Blogs > Cliopatria > The Fox News/NPR Effect

Oct 22, 2004 8:23 pm

The Fox News/NPR Effect

The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland has a fascinating poll, completed in early October, on how the source of citizens’ news and their political affiliation affects their views on factual issues. Some of the findings:

---47% of Bush supporters still believe that Iraq had WMD, while 25% more believe that Iraq had a major program for developing the weapons;

---57% believe that the Duelfer Report concluded Iraq had a major WMD program;

---56% think that most experts argued that Iraq had WMD;

---55% think that the 9/11 Commission concluded that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda.

Kerry supporters have the overwhelmingly opposite viewpoints on each of these questions.

What’s going on here? To a considerable extent, such numbers are one effect of the changing nature of the media—what could be called the “Fox News” effect, or, in reverse, the “NPR effect”—in which voters can now receive news that fits their ideological inclinations. Such seems to be the case with Kentucky senator Jim Bunning, who admitted yesterday that he had not heard about the U.S. reservists who had refused an order to go on a dangerous patrol in Iraq. According to the senator, “I don't watch the national news, and I don't read the paper. I haven't done that for the last six weeks. I watch Fox News to get my information.”

This type of political climate—extreme partisan polarization, partisan news sources—is not unprecedented in American history, making it worth going back to one of the finest books in political history, Michael McGerr’s The Decline of Popular Politics. McGerr set out to explain the decline in voting participation between 1868 and 1924, contending that as an independent media and issue-oriented politics replaced a more emotional, party-oriented political culture, a substantial bloc of voters was marginalized. As signs point to an increased turnout this November—perhaps a vastly increased one—I wonder whether we’re currently experiencing a reverse of the phenomenon that McGerr described. Ironically, despite the healthy voter turnout rates, we don't usually consider the Gilded Age to be a high point in American politics. I wonder whether those who have lamented the poor voter turnout in the past will start recalling the 1970s and 1980s as the good old days in light of the contemporary political climate.

Thanks to Steve Jervis for the PIPA reference.

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Maarja Krusten - 10/23/2004

Regarding the Fox and NPR effect, most members of the public have no idea of the extent to which the White House focuses on what during the Kennedy administration was called "managing the news." Presidential aides put a lot of thought into crafting "the message of the day" and following what now is a 24 hour news cycle.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson has looked at some of these issues, as has Marvin Kalb. See
for a recent session hosted by Kalb on "IMPACT OF TALK RADIO ON THE 2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION" The focus was described this way: "Most American media outlets claim to be objective sources of news and information, but recently a number of unabashed "liberal" and "conservative" talk programs have been created to deliver one side or the other to the American people. What is the impact of this trend toward increasing politicization within the media? Is the line between news and talk programming too blurry? What is the role of talk radio in the political process and how has talk radio affected the 2004 presidential race? "

I think some of Kalb's sessions are broadcast occasionally on C-span, I've seen some segments. Is anyone familiar with Kalb's efforts along these lines?

Maarja Krusten - 10/23/2004

Maarja Krusten - 10/23/2004

See also today's Washington Post on Stewart, including the following on the Crossfire flap:

"Stewart is somewhat stunned by the reaction: "Imagine being criticized for going on 'Crossfire' and expressing an opinion, and it wasn't an opinion that held to the left-right roles they're accustomed to scripting. I'm far more comfortable in my role as comedian. It was only a moment of honest frustration. I probably should have been more delicate."

But he is fed up with a process in which "people who are giving talking points come on these shows and are questioned by people on the other talking-pointed side. 'Crossfire' is the crack cocaine, the purest distillation of it."

I see some of the talking points effect in HNN readers' postings. I wonder sometimes why some of my questions go unanswered. Perhaps it is because they don't lend themselves to talking point responses. As I've mentioned before, I'm an Independent who used to vote Republican. My decision to no longer give allegiance to either party has as much to do with my views on campaign practices--I dislike stereotypes and so much of campaigning these days comes down to painting simplistic stereotyping images--as it does with the parties' public policy positions. Perhaps that is why I enjoy the satirical approach that Stewart uses so much.

Maarja Krusten - 10/23/2004

Funny to see how this relates to the unaswered question I posed yesterday morning on the Republicans and Civil Rights thread as to whether it is even possible to have a successor to a Walter Cronkite these days.
Speaking of funny, check out the results of an Annenberg survey from earlier this year at

Jon Stewart Rules!

Ralph E. Luker - 10/23/2004

It's so difficult to argue when we agree on things.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/23/2004

Isn't that what I said?

Ralph E. Luker - 10/23/2004

Wouldn't you like to believe that people who have the good judgment to listen to NPR are more likely to be liberal?

Jonathan Dresner - 10/23/2004

Not really, because repeated studies of Fox news have shown that its ideological inclinations are pretty strong and lots of Fox listeners have made it pretty well known that their choice of Fox as a source of news is based in large part on that obvious bias.

NPR, on the other hand, draws from both government and non-government sources, from both identified right and left sources (in fact, a recent study showed that commentators and sources identified with the government and with the right were more common than those on the other sides), and NPR listeners seem to choose it because of its coverage, its accuracy and completeness, rather than its specific ideological position.

They are not politically equivalent.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/23/2004

Do you object to the implication that Fox is watched by conservatives because it "fits their ideological inclinations"?

Jonathan Dresner - 10/23/2004

But the implication was that NPR is listened to by liberals because it "fits their ideological inclinations": that's what I was objecting to.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/23/2004

Why did I know in advance that you would catch that?

Van L. Hayhow - 10/22/2004

Based on some of the times I've seen in the past on Prof. Luker's posts, I doubt he ever sleeps. Now we know why, the radio is on all the time.

Robert KC Johnson - 10/22/2004

In my post, I conflated a couple of stories on the Fox issue: I had seen another survey a few weeks back that made the Fox/NPR point. My intent here was not to comment on the relative worth of either Fox or NPR, but instead to point out that we seem to be returning to an earlier period in which people chose the source of their news outlets on the basis of their ideology.

Richard's absolutely correct, by the way, on Fox and the soldiers story: Fox did cover it. When Bunning was asked about that fact, he responded--remarkably--that Fox hadn't shown any stories on the issue when he was watching. He didn't say how long he was watching.

Robert KC Johnson - 10/22/2004

My point was that liberals tend to listen in disproportionate numbers to NPR; conservatives to Fox. No libel intended!

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/22/2004

I'm at a loss to understand your post of 5:00, Ralph. You say look at KC's data, and it'll suggest a FOX-fed ignorance.

But I read the poll results he linked to, and they don't mention FOX vs. NBC vs. ...

Given Bunning's statement, the FOX hypothesis is an interesting conjecture. As it turns out, my search of the FOX site suggests (without proving) that Bunning's ignorance on the one subject isn't the product of FOX, but perhaps Bunning's reliance on only one source, which he doesn't in fact actually watch scrupulously. I would add that the FOX report on this particular subject was more comprehensive and more accurate than the CBS News report -- but then that's not the highest of standards, is it?

KC's conjecture was a good one, as he developed it from a single case. But that single case in actuality (after investigation) doesn't seem to support his hyothesis -- in fact, quite the opposite. That's not the end of the matter, though. It might turn out that FOX is, on average, more of a source of ignorance than other sources. That is yet to be seen.

I cut my undergraduate teeth on Popper, Grunbaum, and Lakatos. I'm not operating under the delusion that a single positive case proves a thesis, nor a single negative case disproves it.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/22/2004

A "Fox effect" might be to keep people in ignorance. An "NPR effect" might be to keep people well informed. I don't see any libel, myth, or slander in it.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/22/2004

If you've not been following the story on Senator James Bunning of Kentucky, he's running for re-election. He'd be better served if he could simply not say a public word because Bush will carry the state in a walk and an incumbent Republican Senator there _should_ have an easy time of it. But a) Senator Bunning isn't very bright to begin with; and b) there's considerable suspicion that he's in early Alzheimer's. He's killed a strong early lead in the race and, even with a relatively weak opponent, chances are about 50/50 that Democrats could pick up a Senate seat in Kentucky.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/22/2004

The problem is not that Fox does not cover the same major stories that the others do. Rarely is bias so blatant: but the mix and spin is so distorted that even a regular viewer with a strong interest in Iraq and military affairs (as I presume the Congressman is) could miss a story like this.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/22/2004

Myth? Slander? Whatever you want to call it, it's unwarranted and I'm sick of it.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/22/2004

Jeez, Richard, now you're defending Fox! What compulsion drives you? Look at the data KC cites. It suggests that there is Fox-fed ignorance in the public.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/22/2004

I did a search of the Fox News website, and it seems they carried a story (from AP) on that topic on Sunday 17 October. In it, it details how the refuseniks were from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, one of the few units whose trucks had yet to be armored.

Interestingly, it may have been a good thing if you did not rely on CBS for your information concerning this story. Over at they quote Rather as saying that "units" (plural) refused, rather than just the 343rd company -- not that I'm suggesting any bias on the part of Rather, of course.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/22/2004

Jonathan, I keep Atlanta's NPR station on in my house all day long. I sleep with Atlanta's NPR station on in my bedroom, whenever I sleep. But don't you think it's a little strong to talk about an "NPR libel"?

Jonathan Dresner - 10/22/2004

While it may be true that NPR is more heavily supported and listened to by liberals, the balance and substance of NPR reporting is good.

I can't seem to find it in this survey, but previous surveys which identified respondents by primary news source have consistently found that NPR listeners correctly understand the situation roughly the same amount as newspaper readers, much more frequently than "big three" network viewers and ... well Fox viewers came in last, that's all I'll say.

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