'Study' Claiming Fox News Viewers 'Misinformed' Is Fraught With Errors

For the past few days, the far-left Fox haters have been using a study by the University of Maryland's World Public Opinion project to claim that FNC "mis-informs" its viewers. There's nothing particularly novel about the claims, but some lefties are apparently under the impression that this study lends academic weight to their deranged hatred of everything Fox. It does not.

Let's start with the study's broad disclaimer, which should have (but so far has not) dissuaded the Fox haters from their rabid attacks. The study's findings (pdf) plainly state:

…misinformation cannot simply be attributed to news sources, but are part of the larger information environment that includes statements by candidates, political ads and so on.

Anyone who thought calls to refrain from extrapolating some condemnation of specific media outlets from this study would deter liberals from doing just that clearly has not dealt with the Fox-haters before.

Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik expanded on the problem with singling out Fox, or any other news organization, using this study's findings:

Most of the fact-based questions about whether certain programs were started under Bush or Obama were, in fact, the very subject matter of political attack ads. And it would be no surprise to find that far more of those ads aired on Fox, since it is by far the highest-rated cable news channel with the biggest audience. And the channel is watched by many independents and people who are likely to actually go to the polls and vote. I read nothing in the report that addressed that possible misreading of the data -- that the "misinformation" came from the political ads viewers saw on Fox and not from Fox editorial content.

These issues of course did not stop liberal blog after liberal blog after liberal blog from piling on, with equal parts righteous condemnation and jubilant "told-you-so" snark.

But there are plenty of problems inherent in using the study as a cudgel against Fox beyond the specific, direct warning to not do so, and the problems inherent in ignoring that warning. Chief among them is the study's strange means of deciding what is true.

Guest-blogging for Patterico, Aaron Worthing examined one such example:

But the hilarious part is that the authors of the study themselves are misinformed. For instance, their first question is this “is it your impression that most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation: A) created or saved several million jobs, B) saved or created a few jobs, or C) caused job losses.” The first option is marked as correct.

WPO's "evidence": The Congressional Budget Office "concluded that for the third quarter of 2010, ARRA had 'increased the number of full time-equivalent jobs by 2.0 to 5.2 million compared to what those amounts would have been otherwise.'"

But there are two problems with that. First, um, we are going to trust the government to estimate the success of the government on this? Really?

Second, that utterly fails to relate to the question, which is whether a majority of economists who studied the question believe this to be the case.

And that question - whether a majority of economists agree with some contention - is a strange way to phrase it. Johnny Dollar explains:

Any time you ask about what ‘most economists’ believe, you aren’t really asking for facts or data. You’re asking someone to know the result of some survey--like an episode of Family Feud.

Furthermore, CBO's numbers have no basis in reality, as I have reported a number of times before. They are based on models that assume stimulus spending will create growth and employment, and hence the success of this particular stimulus package is predetermined. So if the idea is to reveal who is more attuned to reality, the CBO numbers are irrelevant; they only exist on paper, and have no real bearing on the success of the ARRA in creating jobs.

The blind faith the study puts in CBO's numbers suggest that it is quite eager to pass them off ipso facto as truth. That says a lot about WPO's perspective on the issue, and their politics generally.

The study makes a similar move with regard to the CBO score on ObamaCare's effect on the deficit. It parrots the numbers CBO released just before ObamaCare passed in March showing deficit-neutrality, but neglects to mention that those numbers pegged the law's 10-year cost using only 6 years of expenditures.

Rep. Paul Ryan dismantled the budgeting gimmick beautifully during the health care "summit." Former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin blasted the "fantasy" numbers, and claimed the law would add $562 billion to the deficit. Even Democratic Senator Max Baucus admitted that the bill's cost was roughly 250% of the CBO score.

So the WPO study once again cherry-picked the numbers that would produce the "truth" best suited to bashing Fox News. For a study ostensibly concerned with "misinformation," the WPO is certainly peddling its fair share.

Zurawik picked up on this trend as well. "[T]he definition of a respondent who is considered 'informed,'" Zurawik wrote, "is essentially someone who agrees with the conclusions of experts in government agencies."

So, presumably, if you were to disagree with such top economic experts in government as Timothy Geithner or Larry Summers, you would be labeled as misinformed. If you dared to disagree with those experts in government who say that the Wall Street bailout was absolutely necessary and that the takeover of GM was desperately needed and that healthcare reform will actually be good for the economy -- you would be labeled as MISINFORMED...

Or, think of it this way: If this survey had been conducted when George W. Bush was president and his wall of "experts" in "government agencies" were working overtime to sell the New York Times on the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, you could have been "misinformed" if you said there were no such WMD's in Iraq. M-I-S-I-N-F-O-R-M-E-D. Agency experts did, after all, say the existence of such weapons was a fact.

Beyond the problems with the supposed-"truth" of specific questions, the question selection was itself stilted against Fox, as Johnny Dollar noted:

When you touch on 11 issues, most of them about ‘misinformation’ from the right, with only one (re the Chamber of Commerce) about ‘misinformation’ from the left , you are going to end up with many more cases of ‘right wing’ misinformation, skewing the result. Why no questions like: Were the Bush tax cuts primarily for the wealthy? Or: Does the middle class pay the majority of federal income taxes? By making most of the questions about one variety of ‘misinformation’, the study insured that more ‘misinformation’ would be found among viewers of that persuasion.

After all this, it should come as little surprise that WPO receives funding from a variety of hard-left organizations, such as the Ploughshare Fund and the Soros-backed Tides Foundation.

And it should be even less surprising that despite all the inaccuracies, omissions, and distortions in this study - despite even a direct warning against using the study to condemn single media outlets - it's been received by a frenzy of Fox-hatred from the left.