Turns Out, Turning Off Fox News Really Does Make People Smarter

In the alternative universe that is right-wing hate media Russian president Vladimir Putin is justified in his attack on Ukraine; Joe Biden is not the legitimate president of the United States; “Socialists,” “Communists,” and “woke” police de-funders have taken over the Democratic party; the climate crisis is a “hoax; the January 6, 2021 attempted coup against the government was a “false-flag” operation; and Hillary Clinton is still guilty of…something.

Have you ever wondered what’s wrong with people to cause them to believe all these lies?

How could they be so gullible?

Turns out, there’s hope.

According to a recent study, the problem, apparently, may not be with them.

For the study titled “The manifold effects of partisan media on viewers’ beliefs and attitudes: A field experiment with Fox News viewers,” authors David Broockman of Stanford University and Joshua Kalla of Yale paid Fox News viewers $15 an hour to watch CNN seven hours a week for 30 days.

What they found is that within that period, participants became more discerning, skeptical, and less likely to buy into the fake news to which they had grown accustomed.

Researchers explained:

“CNN provided extensive coverage of COVID-19, which included information about the severity of the COVID-19 crisis and poor aspects of [Donald] Trump’s performance handling COVID-19. Fox News covered COVID-19 much less. The coverage of COVID-19 it did offer provided little of the information CNN did, instead giving viewers information about why the virus was not a serious threat. On the other hand, Fox News extensively but highly selectively covered racial issues, and its coverage of these issues provided extensive information about [Joe] Biden and other Democrats’ supposed positions on them and about outbreaks of violence at protests for racial justice in American cities. CNN provided little information about either. The networks both covered the issue of voting by mail, but again dramatically different information about it (in addition to offering different frames).”

This shows the spell hyper-partisan media puts people in can be broken.

Joshua Kalla stated:

“People who watch cable news tend to be very politically engaged and have strong opinions about politics, limiting the impact of the media. Similarly, they also tend to be strong partisans who might not trust any source not associated with their party.”

He added:

“A lot of people might expect this audience to completely resist what CNN had to say, but we see people learning what CNN was reporting and changing their attitudes, too. It is therefore surprising that watching CNN had any impact at all in this experiment.”

This most recent study is not the first documenting right-wing hate media, particularly Fox‘s, corrosive effect.

In 2010, a WorldPublicOpinion.org study out of the University of Maryland concluded that Fox News viewers were more inclined to be malinformed on numerous domestic issues than other news consumers.

According to the study:

“Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points).”

This brainwashing is the subject of filmmaker Jen Senko’s documentary The Brainwashing of My Dad.

In it, Senko chronicles her father’s descent into “weaponized media platforms being operated by Fox News, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh and many other bad actors who seek a more bellicose and ‘dumbed down’ public that is constantly being told to be angry at everything–rarely understanding that the real objective is to steer them toward voting for far right issues and candidates.”

What Senko concludes is that her father was not an anomaly.

The brainwashing “was occurring with alarming frequency in living rooms across America.”

Corroborating the Broockman and Kalla study, Senko notes how secretly changing her father’s website diet from hate media to more so-called “liberal” outlets evinced a  transformation from irascible, irrational curmudgeon back into the pleasant, tolerant man he once had been.

It looks like there is hope for our relatives sitting across from us on the holidays spouting outrage and conspiracy theories.

If we can only get them to agree to turn off the hate.

Image credit: Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.