Several times in class we’ve discussed the issues of fairness and balance as they relate to science journalism. Interestingly, the catch phrase of Fox News is “fair and balanced.” However, a recent study (click here for a summary) suggests that exclusive Fox News viewers know less about certain issues than those who watch only CNN or “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” In fact, people who watched no news outperformed those who watched Fox News. Does this mean that “fairness and balance” leads to a misinformed audience OR that Fox News viewers are less informed than others because their source of information is not “fair and balanced” but rather has different goals OR might it mean something entirely different? How might the goals of a media outlet affect their audience’s knowledge?
Why can't the American public answer just 2 of 4 basic questions about international news and not even 2 of 5 questions about domestic current events? Is it because of the source of news they are absorbing? Is it because we don't read newspapers or watch the news enough? Do we just not care? I cannot be sure.
Roughly a year ago, Michael Kelley wrote an article for Business Insider called "Watching Fox News Makes You Less Informed Than Watching No News At All." It summarized a study by students at Fairleigh Dickinson University, during which they polled 1,185 participants nationwide asking them about their political affiliations, which news programs they watched in the past week, and then a series of a few questions about current events.
In the study, they found that overall, those who watched Fox News were the least informed about foreign and domestic news, less even than those who watched no news at all. They found that if people watched the program most affiliated with their political beliefs were more informed than the total population that watched these specified channels (MSNBC for Liberals and Fox News for Conservatives). Even with political affiliation assisting the scores of Fox and MSNBC viewers, they still score significantly lower than people who listen to NPR or any of the other unaffiliated news programs.
Fox News prides itself in being a "fair and balanced" program, which is curious when these poll results are taken into consideration. Rather than judge how people are misinformed due to "fair and balanced" news, I'd like to call into question Fox's definition of the term. From my experience with the program, they frequently discuss issues in a sort of round-table format where the majority of the "experts" at the table are conservative, with a small percentage of liberals who's views are typically overlooked during the discussion. If this is considered "balance" I'd like to question the predisposition of the scale.
They also use a more traditional style of news delivery, with a broadcaster reporting supposedly "fair and balanced" stories. This claim is more difficult to refute because generally reporters cover the facts as they happened, but the stories they choose to show are ones which would be of interest to their conservative audience. They rarely show stories which would interest liberals, which supports the findings of the FDU study that liberals who watched Fox News are far less informed by the program than even people who watch no news at all. It seems as if "fair and balanced," to Fox News simply means fair and balanced in the eyes of their loyal viewers.
Programs like Fox News are not the most reputable sources of information due to their obvious political affiliations. They limit their audience by reporting stories with a bias and reporting stories that would interest their biased viewers. Judging by the poll results, and assuming that "fair and balanced" reporting is that which leads to the most informed public, I would have to say that NPR takes the fair cake on this one. It makes sure to tell stories from the most true point of view out there, and they base this with evidence and investigative reporting, as well as writing in a way that is clearly beneficial to their listeners.