I am neither a supporter nor a regular follower of Fox News.

That statement has less to do with my personal beliefs and much, much more to do with 40+ years as a reporter, editor and journalist working in many locales. It is professionally-based rather than a political or personal bias. My lack of regard for the Murdoch product comes from working many of my years for real taskmasters who pounded the ethics of professional journalism into my head and made me feel real consequences if I was “loose with the truth” as one used to say.

If you assume a viewer of Fox News is absolutely impartial politically, and comes to the experience without preconceptions of people and events in the days news, that viewer will often not gain the necessary information to hold an informed view. In fact, he/she will likely know less than people who have not watched Fox.

That is the finding of a recent survey conducted by PublicMind, a research department of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New York. Firectly quoting the bottom line of its report: “People who depend on Fox (News) are even less informed than those who don’t watch any news programming at all.”

The study also found people who watch Sunday morning news programs are more likely better informed than most viewers because subject matter was extended and – in nearly all cases – professionally discussed. But – not Fox News.

PublicMind used in-depth reporting of recent major events in Egypt and other Mideast countries as the basis of questioning. It was felt such stories, coming from many sources and being foreign-based, would bring more impartial answers, less affected by American politics. The fall of Hosni Mubarak and uprisings in Syria were basic subject matter.

People who watched such events on Fox were 18% less likely to know of Mubarak’s ouster by Egyptians than those who watched no news at all. Fox viewers were 6% less likely to know Syrians have not yet overthrown their government. Results were weighted on who watched other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors.

“Because of controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups more likely to watch Fox News,” said Dan Cassino, a political science professor and analyst for PublicMind. “Rather, there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on those questions than those who don’t watch any news at all.”

By contrast, some media sources were shown to have a positive effect on political knowledge. For example, people reading a national newspaper like the New York Times or USA Today were 12 points more likely to be aware of the accurate details in Mideast stories used in the questioning than Fox viewers. But the best informed were those who regularly watched the Sunday morning talk shows. Except Fox.

“Viewers pick up more information from this sort of calm discussion than any other formats,” Cassino said. “Unfortunately, those shows have a much smaller audience than the shouters.”

On the left, MSNBC came in for some criticism in the polling as well. Viewers of that network showed a 10% increase in the likelihood of misidentifying the political leanings of Occupy Wall Street protesters, for example. But on most other issues, MSNBC ranked more toward the middle. Not Fox.

My lifetime in the media tells me Fox and MSNBC viewers seek out those venues because they have a political bias towards the information presented. And in the bias of the presenters which may be similar to their own. While a viewer may be more comfortable with “reporting” supporting his/her own outlook, you often don’t get all the facts. And such “fact” as there may be is – at times – filtered with the announced political leanings of the network. That seems to be what the Fairleigh Dickinson survey shows.

News – REAL NEWS – is not a matter of comfort or affirmation. Reporting should be fact-based and attraction of viewers of similar thought by supporting a particular outlook – right or left – should be ignored. Reporting should not be looked upon as reinforcing one’s point of view or beliefs. Yet Fox – and to some extent MSNBC – do exactly that. And far too often, those viewers check no other media, swearing by what they have seen “reported” on their favorite. Or the one that affirms their thinking.

On a typical day, I look at more than a dozen news sources. I don’t read all of any of them. But I get a journalist’s overview of several angles of a particular story. Or I pick up information in one place not showing up in one or more of the others. Do I look at some I know are “reporting” with a built-in bias? Sure. But I try to apply the bias to the information presented.

PublicMind polling strongly shows many people form their views using supporting sources skewing events or people with an institutional bias.

That’s wrong. And, far too often, so is Fox.

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