Bruce Bartlett rips the negative effect of FAUX News


fox-news-gop-logoI have seen this study reported in numerous places over the past couple of weeks, and I have been meaning to get around to this.

Bruce Bartlett, who served as a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and as a Treasury official under George H. W. Bush, and who now makes his living as an historian, has a new paper examining the damage inflicted upon the American body politic and media by Roger Ailes’ GOPropaganda network, FAUX News. The paper is available at the Social Science Research Network. How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics – SSRN. Excerpts:

The creation of Fox News in 1996 was an event of deep, yet unappreciated, political and historical importance. For the first time, there was a news source available virtually everywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a conservative tilt. Finally, conservatives did not have to seek out bits of news favorable to their point of view in liberal publications or in small magazines and newsletters. Like someone dying of thirst in the desert, conservatives drank heavily from the Fox waters. Soon, it became the dominant – and in many cases, virtually the only – major news source for millions of Americans. This has had profound political implications that are only starting to be appreciated. Indeed, it can almost be called self-brainwashing – many conservatives now refuse to even listen to any news or opinion not vetted through Fox, and to believe whatever appears on it as the gospel truth.

Fox viewers were very right-wing from the start. Numerous surveys show that Republicans and conservatives overwhelmingly favor Fox in their news viewing. A 2010 Pew survey found that Republicans and conservatives favored Fox over all other news sources except Rush Limbaugh. The survey also revealed that Fox had fewer well-educated (college graduate) and well-to-do ($75,000+/year income) viewers than other news sources. A 2015 PPP poll found that for 56 percent of Republicans, Fox was their most trusted news source.

A 2014 poll showed that Fox’s popularity among Republicans has only grown, especially among seniors. Fox has a very old viewership; according to Nielsen, its median viewer is 68 years old – great for ratings, but bad for advertising. Companies tend to shun programs with an older demographic because seniors are assumed to be set in their ways and unlikely to be swayed by advertising to buy different products from those they are already using.

Studies show that Fox viewers have a distinct set of political attitudes and voting patterns that are as much anti-liberal as they are conservative. Indeed, they have a different perception of political reality than those of all other television news viewers. As media critic Michael Wolff put it early in the Fox era:

Fox is not really about politics….Rather, it’s about having a chip on your shoulder; it’s about us versus them, insiders versus outsiders, phonies versus non-phonies, and, in a clever piece of postmodernism, established media against insurgent media.

In the George W. Bush years, however, and especially after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there was a noticeable shift in tone at Fox. Rather than being satisfied with a position relatively to the right of the other news networks, it began objectively tilting well to the right of center. The shift was immediately noticed by media observers.

* * *

Economists and political scientists began studying the “Fox News Effect,” in which the introduction of Fox News on a cable system had a significant impact on voting for Republican candidates in that area. It also caused both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to increase their support for Republican policies.

Buoyed by its success as an explicitly conservative network, it appears that right-wing bias, including inaccurate reporting, became commonplace on Fox. For example:

• A study of network coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2005 found that Fox was alone in supporting the Bush administration during a period when the wars were going badly by any objective standard. It concluded that “scholars should consider Fox as alternative, rather than mainstream, media.”

• Fox instructed its on-air talent to avoid using the term “public option” when discussing health reform and are required to say that global warming is merely a theory “based on data that critics have called into question.”

• A 2010 study found that Fox actively spread rumors and inaccurate information about a proposed mosque planned for lower Manhattan.

• A 2012 study found that Fox takes a dismissive tone toward climate change and interviews a much larger number of doubters than believers. Fox viewers are much more likely to be skeptical of global warming. A 2014 study found that 72 percent of references to climate change on Fox in 2013 were misleading.

• Fox consistently downplays gun violence.

Fox’s bias is so bad that even some conservatives can’t stomach it. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress, has said, “There are certain shows on Fox I can’t watch. Because they’re totally not fair and totally not balanced.”

* * *

It is widely known among public relations professionals that Fox has an “enemies list” of people who are not permitted to be interviewed on the network. All proposed guests are vetted by senior executives and banned if they have criticized Fox or hold views likely to rile its conservative viewers.

* * *

A number of surveys have found Fox views to be less well informed and more likely to have factually untrue beliefs than those who receive their news from mainstream sources. A 2003 University of Maryland study compiled a list of 9 misperceptions about the Iraq war, such as there being a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda and the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, neither of which were true, and asked people which of these misperceptions they believed. Fox viewers were more likely to be misinformed than those getting their news elsewhere.

[Note: This FAUX News misperception is still evident in this week’s Quinnipiac Poll:

71. Do you think going to war with Iraq in 2003 was the right thing for the United States to do or the wrong thing?

                     Tot    Rep    Dem    Ind    Men    Wom
Right thing          32%    62%    16%    26%    32%    32%
Wrong thing          59     28     78     65     61     58
DK/NA                 8     10      6      9      6     10

Going to war with Iraq was the wrong thing to do, American voters say 59 – 32 percent. Republicans support the 2003 decision 62 – 28 percent, while opposition is 78 – 16 percent among Democrats and 65 – 26 percent among independent voters.]

A 2011 survey found that Fox viewers were much more likely to be ill-informed about the Affordable Care Act than those of CNN or MSNBC.

* * *

Another 2011 survey by the Public Religion Institute found that Fox viewers were more likely to believe that whites are as discriminated against as members of minority groups and to hold silly and bigoted views toward Muslims.

Also in 2011, Farleigh Dickinson University surveyed New Jersey residents on their knowledge of various foreign and domestic issues in the news. It found that Fox viewers were consistently more likely to have an incorrect understanding than those getting their news elsewhere.

* * *

A follow-up poll in 2012 asked New Jersey residents 4 questions about domestic and foreign policy issues in the news. Again, Fox viewers were more likely to answer incorrectly.

* * *

A 2015 Farleigh Dickinson national poll again found that Republicans and Fox viewers were more likely to be misinformed about factual matters relating to public policy such as the false beliefs that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States.

Fox Peddles Propaganda

A number of Fox competitors and others have charged that Fox long ago ceased being anything remotely akin to an objective news source and now functions basically as a propaganda arm of the Republican Party.

* * *

Although this arrangement unquestionably aids Republicans in winning elections and votes in Congress, it is not without its downsides. One is that Fox now exercises such powerful control over the GOP that it has become the party’s kingmaker in presidential primaries. Indeed, during the 2012 election cycle, a number of aspirants for the Republican nomination had been paid Fox commentators, including Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. And woe to the Republican who runs afoul of Fox’s top brass or ignores their advice, as Mitt Romney did on one occasion in 2012. Fox is now so important in GOP primaries that candidates must put aside pressing campaign concerns when summoned to a Fox interview, where any error is magnified within the Republican bubble.

* * *

Another problem is that Republican voters get so much of their news from Fox, which cheerleads whatever their candidates are doing or saying, that they suffer from wishful thinking and fail to see that they may not be doing as well as they imagine, or that their ideas are not connecting outside the narrow party base. As a recent academic study found:

Exposure to programs featured on Fox News, such as those hosted by Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, resulted in a greater wishful thinking effect by Romney supporters. In other words, while Romney supporters were substantially more likely to predict their candidate would win the 2012 presidential election, watching Fox News programming exacerbated this effect. [Who can ever forget Karl Rove on election night telling Fox News viewers not to believe that the election has been called for Barack Obama. “It’s not over!”]

It may be that some Republican Fox viewers became complacent and didn’t work as hard as they might if they had been more aware of how badly Romney was doing in the final days of the campaign.

 Conservative Blowback

Consequently, some political observers now question whether Fox is a net plus or a net minus for Republican presidential candidates. As Columbia University political scientist Lincoln Mitchell put it after Romney’s loss:

Fox has now become a problem for the Republican Party because it keeps a far right base mobilized and angry, making it hard for the party to move to the center or increase its appeal, as it must do to remain electorally competitive….One of the reasons Mitt Romney was so unable to pivot back to the center was due to the drumbeat at Fox, which contributed to forcing him to the right during the primary season. Even after the primary season, when Fox became a big supporter for Romney, the rift between official editorial position and the political feelings of Fox viewers and hosts was clear.

Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum perhaps put the complicated, double-edged relationship between Fox and the GOP best when he said, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox. And this balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.”


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The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. I rest my case. These are all about PROFIT, not PEOPLE. I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you fall on, this should concern you greatly.

    PS. Steve..Maddow is ONE PERSON with a one hour program so how in the world does that translate to a liberal channel 24/7? Goodness.

    • Yes, Rachel Maddow is only one person with a one hour show, but when I watch her, I find her so offensive that it taints my view of the entire network. So maybe you are correct and I don’t give MSNBC a fair assessment. I will have to give this some thought.

      • The real issue is the fact that, as a whole, we are being manipulated and lied to…pretty much on a daily basis. We are told what to think, why we should think it, and more. We don’t have real journalists reporting facts for us to think about and make our own decisions..we have infotainment barkers that will say/do whatever it takes to get clicks and increase revenue for the shareholders. This is not good for the people of this country, nor good for our democracy…or what’s left of it. They point fingers at a shiny object and everyone “looks over there!” all while they use you (us) . They lie outright or lie by omission… either way, it’s wrong. I’m asking you to look at the bigger picture here…not argue with me about whether MSNBC is “liberal” or not. I’m telling you it ALL stinks to the core! About the only real journalist left, imo, is Bill Moyers. One. Out of a million carnival barkers.

  2. Right wingers are quick to proclaim Fox’s ratings as some type of proof of Fox’s excellent reporting.
    The reality is their rating isvthecratimg for right wingers and all other news programs (NBC, CBS, ABS, NPR and CNN and MSNBC)should be combined when talking about viewship.
    Fox has all of right wingers while the others divide up the middle and liberal viewership between them

  3. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! I know how much Fox News scares the heck out of the left, but this article just drove that point home all the more. Nothing make liberals more afraid, and therefore more angry, than a news source they don’t control. Fox News is at the top of that list. Unable to control the content, they attack with bitter ferocity. It doesn’t matter if the news is accurate or not, what has to be done is Fox News has to be ridiculed constantly in order to invalidate it as a legitimate source. What makes liberals even more angry is they have been doing that since Fox News first broadcast and it has had NO effect whatsoever. I love reading the criticism and complaints because they are completly silly and without much merit. You have to be a true believer to take them seriously. They are, however, very laughable with desperation and fury combined into almost insensate drivel. I love it.

    • Why is it funny to you that people are misinformed on important issues, Steve?

      And the attack on FOX is exactly because it is not a “legitimate” news site, although it pretends to be. FOX is just another systemic American problem like oligarchs buying our democracy. What you infer as fear of FOX is really fear for our democracy.

      • No, I don’t find it funny that people are misinformed…I find it funny that the left is frightened by Fox News. You may say that the left is not frightened by Fox News, but the desire of the left to destroy demonstrates that is not true. A healthy democracy is one in which all points of view are presented for consideration. The left doesn’t like that. Cheri posted a citation that compared the primary sources of information and how informed the listeners were regarding current events. Fox News did not fare well, but neither did CNN or MSNBC. Yrt no leftist ever complains about CNN or MSNBC not presenting valuable and valid news. It is ideology that drives the criticism of Fox News, not how accurate it is.

      • I have never commentd on the quality of news from Fox News. I find it funny as heck that liberals are so frightened of it. What I do find notable about the poll is that left of center CNN and hard left MSNBC fair little better than Fox News as far as providing information, yet no leftist ever comlains about them. It is ideology and not news quality that drives the criticism of Fox News.

        • MSNBC was NEVER hard left!! And CNN is a RW network if you ask me. It is CORPORATE MEDIA. Not there for truthful information, but for the opinions of the infotainers that masquerade as “journalists.” You must be joking:) Like I said before, unwittingly or not…you have fallen into the trap of purposeful misinformation. Sounds like you’re perfectly happy to eat it all with a spoon. Mission accomplished. I watch none of them because I can read from several sources and come to my own conclusions. If you think that no liberals ever complain about these stations, then you don’t know real liberal thinkers. We just don’t talk about them because they aren’t worthy of time and effort.

          • MSNBC Has Rachel Maddow on it, for goodness sake! You don’t get any further left than that. Obviously, we view these these things very differently.

            We do share the commonality of rarely, if ever, watching these channels for information or news. There are just too many good sources around to waste time with them.

            There does seem to be a contradiction in what you stated…liberals ignore CNN and MSNBC because it isn’t worth their time and energy, yet they spend inordinant amounts of time talking about Fox News. Why is it so hard to admit that liberals are afraid of Fox News?

    • May I also add to my previous comment, that no matter who or what is keeping the truth from the American people, a free and truthful press is vital to our democracy. You should not be laughing or poo pooing the story…you should be outraged . The dumbing down of America is a planned exercise.You just became the very statistic that FOX likes to see. Wake up.

      • This article drives home my point about ideology driving the criticism of Fox News, and not the quality of the news. All of the “propaganda points” she cites apply equally to CNN and MSNBC, but she somehow fails to mention that. I agree with you that a free press is vital to a healthy democracy, but we haven’t had a “free” press in my lifetime. What we have had has generally been a press driven by a leftist ideology. What scares leftists so much about Fox News is it’s conservative perspective. They don’t control it and that is unacceptable to them.

        I was glad to see in the other study you cited that NPR faired well as far as being informative. I often listen to it in the car. It is leftist in it’s approach to current events, but it makes an effort to present both sides of an issue and I respect that. It is usually a weak attempt, but they do try.

        • Leftist ideology? The hell. THAT hasn’t happened for longer than I can remember…but the RW blather about LW media NEVER goes away! You have succumbed to the blather.

          • We are about the same age, I speculate based on previous correspondence, and from the time I started paying attention to news (about age 20, or the late 1960s) all I remember is left wing bias from virtually every news source, especially the TV news. I have to assume you didn’t notice it because it seemed like it was quite centrist from your view of things. But from my perspective, it was not.

  4. Please give us who is on enemies list. Just don’t throw it out there with out naming who is on list.

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