Though I lean progressive, I make it a practice to watch Fox News to consider opposing viewpoints more fairly. It often irks me to listen to talking heads who spout disdain for beliefs I hold close to my heart, but I do it anyway. I figure my political stances aren’t worth much if they can’t withstand the hate of the opposition.
I wish I could say the same for most of my devoted Utah Republican friends. What perplexes me is the almost instant revulsion of Fox News super-fans when I dare suggest they occasionally consider watching MSNBC to achieve a more balanced perspective.
Their eyes cloud over when I try to convince them that neither Fox News nor MSNBC is infallible, and that listening to both sides can result in a clearer picture of the truth. I can tell I’ve completely lost their attention when I relate my transformation from a far-right-leaning conservative to a progressive liberal.
It’s apparent that they believe Fox News rules and anybody who thinks otherwise has a screw loose.
I guess I felt similarly not long ago. I was frequently on the road and became a huge Rush Limbaugh fan. I voted strictly Republican, including the first term of George W. Bush. I was a Fox News enthusiast, embracing the most extreme right rants. MSNBC wasn’t on my radar. Fox News validated Limbaugh and I trusted their slogan of being “fair and balanced.”
It was about the time of Bush’s push for a second term when I first started to question my political affiliation. A progressive friend introduced me to MSNBC, and it wasn’t long until my devotion to both Limbaugh and Fox News began to deteriorate. Particularly upset with the false claim of mass weapons of destruction, I voted Democratic for the first time. Switching back and forth between Fox News and MSNBC, it slowly became clear that my primary reliance on Fox News as an arbiter of the truth had been significantly overrated.
I started fact-checking the claims of both news reports and concluded MSNBC was the more credible of the two. There was no question that both networks were promoting their political stances, but Fox News time and time again advanced claims that were misleading and more often than not unsupported by credible facts. That wasn’t the case most of the time with MSNBC. I learned to respect hosts like Rachael Maddow, who routinely backs up her analysis with unassailable proof.
I haven’t been the only one to reach a similar conclusion. Numerous studies have confirmed that viewers should think twice before placing their trust in Fox News commentators. A poll conducted in November 2010 by World Public Opinion, based at the University of Maryland, and Knowledge Networks pointed out the lack of credible information being fed to Fox News enthusiasts.
The poll results noted that daily Fox News viewers were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that:
- most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses
- most economists estimate the health care law will worsen the deficit
- the economy is getting worse
- most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring
- the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts
- their own taxes have gone up
- the auto bailout occurred under Obama
- and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States.
MSNBC, on the other hand, was identified as the news source with the lowest level of misinformation on topics including the effect the stimulus legislation had on jobs and taxes, under which president the bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred, and whether the respondent’s federal income tax had increased under Obama’s leadership. The question of whether climate change was a reality was evenly divided between MSNBC, NPR and PBS.
These are just a few (there are many more) examples pointing to the danger of viewers relying primarily on Fox News to report news that is truthful and not slanted toward the far right wing of the Republican Party. I’m not saying MSNBC is perfect, but I have come to believe its coverage is far more reliable than Fox News, which, according to media critic James Wolcott’s book Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants, instructs staffers to “seek out stories that cater to angry, middle-aged white men who listen to talk radio and yell at their televisions.”
Still, I suggest that MSNBC viewers occasionally turn the station to Fox News, and Fox News devotees likewise visit MSNBC and grit their teeth while considering what the other side has to say. What can it hurt?