Stewart’s statement was factually accurate, as we’ll see. The next day, however, the fact-checking site PolitiFact weighed in and rated it “false.” In claiming to check Stewart’s “facts,” PolitiFact ironically committed a serious error—and later, doubly ironically, failed to correct it. How’s that for the power of fact checking?
There probably is a small group of media consumers out there somewhere in the world who are more misinformed, overall, than Fox News viewers. But if you only consider mainstream U.S. television news outlets with major audiences (e.g., numbering in the millions), it really is true that Fox viewers are the most misled based on all the available evidence—especially in areas of political controversy. This will come as little surprise to liberals, perhaps, but the evidence for it—evidence in Stewart’s favor—is pretty overwhelming.
My goal here is to explore the underlying causes for this “Fox News effect”—explaining how this station has brought about a hurricane-like intensification of factual error, misinformation and unsupportable but ideologically charged beliefs on the conservative side of the aisle. First, though, let’s begin by surveying the evidence about how misinformed Fox viewers actually are.
Based upon my research, I have located seven separate studies that support Stewart’s claim about Fox, and none that undermine it. Six of these studies were available at the time that PolitFact took on Stewart; one of them is newer.