US media keeping voters in the dark

I have been watching some of the Republican debates taking place in the US ....

I have been watching some of the Republican debates taking place in the US prior to the selection of a candidate to represent the party and oppose President Barack Obama in the next national election.

I have found them difficult to watch/follow as a result of the often slanted perspective promoted by these ultra-conservative potential candidates.

I understand they are largely preaching to the converted, but at the same time surely they have to keep the big picture in mind.

American politics, as a whole, are complicated. It’s such a long, convoluted process, despite the two-party nature of the debate material and in particular because of the awful current state of political and economic affairs in that country.

There are always eye-opening positions taken, but it puzzles me that politically-based “exposures” of the economic and personal status of this collection of extremely wealthy people never seems to phase on Americans.

Newt Gingrich’s financial conflicts of interest or Herman Cain’s sexual harassment issues, for example, don’t seem to register with the Republican audiences.

That why I was a bit surprised when I read that about a new poll that suggests that Fox News viewers in the US are less informed on current affairs than those who watch nothing at all.

Wow … nothing at all!

A new Fairleigh Dickinson University (it’s in New Jersey, fair warning!) poll apparently surveyed 612 state residents. It wanted to assess which media outlets people were watching and how much they actually knew as a result of their viewing.

Really, none of the mainstream media  seems to emerge very well in the poll results … “but for me the big take-home from all of this is that the most popular media sources in the US are really failing our citizens,” said Dan Cassino, an assistant political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson, who doubles as an analyst for the PublicMind, the title given to a series of polls carried out by the university.

He concluded that Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who say they don’t watch any news at all.

Cassino suggests the network’s ideological bent is responsible for depriving its viewers of valid information about current events that would help to keep them up-to-date on what is going on in the world and the United States.

For example, whenever there is something that comes up that would be a victory for Obama, Fox News viewers tend to get that downplayed to them,” he told the Toronto Star in an interview.

The survey, conducted last month, found that people who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, were 18 percentage points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all. And six points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government, than those who watch no news.

He added that Fox News viewers are less likely to get news from elsewhere, given that Fox News “tends to be actually very good” at sowing distrust in other media.

But Cassino again emphasized that none of the networks did a great job of informing its viewers. “These sorts of media sources don’t actually help people learn. They are not giving people the basic facts to makes informed decisions about politics,” he said.

The survey found that only 55 per cent of surveyed New Jerseyans were able to name correctly either Mitt Romney or Herman Cain as the Republican candidates most recently leading in the polls, with 37 per cent saying that Romney is ahead, and 18 per cent saying that Cain is.

“Ideological media isn’t even getting the basic facts down, so it’s hard to understand what the function is,” Cassino said. “The profit motive really is killing a lot of these best news sources.”

The statewide poll, paid for by WFDU-FM Radio, was conducted by telephone from Oct. 17-23 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

I can’t say I’m too carried away by these conclusions, although I could certainly question the margin or error presented.

I watch Fox News from time to time, but it is generally such a confusing  mish-mash of aggressive personal opinion and, for the most part, represents a selectively limited presentation that it’s a wonder that Americans who confine their news information access to Fox are even aware of the time of day.

CNN, I might say, is also somewhat confusing in its choice of state-of-the-nation presentations, or politics as a whole.

Celebrity “happenings” and showbiz gossip has eroded the time available for real news in the US. Most major networks are good at current “breaking news”  items, where they do a pretty decent job.

That being said, a direct comparison with CBC, BBC or even CTV demonstrates the difference in approach.

In the three quoted, the news presenters are much less a part of the news than in major US network news shows where the presenters are personalities on their own right and focused on presenting their perception of the news item as opposed to “just the facts, ma’am.”

Whether or not the New Jersey poll was legitimate it’s a telling illustration of the state of news and politics in the States.

 

 

 

 

ahewitson@telus.net

 

 

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