows Fox News viewers misinformed about war I have naively believed for years that staying informed about current events by getting some news is better than blissful ignorance derived from getting no news. Then Fox News Channel helped demonstrate just how wrong I was.
The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland conducted a thorough study of public knowledge and attitudes about current events and the war on terrorism. Researchers found that the public’s mistaken impressions of three facets of U.S. foreign policy — discovery of alleged WMD in Iraq, alleged Iraqi involvement in 9/11, and international support for a U.S. invasion of Iraq — helped fuel support for the war.
While the PIPA study concluded that most Americans (over 60%) held at least one of these mistaken impressions, the researchers also concluded that Americans’ opinions were shaped in large part by which news outlet they relied upon to receive their information.
As the researchers explained in their report, “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. These variations cannot simply be explained as a result of differences in the demographic characteristics of each audience, because these variations can also be found when comparing the demographic subgroups of each audience.”
Almost shocking was the extent to which Fox News viewers were mistaken. Those who relied on the conservative network for news, PIPA reported, were “three times more 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.”
Looking at the misperceptions one at a time, people were asked, for example, if the U.S. had discovered the alleged stockpiles of WMD in Iraq since the war began. Just 11% of those who relied on newspapers as their “primary news source” incorrectly believed that U.S. forces had made such a discovery. Only slightly more — 17% — of those who relied on NPR and PBS were wrong. Yet 33% of Fox News viewers were wrong, far ahead of those who relied on any other outlet.
Likewise, when people were asked if the U.S. had “clear evidence” that Saddam Hussein was “working closely with al Queda,” similar results were found. Only 16% of NPR and PBS listeners/viewers believed that the U.S. has such evidence, while 67% of Fox News viewers were under that mistaken impression.
Overall, 80 percent of those who relied on Fox News as their primary news source believed at least one of the three misperceptions. Viewers/listeners/readers of other news outlets didn’t even come close to this total.
In other words, Fox News viewers are literally less informed about these basic facts. They have, put simply, been led to believe things that are simply not true. These poor dupes would have done better in this survey, statistically speaking, if they received no news at all and simply guessed whether the claims were accurate.
The PIPA study also documented that those who relied on newspapers as their primary news source were better informed than those who watched any of the television news broadcasts. The only folks more informed than newspaper readers were NPR listeners.
I don’t find that compelling, Captin. The reason I don’t is that the answers themselves, to be accurate, require nuance.
Did we find WMD. Yes we did. Did we find stockpiles. No. (And we did find rather huge bunkers of conventional weapons.)
Was Saddam working with Al Qaida? Yes. Closely? Not at all. Was Al Qaida in Iraq before the invasion. Yes. As a significant presence? No.
Well informed people would be more likely to be aware that we did find WMD type weapons in Iraq. Well informed people would be more likely to be aware of the sorts of contact Saddam had with Al Qaida. How should they answer those questions correctly?
I’m looking for the numbers concerning international support but don’t see them. Tell me please, sir, what the correct answer to that is? Did poor FOX viewers have the impression that we didn’t have international support? Is not the fact that many other countries sent at least token numbers of troops to Iraq with us an indication that we *did* have international support?
Sorry, Captin Sarcastic. This is one of those areas where “what everyone knows and is beyond question” differs between the left and the right. You know, “your own opinions versus your own facts”. Not to waste time trying to convince you of anything, but just to show that there is another line of thinking out there, take a look at this. Yes, I know that liberals read what their pundits had to say about the study and immediately said “case closed” and closed their minds, but …
Yes, I know. The NYT blah de blah and various liberal sources further blah de blah. Suffice to say that the “facts” alluded to are not beyond question. By the way, isn‘t it interesting that the folks at PIPA who formulated the questions and decided who to ask them of seem to have a predilection for studies that produce results that liberals take extreme pleasure in reporting? Take a look at the topics they have investigated recently. Perhaps they are not biased; perhaps it is just easier to obtain funding for studies that support liberal points of view.
I should add that even Retief and Captin Sarcastic know that discrediting Fox News is a major priority for the left. Conclusive of nothing, of course. The point is that any study that involves Fox News needs to be put through an extra filter for liberal bias. In this case I don’t believe that this study passes the smell test.
Even many peace activists believe we should intervene in some of those situations
Well, only if it’s a Dem in the White House. Or if the mission had almost zero to do with our national interest.
THEN it would be acceptable.
But really, "peace activists" of today are the same as always. Darfur, Tibet, same idiocy. Back in the day, it was "free Tibet!"
When you asked how, exactly Tibet was to be freed, they’d give this openmouthed dumfounded look, as if it never dawned on them before that freeing Tibet would take a hell of a lot. Same with Darfur now as a matter of fact. Once the first American comes back in a body bag, it will be declared a quagmire, we gotta get out, etc etc etc
Here is a sample of the type of study (2004) commonly produced by PIPA:
“If the world could cast a vote in the United States presidential election, John Kerry would beat George W. Bush by a landslide, according to a poll released on Wednesday that is described as the largest sample of global opinion on the race. "It is absolutely clear that John Kerry would win handily if the people of the world could vote," said Steve Kull, director of The Program on International Policy Attitudes of the University of Maryland, a sponsor of the survey. [my emphasis] "It is rather striking that just one in five people surveyed around the world support the re-election of President Bush." The poll of 34,330 people older than 15 from all regions of the world found that the majority of people from 32 countries prefer Kerry to Bush.”
Do you think using a PIPA study as your only source of information on a political topic is discerning?
Notherbob, what exactly is wrong with the PIPA study you cited? You seem to think it shows them untrustworthy, but from my experience it sounds like the numbers are accurate. Now, I don’t think the world should vote in our elections, but it’s an interesting little tidbit. Or do you think their numbers on that poll were wrong?
Professor Erb, you idiot! Number one, I don’t want to engage you (for reasons stated many times in this space) and number two, you are trying to reframe the issue by asking me to add to what I have said. F*ck You! If you can answer by pointing out what is wrong - factually - with what I have said, I would appreciate the opportunity to correct an error.
Setting myself up for some of your patented BS - not interested.
In other words, "notherbob" is sticking his fingers in his ears and saying "lalalalalalala". Face it, you don’t engage me because you seem utterly unconcerned with truth. Yours is precisely the kind of thing talked about in the post before this (Critical Thinking), where you see this as simply alternate realities, with no truth, and whoever wins the propaganda war will be able to shape reality to their ideology. Your thinking is indeed the kind of approach I dedicate my life to countering. There is reality. There is truth, there is value, there are ethics. Competing narratives and discourses with refusal to engage (which itself is contrary to the ethos of America) is what is wrong with this country.
Erb, you don’t listen. You have p*ssed away your right to decent discourse by your ... well, read, actually read past comments about your method of discourse - not mine, others have said it better.
Hey, I speak to dogs in the street. My threshold for debate is about as low as it gets. I debate with sheeple! You have gone under that bar. I would rather have discourse with Chatty Kathy, it would be more productive. So, bugger off.
Notherbob, methinks thou doth protest too much. I asked whether the study you proved was inaccurate. If not, you actually posted something that supports trust in PIPA’s findings. You apparently are too caught up in your post-modern ideological war which denies the existence of reality and instead posits alternative narratives that you didn’t realize that some people don’t look at the politics, but the accuracy of a poll. And, by the way, you are engaging me by responding, you just can’t help yourself.
* Is it your impression that the US has or has not found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al Qaeda terrorist organization? * Since the war with Iraq ended, is it your impression that the US has or has not found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? * Thinking about how all the people in the world feel about the US having gone to war with Iraq, do you think the majority of people favor the US having gone to war?
Not so much nuance required now is there? Clearly the answers are, even with your hemming and hawing, 1. has not found clear evidence. 2. has not found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. 3. majority of people do not favor the US having gone to war. And even if you want to quibble that a few shells filled with mustard gas, gas that is so degraded as to no longer be a weapon, really are the WDMs Bush led us to war about, you still have to explain how it is that so many more Fox viewers cling to the Mylorie fantasy that Saddam was directly behind 9/11.
notherbob2, your link to frankenlies is a load of old codswallop. The question is not, as they suggest, did the intelligence community ever believe in a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The piece is however an excellent demonstration of the rhetorical technique of the Red Herring, colloquially known as baffle them with bull@#$%.
Speaking of red herrings, it seems that Retief has learned the base technique demonstrated by another notorious commenter in this space. The issue, if I am not mistaken, was whether or not the “study” showing Fox News viewers are not as well-informed as others was authoritative enough to be generally accepted by all as the final word on the issue.
A proper rebuttal (after all this time) would have been a link showing that both left and right generally recognize the results of the study and that therefore Fox News viewers are considered by both left and right to be less well-informed than others. Failing, presumably, in efforts to produce the needed rebuttal to the actual issue, Retief reframes the issue to suit the slam dunk he has prepared, sets up the straw man : “Were the questions in the study proper?” and then presents his slam dunk answer to this counterfeit issue. Pretty much a perfect example of the technique.
Given the freedom to reframe the issue to set up a slam dunk, one would expect, however, a much better slam dunk closer than “your link is codswallop” coupled with “those on the right who question the study are mistaken”. The proffered “slam dunk” closer concedes the point that those on the right question, however disingenuously, the results of the study - an implicit admission of the point of the original, un-reframed issue!
Not to mention that crying BS in the British version and also in colloquial English in the same brief paragraph is…
A proper rebuttal (after all this time) would have been a link showing that both left and right generally recognize the results of the study and that therefore Fox News viewers are considered by both left and right to be less well-informed than others.
So the way to determine truth is to see if there is a consensus between the right and left?
Notherbob2, per your post above the question is whether "the “facts” alluded to are not beyond question". You suggest that the misperceptions disproportionately held by Fox News viewers might not really be misperceptions. You must be right notherbob2, nothing can ever be beyond question given an endless supply of questioning ignoramuses. So yes, the Flat Earth society does mean that the shape of the earth is not "beyond question". Mylorie’s crackpot theories do mean that Saddam’s total lack of direct involvement in 9/11 is not "beyond question". Yes you’re right: opinions differ on shape of Earth. And no, a link to people who also believe wrong things is not evidence that those things are not wrong. Doubly so when their "evidence", and even their reasoning, dodges the point they claim to refute.
Mylorie’s crackpot theories do mean that Saddam’s total lack of direct involvement in 9/11 is not "beyond question"
My God, what a dishonest statement! The question wasn’t whether Saddam had direct involvement in 9/11, the question was whether it had worked with Al Qaeda at all. There’s plenty of evidence that Iraq and AQ had worked together...just not on 9/11. This isn’t a War Against The Perpetrators of 9/11.
And, I guess, triply so when one’s reasoning dodges the original point: i.e., that there exists a liberal bias, not shared by the right, that “people whose primary news source is Fox News believe more false things than anybody else”. Or did you think that I share the attention span of the average liberal who is confronted with turgid prose and that I had forgotten?
The “truth” of the PIPA study is really irrelevant to this issue and attempting to consider it is merely more liberal re-framing in your pathetic attempt to avoid recognizing the truth of the fact that the right never accepted the findings of the PIPA study (rightly so, I believe) and therefore do not share this particular bias with the left.