“Some News Leaves People Knowing Less,” blares a headline from the political science department of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey today. The University conducted a survey of several hundred New Jersey residents and found some numbers that are very convenient for the enemies of a certain news organization — Fox News viewers were 18% more likely to be either misinformed or uninformed about certain current events. […]
The study is being heralded by the usual suspects as proof that Fox News many foibles (like this map of the Middle East, screencap via) is actually more damaging to all Americans than not watching any news at all. Of course, most of these are ignoring the fact that of this extremely select group, the MSNBC viewers were entirely confused about Occupy Wall Street for some reason — and, of course, are ignoring the fact that said foibles are natural in the television industry (and in print, and in talk radio), and forgivable if kept to a minimum.
And, more importantly, they ignore at their peril the questionable academic work that went into this study, and the questionable language used by the professors that may be a red flag as to how much they are exaggerating the importance of their work. Take, for example, Professor Dan Cassino calling the finding”that only about half of the public can name one of the front-runners is embarrassing.” Yes, that would be embarrassing for the American public — if half of 612 people in New Jersey, a state that represents about 0.002% of the American public, were representative of them. Given the extreme limits of its geographical range and the negligible number of those polled (a whole 612 people), it is difficult to see this study as irrefutable evidence of anything, and perilous to promote it as such for ideological benefit.