Do You Trust Fox News to Tell You How Trusted Fox News Is?

fox-trustFox News host Bill O’Reilly kicked off his January 31 show talking about one of his favorite subjects: Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

Specifically he wanted to promote his Super Bowl interview with Barack Obama, who was talking to Fox because Fox is a beloved American media outlet:

Although the President sometimes criticizes Fox News, he knows the power of it. The Public Policy Polling group recently surveyed registered voters about who they trust in TV news. Fox News won by a landslide: 35 percent of the public trust FNC. Second, PBS 14 percent; CNN clocked in at 10 percent; just 6 percent of Americans trust MSNBC. So, like us or not, we are a force in the USA, despite the dishonest pounding we take from crazed left-wing critics.

Of course, the other reason Obama did an interview on Fox during the Super Bowl pregame show was because Fox was airing the Super Bowl, and hence the pregame show. 

But about that poll: O’Reilly is misrepresenting the question, as the figures he cites are about which one outlet respondents trusted most–not which ones they trusted, which the pollsters asked separately. It’s simply false to say that “just 6 percent of Americans trust MSNBC” when actually 34 percent of respondents said that they do.

When the poll asked whether or not respondents trusted each of eight outlets–ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and Comedy Central–PBS scored highest, with 57 percent saying it was trustworthy and 24 percent saying it wasn’t. Fox, by comparison, got a 44/42 percent split on that question.

But it is true that when respondents were asked to name which of the eight was their single most trusted source, Fox News was named most often–by a little more than a third of the sample. So it won that one. But look at the headline on that PPP poll: “Fox News Once Again Most and Least Trusted Name in News.”

That’s right: “Fox News also leads the ‘least trusted’ list in our annual poll. 33 percent give it that designation.”

Headline from Public Policy Polling

When fellow Fox host Howard Kurtz pointed this out after O’Reilly’s commentary, saying that he thought this “reflects the polarized environment” of the country, O’Reilly wasn’t having any of that:

I don’t think the least trusted has anything to do with anything. If you look at the presidential race, all right, it’s about plurality of victory.

Of course, the question of trust in media outlets is unlike presidential elections, in that the public is not selecting the one media outlet that the entire nation will trust. If it were, under presidential election rules, the outlet would have to get a majority–not a plurality–in the electoral college. (Looking at the popular vote, no president has won with as little as 35 percent of the popular vote since John Quincy Adams in 1824.)

O’Reilly went on (to Kurtz’s strenuous agreement):

O’REILLY: And you saw the gap between Fox News, 35 percent.

KURTZ: Oh, a huge gap.

O’REILLY: And the next was PBS.

KURTZ: Right–way down.

O’REILLY: OK, way down. So that means that–and it’s not all conservative people. This was a random poll. Random poll, all right? They didn’t say, we’re going to dial up the conservatives.

KURTZ: Right, right, right.

O’REILLY: This was who they trust. So that is the fact, and these pinheads can spin it any way they want, that’s a fact.

Actually, the findings are pretty strongly partisan. Looking at who said they trusted which outlets, the poll found that Republicans strongly prefer Fox News  and distrust most other media outlets; meanwhile, Democrats trust other outlets much more than they trust Fox. As the pollsters put it, Fox “leads the way because of its continuing near total support among Republicans as the place to go for news–69 percent of Republicans say it’s their most trusted source, with nothing else polling above 7 percent. “

Fox News is certainly the place for Republicans to go to be told what they want to hear–including that their favorite news outlet is the one that Americans in general find most trustworthy.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.