When Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, told the world six months ago that it had scientific evidence proving that viewers of the Fox News Channel are less informed than those who watch no news at all, FNC ignored them, even as the report went viral over the Internet.
Not this time.
This month, FDU released another of its PublicMind polls touting that “this nationwide survey confirms initial findings” of ill-informed FNC viewers, and an FNC spokesman blasted the findings and turned the tables on the university, pointing out that its own students don’t exactly measure up academically. (FDU was No. 585 on a Forbes ranking of 650 U.S. colleges.)
“Considering FDU’s undergraduate school is ranked as one of the worst in the country,” said the FNC spokesman, “we suggest the school invest in improving its weak academic program instead of spending money on frivolous polling – their student body does not deserve to be so ill-informed.”
The new poll from FDU asked 1,185 people to answer five questions about international news events and four about national news. The average person getting their news from FNC answered 1.08 international questions correctly and 1.04 domestic questions correctly, both of which were lower than viewers of “no news.”
Viewers of MSNBC scored next to last in international questions (also below “no news”) and third to last (ahead of “no news”) on the domestic questions.
The study, though, didn’t actually identify people who got their news only from one source, so they used “multinomial logistic regression” to create representations of such people who were then compared “to a hypothetical construct of someone who had no recent news exposure.”
Dan Cassino, one of the professors of political science at FDU who authored the two studies, acknowledged a hailstorm of criticism (he wrote about it for The Huffington Post) after the first study was released, and he told The Hollywood Reporter it was regrettable so many bloggers focused on the low results of FNC but ignored almost equally low results for MSNBC.
“It was sensationalized – and that’s the dominant bias in the media, sensationalism," he said. "MSNBC was second worst, but it wasn’t talked about."
The first study also came under fire for asking questions where the correct answers may have been ambiguous, and Cassino acknowledged that that may have been the case for one question, though not others.
For the follow-up study, the nine questions were (answers are below):
- To the best of your knowledge, have the opposition groups protesting in Egypt been successful in removing Hosni Mubarak
- How about the opposition groups in Syria? Have they been successful in removing Bashar al-Assad?
- Some countries in Europe are deeply in debt, and have had to be bailed out by other countries. To the best of your knowledge, which country has had to spend the most money to bail out European countries?
- There have been increasing talks about economic sanctions against Iran. What are these sanctions supposed to do?
- Which party has the most seats in the House of Representatives right now?
- In December, House Republicans agreed to a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut, but only if President Obama agreed to do what?
- It took a long time to get the final results of the Iowa caucuses for Republican candidates. In the end, who was declared the winner?
- How about the New Hampshire Primary? Which Republican won that race?
- According to official figures, about what percentage of Americans are currently unemployed?
Answers at the time of the survey were:
- Dissuade them from pursuing a nuclear program
- Approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline
- Rick Santorum
- Mitt Romney
- 8.1 percent