A study making the rounds from the Farleigh Dickinson University polling outfit is headlined “What you know depends on what you watch.” It’s a national version of the same group’s earlier study of New Jersey residents, both of which purport to show that
exposure to partisan sources, such as Fox News and MSNBC, has a negative impact on people’s current events knowledge
compared not just to viewers of high-knowledge sources like the Sunday morning talk shows, NPR, and the Daily Show, but even to non-viewers.
Color me skeptical. According to data from Pew, which my colleague Neal Caren thoughtfully pulled out and sent to me, the difference in education between Fox and MSNBC viewers is quite substantial (fully 83% of MSNBC viewers have at least some college, compared to 60% of Fox News viewers). The FDU study
control[s] for the effects of partisanship, age, education and gender, all factors, which commonly predict vote choice.
which means, if I understand correctly, that MSNBC viewers start out smarter and stay that way, while Fox News viewers start out dumber and get a little dumber by watching Fox. (I’ve asked the FDU outfit for the raw data to see if I can model this alternative hypothesis but haven’t heard back yet.)
This all plays into the nice narrative that MSNBC and Fox are the same beast on different sides of the aisle, a claim that reproduces the dueling-viewpoints view of American politics and avoids the obligation to evaluate the actual content of the two. I suspect that a dispassionate consideration of MSNBC and Fox would reveal differences in the degree of factual (mis)information, insinuation, and misleading claims.