Friday, December 17, 2010

Study Shows Fox Viewers Most Likely to Believe Misinformation

This may not be a surprise to anyone, but I appreciate when scientific studies support what I have always thought to be true. A study recently completed by World Public Opinion based at the University of Maryland found that voters are misinformed at a substantial level and that Fox News viewers in particular, are most likely to believe misinformation. After the Citizens United decision which enabled corporate contributions to political campaigns to increase, the researchers wanted to discover whether the level of misinformation disseminated to voters had increased and if so, whether or not it was effective (to be effective, it must be believed).

Image: jugbo

Some of the results are remarkable. I know that I stopped watching network broadcasts because most of what I was hearing was either incorrect, incomplete, or slanted in favor of the Republicans, but unless people are willing to devote a lot of time to the quest for information, cable or network news is probably their best best for political news. Using data gathered by government agencies who are generally believed to be non-partisan, questions about issues of the day were asked.

A few findings include:

  • Though the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that the stimulus legislation has saved or created 2.0-5.2 million jobs, only 8% of voters thought most economists who had studied it concluded that the stimulus legislation had created or saved several million jobs. Most (68%) believed that economists estimate that it only created or saved a few jobs and 20% even believed that it resulted in job losses.
  • Though the CBO concluded that the health reform law would reduce the budget deficit, 53% of voters thought most economists have concluded that health reform will increase the deficit.
  • Though the Department of Commerce says that the US economy began to recover from recession in the third quarter of 2009 and has continued to grow since then, only 44% of voters thought the economy is starting to recover, while 55% thought the economy is still getting worse.
  • Though the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that climate change is occurring, 45% of voters thought most scientists think climate change is not occurring (12%) or that scientists are evenly divided (33%).
For people who watched Fox News, the results were to be expected. They were:
  • 12 points more likely to believe that the stimulus bill caused job losses
  • 31 points more likely to believe that the health care law would worsen the deficit
  • 26 points more likely to believe that the economy is getting worse
  • 30 points more likely to believe that there is no climate change occurring
  • 14 points more likely to believe that the stimulus bill did not contain any tax cuts
  • 14 points more likely to believe that their own income taxes have increased [we actually paid the lowest amount in 60 years]
  • 13 points more likely to believe that the auto bailout was an Obama initiative
  • 12 points more likely to believe that most of the Republicans were against TARP
  • 31 points more likely to believe that Obama was not born in the U.S.
The most remarkable point above, is not the distance between what a Fox News viewer is likely to believe compared to someone who receives their news from other sources, but that party identification did not seem to matter. Democrats were just as likely to believe misinformation if they were regular Fox viewers.

When the results of this study were released, Fox News senior vice president for news Michael Clemente responded by stating that the University of Maryland was highly ranked as a school for Students Who Study the Least, and being the Best Party School (it is actually one of the highest ranked state universities in the east) and therefore, "...given these fine academic distinctions, we’ll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was ‘researched’ with..." It should be noted, that rather than dispute the findings of the study, Fox chose to attack the study itself. This is a classic strawman fallacy as Clemente creates something to attack to deflect attention from the issue.

I see as I finish this that Countdown did a segment on this report and I've seen a few tweets about it, but the whole article is well worth a read. I didn't think it would get this much attention or I would probably not have written this, but it's nice to have something I've believed validated by scientific research.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Liz Cheney Demands President Do...What He Is Doing

Liz, Liz, Liz. Every time you go on the Sunday talks, you say something breathtakingly stupid and I get to write another post suggesting, again, that you give it up and go home. I have no idea why you are given air time, but considering the state of news in this country -- and I mean the networks as well as Fox -- there is not much useful said on Sunday mornings (or weekday evenings for that matter). I have studied, among other things, history, political science, economics, psychology, all of the schools, theories, and techniques of counseling, am considered a qualified witness on the ADA, and followed politics in this country since Richard Nixon. I was even a Navy wife. Do I feel qualified to judge President Obama's decisions on Afghanistan? I believe I have as much education and experience in the work world as you (we were both mid-level managers of comparably sized units in the public sector), plus I was actually a military wife. But, no. I have an opinion rooted in my pacifism, but if I were invited to appear on a talk show to discuss defense policy, I would have to respectfully decline. Nor am I qualified to discuss decisions made in my father's field despite many, many dinner-table conversations. But, you've learned how to make a living trying to whitewash your father's history, so I am sure you will continue to present yourself as a foreign policy, terrorism expert.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday today, you inserted both feet into your mouth when you angrily demanded that President Obama do exactly...what he is doing.
After giving your oh so thoughtful approval for his visit to the troops, you said: [emphasis added]
"You know, what I'd like to see-because I do believe that setting the 2011 deadline did cause significant damage to the effort, in terms of convincing people that we're committed to be there to win-I'd like to see the president repudiate it. I'd like to see him say, "Just let's be clear: We are going to make our decisions based on conditions on the ground, not based on dates we set back here in Washington."
"...It's important for the Pakistanis to hear that as well, so that they understand it is not in their interest at all to help to support, provide safe havens to the extent that the Taliban has safe havens in Pakistan. That message is a critically important one, and I'd like to see the president say "conditions-based," not just "deadline set."
What is interesting, is that although I personally would prefer that the President bring the troops home, I understand that he is trying to clean up your father's messes. Typical of the extremist right, you have just plucked words out of the air to create an argument, the support for your argument, and the necessary actions to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

On August 31, 2010, President Obama gave a speech in which he said: [emphasis added]
"... next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: This transition will begin-because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's."
Discussing the additional troops that he was sending, he said: [emphasis added]
"...these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."
I think most of us would like all of the troops to come home, and the money that is being spent instead go to restore social programs here in this country and pay back the debt incurred by your father and George W. But, your father wanted war and along with W, ignored Bin Laden to go settle a grudge and start a war that had been planned since the early 1990's. Then, realizing their mistake, moved into Afghanistan and tried to solve the problems that we created. So you don't like how things are going? Neither do I. But next time, pay attention before opening your mouth. You look foolish.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon. (h/t Media Matters)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Me, Me, Me! It's All About Me! Look At Me! Me!

If this were a television show, the ratings would be huge, we'd all make sure we were sitting there on our Barcaloungers each week, popcorn in hand, waiting for the next episode of the Sarah Palin Me, Me, Me show. Everything out of her mouth contradicts not only what she said a day, week, month, or year before, but often contradicts what she has said several sentences before. Unfortunately for all of us, it is not a television show. This is our life as we watch our country disintegrate around us and the ignorant folk who have previously always felt somewhat ashamed of their high school or community college only education, or lack of a high-powered, important career, can now wave signs and be somebody because, hey, ignorance is cool!

Please don't get me wrong. I have nothing against people without advanced degrees or any degree at all for that matter. In fact, I was that person with a GED and some college who managed to rise to a mid-level management job, then take those skills and run two successful small businesses for a number of years before I was finally able to attend college and get through graduate school. It would have been better had I led a more conventional life as I have discovered in this economy that most employers consider self-employment for women worthless, and when offered young brand new graduates without experience or older brand new graduates with all kinds of experience but not a lot in their new field, they invariably pick the young ones. Whatever. My point, is that I am not including myself in any particular group, but I am comfortable saying that many people--including, I would imagine, many Palin supporters--are secretly jealous of those who were able to attend really good schools, earn professional degrees, and privately ashamed that they don't understand all of the nuances of economics, foreign affairs, or even national or state politics because of their lack of education. That particular attitude drives me crazy, because people psych themselves out of learning these things because of their lack of formal education. I have been involved in politics for years, and well understood nuance because I took the trouble to educate myself about issues I cared about.

Then, along comes someone like Sarah Palin. Out for the main chance, angry at the world (why, we don't know), who somehow manages to be in the right place at the right time. Defensive because she is put in a position of looking ignorant (and excuse me, a governor who climbs on a state airplane to fly to a conference or meeting and takes as her reading matter a People magazine rather than a briefing book has no excuse) and exhibits her one strong talent. Turning her negatives into positives and convincing people with a wink and a sparkle, a twitch of the mini, that up is down and left is right. One wonders what she will do when plastic surgery is, inevitably, no longer an option? Her appeal is emotional, not logical, and thus extremely difficult to counteract.

The funny thing about emotions and feelings is that they don't always make sense. We've been taught to understand that feelings don't have to make sense, they just are. This is true, but a bit simplistic. Depression just "is," as is anger, fear, and in some, paranoia and panic. Sure, there are often reasons, but not always reasons that we can understand. These are all emotions that are natural and normal, part of the human condition, but can also be destructive if they interfere with the function of everyday life. Fortunately, we know how to treat these feelings and help people manage them in such a way as to live a better life. That said, because we understand how to help people manage them, we also know how to manipulate them. Great salespeople learn how to work their contact to close the deal, and believe me, psychology is integral to the workings of a good salesperson. Politicians learn how to discover what people want, and make sure they say what people want to hear. If you listen carefully, most pols rarely actually answer a question, but rather answer something else that will get out the message that is important to them in that moment in time. People trained to receive information in short bursts but who have not been trained to be critical thinkers, will often, especially if they like the politician, feel as if someone is finally listening to them.Their good impression of the speaker is reinforced because, hey, they listened to me, they answered me, they care about me.

When we make a decision based on emotion, it is not usually a good one, but it is always a decision that we become attached to on a personal level, so let go of with difficulty. Sarah Palin works these emotions to bring people to her side, and keep them there. Her use of Facebook notes to communicate her rants--and that's what they are--allows her followers to feel as if they are part of something because they can comment. The fact that negative comments are deleted immediately tells those whose comments are retained that they have been approved for membership into this club, which reinforces their belief that if they are special, then she is special. It is a mutual admiration society that unfortunately, is one-sided. Sarah Palin does not care about her followers. They are useful to her, but if she truly cared, then she would be concerned about actually making their lives better.

How do I know that she does not care about making their lives better? Her record. It's not secret. She left her job of mayor with the town millions of dollars further in debt than when she started. She had barely been elected when she spent $50,000 to redecorate her office (and she claims to love second-hand clothes). As governor, when villagers were having to make choices between food or freezing to death, rather than declare an emergency, she took them cookies (and took the cookies to a different village so that she would not have to actually face those who were desperate). Rather than focus on the job of governing, she spent her time retaliating against those who bad-mouthed her. Journalists who asked her basic questions, that should be expected for anyone running for office, especially national office, were accused of attacking her and she retains that vendetta to this day.

Most disturbing, is that in the rise of the astroturfed tea-party movement, she caters to their anti-government mood by deriding the government--especially the President--at every opportunity. Never mind that she has nothing useful to contribute, every event must receive a comment from her. Every action taken by the President receives a "gentle" chiding on what he should have done or what she would have done in his place. In her latest book, "America By Heart," she tells people that everyone needs a "First Dude." She says that had they won the 2008 election, she would not have balanced anything [family and job] because had they won, they [she and Todd] would have done the White House like they did everything else, as a team.  She still thinks that she lost the election to President Obama. I hate to be the one to tell her, but she did not. Sen. McCain lost the election. She may well have been a contributing factor, but she was really just along for the ride and actually, would have lived in the Naval Observatory, not the White House. I could go on and on, and on, but you get the point.

Lately, I think that she may have turned a corner and gone too far. It is one thing to be critical of  policy decisions whether she understands them or not. People understand that she is planning to run for president in 2012 and that she is building up a library of media sound bytes for the campaign, and floating trial policy balloons. What she is doing lately, however, is attacking people. I think most of her followers understand and expect her to attack the President on a personal level, after all, she has them convinced, with the help of Fox News, that all of the criticism she receives are personal attacks against her. The media criticizes Bristol, or rather, the actions of Sarah Palin's followers in regards to Bristol, and therefore, it is open season on Sasha and Meliah Obama. Never mind that Sasha and Melia are young children and Bristol is 20. Never mind that she is a "teen advocate" who has made a number of public appearances which to me, denotes a, I don't know, public figure? I'm not sure why she is also personally attacking Michelle Obama, but she has done that in the past, in fact, she is recycling attacks from the 2008 campaign, probably because there is nothing else to say. The difference between her children and the Obama children is immense, but she cannot see it.

Sarah Palin has this ability to conflate issues to support her opinions. Politicians take campaign photos that include their families for a brochure or maybe a commercial, and take them onstage when they declare victory (or defeat), so to Sarah, this is exactly the same as her trotting her children to every campaign event, speaking engagement, or book signing that she attends. As governor, she got into trouble because she insisted on her family attending every event that she did, and in fact, photos of, for example, visiting trade delegations include attendees in appropriate business attire, Sarah in jeans and a windbreaker, and Piper. Very, very few official photos did not include Piper. One wonders if that child ever attended school. We know she did occasionally rather than being home-schooled from the questions she was asked by reporters on the campaign trail. When questions arose about Trigg, she immediately announced that her unmarried, underage daughter was pregnant, then forced her to sit on stage and endure a level of attention that was likely extremely humiliating (remember your teens?).It is not wonder that her detractors accuse her of using her children as props to deflect attention from her flaws or attract attention to her as the perfect mother. Props they are.

Her latest, and purely to pander to her supporters, is another attack on government overreach and intrusion by "the Feds" as she likes to call them. Teabags are anti-government, so gosh-darn-it, every time the government does anything, Sarah Palin will attack. Michelle Obama is well-known for advocating against childhood obesity and for better diets for all, Sarah Palin has chosen to attack Michelle Obama in her most recent book:
"Take her anti-obesity thing that she’s on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat. And..and..and I know I’m going to be again criticized for bringing this up, but instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician’s wife priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions and then our country gets back on the right track."
What is amusing, is that while governor, she was not entirely useless. Probably little more than a talking head, as she was when she claimed to be a journalist, in her State of the State speech in 2009, Sarah Palin said: [emphasis added]
"Protecting good health is largely a matter of personal responsibility, but government policy can help."
Chef Kurt Michael Friese responded to the exchange with one of the best comments that I've heard:
"You see, Mrs. Palin, contrary to what President Reagan once said, government is not the problem, nor is it the solution. Government is a tool, like a hammer. And like a hammer it can be used by people to build things up or tear things down. I would choose the former, and you would choose to throw the hammer out the window."
Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.