We all worry about whether we know enough. And there’s a lot to know.
But if you watch Fox for your news, you don’t worry. You’ve got nothing much to worry about. A recent study shows you don’t know much about anything.
Nick Kristof’s column today is entitled, “Fox News? More Like Trump’s Impeachment Shield.” In it, he refers first to the way Fox covered this week’s impeachment hearings.
With Rep. Adam Schiff on the screen, Fox News’s graphic declared in all caps: “TRUMP HAS REPEATEDLY IMPLIED THAT SCHIFF HAS COMMITTED TREASON.” At a different moment, the screen warned: “9/26: SCHIFF PUBLICLY EXAGGERATED SUBSTANCE OF TRUMP-ZELENSKY CALL.”
Fox downplayed the news and undermined the witnesses. While Ambassador William Taylor was shown testifying, the Fox News screen graphic declared: “OCT 23: PRESIDENT TRUMP DISMISSED TAYLOR AS A “NEVER TRUMPER.” It also suggested his comments were, “TRIPLE HEARSAY.”
Now, anybody’s who read my book, How I Learned The Facts of Life, knows precisely what to do with those paragraphs. Well, I’m not quite finished with the book so nobody except me has read it. Therefore, I’ll show you what to do with Fox’s graphics if you are really in pursuit of the facts:
1. Look at those capitalized sentences. Although it may be a “fact” that Trump implied what he did — in another context, Schiff could sue him for defamation and win — it isn’t a fact that Adam Schiff has “committed treason.” Nor does this have anything to do with the facts brought out in the hearings.
2. Schiff did publicly mock the substance of that notorious call in response to Trump’s repeatedly saying it was “Perfect.” Satire is neither treasonous nor a lie. It is, however, enraging to people without a sense of humor. They take mockery personally. In this case, of course, correctly. Or maybe I should say “perfectly.”
3. As for the next capitalized sentence about Ambassador Taylor, see my dissection at number one, above. And again, it does not report the factual substance of Taylor’s statements.
4. “Triple hearsay”? No such thing, not here. Except when they report what Trump said as if his outrageous opinions were factual. That’s sort of hearsay.
So let’s go on to what such TV “reportage” does to Fox viewers’ minds:
Researchers have found that Fox News isn’t very effective at informing Americans. A 2012 study by Fairleigh Dickinson University reported that watching Fox News had “a negative impact on people’s current events knowledge.”
The study found that those who regularly watched Fox News actually knew less about both domestic and international issues than those who watched no news at all. N.P.R. listeners were particularly well-informed, the study found, but even people who got their news from a comedy program like “The Daily Show” — or who had no news source whatsoever — knew more about current events than Fox viewers.
Oh gee whiz.
If knowing nothing about current events — or nothing factual — gives you peace of mind, do re-read what I told you about the Dunning-Kruger Effect:
The Dunning-Kruger Effect: the cognitive bias of illusory superiority.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains that many people are not merely ignorant: they are unaware of being ignorant. Their brains do not accept that they are uninformed.
They think they know all there is to know. Or, rather, they think they know all they need to know to be smart in their own intimate world.
Unlike a lot of us, who spend considerable time reading, absorbing information and double checking the information for accuracy, because we’re aware we don’t know everything.
I suggest to anyone who gets all his news from Fox, don’t emerge from your foxhole in search of someone to talk to about what’s genuinely going on this world. It’s too complicated. And it’ll probably make you anxious.