In an October 4 interview with CNBC‘s Tim Russert, Fox News star Bill O’Reilly made a puzzling boast about his network’s Iraq coverage. He said, “Well, I think Fox News Channel was lucky because we were less skeptical of the war, and the war went very well. So we won.”
O’Reilly treated his network’s lack of skepticism as a point of pride, something to brag about. Is that really what people are looking for in a news source–credulity?
If you believe that a journalistic enterprise “wins” not by cheerleading for the more powerful side, but instead by informing its audience, then a recent study indicated that Fox News was actually the biggest loser during the war. The survey, by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes, found that misconceptions about the Iraq war were closely related to what news outlets an individual relied on for information. And for each misperception studied by the research group, viewers of Fox News were the most likely to be misinformed.
For example, 33 percent of Fox News viewers incorrectly believed it was true that the U.S. has found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction; only 11 percent of people who said they relied on PBS or NPR for news got this wrong. Thirty-five percent of the Fox viewers thought that world opinion favored the U.S. invasion of Iraq; only 5 percent of those who get their news from PBS or NPR had this misconception. And an overwhelming 67 percent of those who relied on Fox thought that the U.S. had found clear evidence that Saddam Hussein had worked closely with Al Qaeda; if you got your news from PBS/NPR, you had just a 16 percent chance of believing this falsehood.
In Fox‘s defense, viewers of CNN and the broadcast networks, particularly CBS, were not much better informed. But on three major questions central to the debate about Iraq, Fox viewers were the most likely to get it wrong. So is Fox‘s Iraq coverage something that O’Reilly should be proud of? You decide.