kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Name:
Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Monday, February 27, 2006

O'Reilly--The Voice of Reason

There have always been figures in the U.S. who have been a bit hard to explain--people who are prominent, make good (sometimes simply scads of) money, and are, at least in some sense or in some quarters, respected. Those on the Right might point to Michael Moore, I suppose, but then they also seem to think Noam Chomsky is some kind of a dimbulb (usually those who a) haven't read his linguistics, or perhaps even heard of it or b) have such animus toward their ideological foes that they really can't see straight (let's call such a person "David Horowitz.") On the Left, if there is a Left, one might point to Ann Coulter, or Fred Barnes (and I will admit that my list on this side is a whole lot longer). And, of course, for those of us who live on earth, we can all scratch our collective heads over Tom Cruise, or Gallagher.

Bill O'Reilly mystifies me, and I do watch his show now and then (usually when there is no basketball game, no good movie on TCM, and a commercial on The Food Network). I happened to pop by "The Factor" the other night, when Bill was having a little tete-à-tete with Peter Beinart, of The New Republic. (Don't get me started on the fortunes of that magazine, however.) I didn't see the whole segment, but Beinart was explaining why he thought relying on FOX for information was a dubious approach. O'Reilly pointed out that his show was "analysis" (and, just like Dave Barry, I am not making this up). Beinart's response, which I thought a good one, was to suggest that one needed accurate facts in order to do an analysis, and then mentioned a poll that had shown how badly informed FOX viewers were about Iraq.

The weird thing was that O'Reilly had never heard of it. I figure this itself is a fact he should be analysing. This poll was carried out by a group called "THE PIPA/KNOWLEDGE NETWORKS" and was called "Misperceptions, The Media and the Iraq War."

Now if I were to work for an organization that had been similarly trashed, and said trashing had been given wide publicity, I think it fair to expect that I would have heard of it. The question is why O'Reilly hadn't: is he himself relying solely on FOX (and thus becomes another data point of the misinformed), did no one ever mention this at FOX, is he simply clueless, or was he lying? Your guess is as good as mine.

The poll asked 3 basic questions (the details are given at the above link, with another link there outlining the methodology, statistics, etc.):

  • whether the US has found “clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-Qaeda terrorist organization”
  • whether the US has “found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction” since the war had ended
  • how they think “people in the world feel about the US having gone to war with Iraq.”
The quick results?
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.

There are those on the Right who insist that Iraq had WMD, and shipped them to Syria right before the American invasion. They may be right, but their claim is, at this point, untestable, and one does have to wonder why a country being invaded would get rid of such things. Perhaps because if Sadaam Hussein had been found with WMD, bad things might happen? His reputation would be ruined? He might be deposed? One might also wonder what else he shipped out, that we may perhaps never discover--the real Maltese Falcon? Maps of Atlantis? Large crates of bladeless knives without handles?
You can read the details at the link above, but the gist is that those who rely solely on FOX for their information have more inaccurate information (you know, "facts") than those who rely on any other single news source. What is really cool is that only FOX viewers do still worse when they also describe themselves as "paying close attention" to the news. So, if this poll is right, those who rely on FOX are relatively misinformed, and those who really pay attention and rely on FOX are really misinformed relative to those who don't. In short, the more one watches FOX, the less one knows.

So, on O'Reilly's very busy and utterly sans-spin Webpage, he has this following riposte to Beinart:

The Factor challenged Beinart to back up the following, which he wrote in The New Republic: "Trying to get information about Iraq by listening to Bill O'Reilly is like trying to get information about the Soviet Union in the 1950's by listening to Joe McCarthy." Beinert defended his statement, saying "most of the time you discuss the war on terror as a partisan issue of liberals versus conservatives. I don't think you provide enough information for Americans to make good analyses as to whether we should get out of Iraq or stay." The Factor was incensed by Beinart's indictment. "Your statement is ridiculous, because our reporting on Iraq has been very tough. The picture that we've given on the war on terror is absolutely accurate, and for you to put that in your magazine is a bunch of crap."

The conclusion here seems pretty clear: at least on the basis of this poll--feel free to check it out and challenge its methodology and/or results--the information on FOX leads to systematic misperceptions about central issues leading to and/or about the war. O'Reilly then takes this misinformation and "analyses" it, and doesn't even know about a relatively well-known poll that indicates a) the picture FOX has given of the war on terror is far from "absolutely accurate," and b) given that, its analysis is at least as suspect. O'Reilly is from the school of logic that saying something is "a bunch of crap" is a winning point. I'm from a different school that tends toward evidence, reasons, and inferences.

Add to that such itty-bitty niceties such as the US flag waving in the upper-left hand corner throughout its broadcasts (in contrast to, say al-Jazeera), and that one of its "stars"--Sean Hannity--appears at a fund raiser for Rick Santorum, and one might really want to step back and ask if it might be a good idea to balance FOX's version of things with an alternate view.

20 Comments:

Blogger Bazarov said...

Another nice post :) I'm reminded by this BBC documentary I saw about the attempted (and somewhat successful) coup that took place in Venezuela. The major media outlets there made Fox News look truly objective in comparison. Basically, they were a voice for the powerful who weren't happy with their democratically elected president. If Fox continues on its current path though, I don't think it will be long until they're right there with their Venezuelan counterparts. And if a dirty liberal deuschebag gets elected I think we can expect an acceleration in the decline of their journalistic integrity.
On another note, should we be surprised that such a news channel can continue to exist in this country? It seems the Simpsons are better known than the First Amendment. But hey, at least we got politicians out there fighting for putting god in science classes, our courtrooms, and female bodies! YAY!

4:48 PM  
Blogger Bobcat said...

I wonder about the degree to which Democratic voters would have misperceptions about salient facts if their party controlled the White House and the Congress and made a hash of things.

Basically my point is this. Assume for the sake of argument that (1) Bush is a bad president who has either made a lot of mistakes or done a lot of malicious things or both. (2) Assume as well that party faithful have a natural tendency to play down the flaws of their party and play up the flaws of the opposition party. Both these assumptions seem plausible to me.

What's going to happen, I think, is that when Republicans control the government and do a bad job of it, then Republican rank-and-file will have misperceptions. They will also watch the newschannel they perceive to be most friendly to their views. It's not clear, though, to me that the reason they have misperceptions is because they watch Fox News.

Don't get me wrong. It could well be that their watching Fox is a reason for their misperceptions. After all, Stephen Hayes (of the Weekly Standard) has appeared on Fox to argue that there was a connection between Iraq and Al Queda, and Neil Boortz, at least on his radio show, at one point asserted that the Iraqi WMDs had been moved to Syria (I bring up Boortz because it wouldn't be surprising to me if someone with his view appeared as a guest or expert on one of the Fox News shows).

And don't get me wrong on one other point: Fox is clearly biased; they have an agenda (I still think, though, that many major newspapers, and the three networks, are biased in favor of the Democrats, though perhaps not as much as they used to be in the 80s and before). So again, fostering misperceptions in the American public might be something they want (they wouldn't want it under that description, of course! I imagine that Brit Hume and Roger Ailes don't think those 'facts' are misperceptions.)

The point is, I think there is an alternative explanation for why Fox viewers are more likely to misperceive facts than non-Fox viewers, and I honestly don't know which explanation is more likely.

12:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does everyone have against God prey tell, God didn't do anything, the 'crap' comes from us, politicians, publishers, television, what do we want the Simpsons added as a right to worship in freedom of Religion?
And as to Bill Bill, he is an actor, just like Bill Maher, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Tom Cruise, Ann Coulter, Angie Jolie, on and on...the stupid list goes. Yes, Bill was lying, just like all the other Bills in the world who lie and lie and lie. Except he was acting and this is a profession, not a lie, it is just like Dr. Phil, though, a little bit of truth and a lot of lie. They are for hire, to be the 'personas non-voice of truth'. But as the survey says, which is the most valid point of study and polling it makes...it is a matter of personal bias. People do not watch certain personas that represent a particular faction in 'Politic/acting' for reason, truth, or fact. Rather to justify what already they believe. Most of the misinformed are by will misinformed prior to exposure to these 'Bills'...jraunick

1:00 AM  
Blogger Bazarov said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Al Franken's whole take on Bill O'Riley in his "Lies, and Lying Liars Who Tell Them," which I listened to as an audio book from the Wright Library - I would suggest anyone with a sense of humor listen to this book. Al Franken has his own biases too, but he is much funnier.

Jeff Opt

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Bush invaded Iraq on the pretext of ending the "War on Terror". Since then, we have lost over 2000 of America's finest and we've pushed a once thriving country into a full-fledged civil war. Whether or not Bush believed the lies about WMD's and Al Qaida connections is now a moot point. His attempt at nation building has failed, and the Hawks' Domino Theory has been disproven. It is now clear that we are fostering Theocracy not Democracy in a once secular country. Surely the tendency toward fundamentalism in Iraq should give all Fox viewers pause, but no! The "Hold the course" message plays on like a broken record. Given the irrefutable evidence, how can even Fox News followers continue to lie to themselves? Surely a twinge of reality is finally piercing through their bubble. At some point, the propoganda, misinformation and outright lies spread by the Bush Adoring Fox News will bite them in the butt. History will show Fox News for what it was - but do we have to wait that long for people to wake up and look at the mess we've made in the Middle East? Isn't it time to ask the question the rest of the world has been shouting at us : "What next??!!!"

2:39 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

Robert, I puzzled over your argument for awhile. I'm not sure I understand it.

First of all, the assumption seems to be that a network can be identified as friendly (or not) to an Administration. I'm willing to accept this assumption, sort of, but not much of the actual research I've seen suggests anything but that FOX is more of a cheerleader for the Bush administration than any other network has been for other administrations, and, to be honest, the "fair and balanced" ruse of FOX is demonstrably false, while there is still room for argument about other networks and their political predilections.

Second, the point was really about getting accurate information about some pretty important issues; if this study is correct, all other networks do a better job on these specific topics.

Third, I just thought it quite weird that O'Reilly claimed he had never even heard of the study.

Finally, my conclusion was that one should get news from a variety of sources, and that this need may be more compelling for those who are tempted to rely solely on FOX.

You write "What's going to happen, I think, is that when Republicans control the government and do a bad job of it, then Republican rank-and-file will have misperceptions. They will also watch the newschannel they perceive to be most friendly to their views. It's not clear, though, to me that the reason they have misperceptions is because they watch Fox News."

Is this your argument: person x of political party y, when y does a "bad job," will have misperceptions, and those misperceptions are not necessarily due to the information x has (or seeks) but due to some other factor characteristic of x?

I'm clearly missing something. What's new?

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