I read a Yahoo! News blog post by Joe Pompeo entitled “PolitiFact shreds Jon Stewart’s Fox News misinformation claim”.1 This was written in response to a claim Stewart made on Fox News Sunday in which he stated “One of the most consistently misinformed [groups of] media viewers…Fox, Fox viewers”.2 Pompeo claimed that, well, precisely what was in his title. So I read the PolitiFact article.3 It mentions several surveys that asked political and economic questions as well as what types of media the respondents use. The first survey asked 23 political questions; Fox, in general, scored near the bottom of other news media outlets, but average in comparison to all media outlets. Again, note that Stewart said “media viewers” and not “news media viewers”. In the second, third, and fourth listed surveys, only 3-4 questions were asked–arguably not sufficient for any claim based on the responses. The fifth survey had 11 (even though it says 10 on Politifact) questions (in the form of agreeing or disagreeing with a statement presented); and here active Fox viewers had a tendency of deviating from the consensus of experts: “Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that…[9 statements deemed false by experts or are simply false]”.4
Now that we have some data, let us clarify what Stewart’s claim was. He claimed Fox’s viewers were the most consistently misinformed. What does it mean to be misinformed? Clearly it means the viewers in majority were misinformed most of the time (“most of the time” being the consistency part). If we only deem two of the surveys worthy of providing data about misinformation, then one could certainly argue that more surveys should be conducted. Hence I could concede that the consistency component of the claim is neither proven nor disproven.
Now we return to the issue of all media outlets versus news/political media outlets. Given the types of questions in the surveys (which were all political/economic in nature), if any conclusions regarding misinformation are to be made, then they could only be made about political misinformation. Hence to say that the referenced surveys in the Politifact article do anything (i.e. shred Stewart’s argument) is to capitulate that Stewart meant political misinformation. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a stickler at interpreting things literally, and Stewart did say “media viewers” and “misinformed”, and not “news media viewers” and “politically misinformed”. If we interpret his claims literally, then the Politifact article does little to prove or refute his claim (and certainly does not “shred” it). Although if we take, at least what I think, is a small step and assume he meant the latter two things, then the findings are worth noting.