Cognitive Psychology

Partisan Coverage Filtering or Yes, Fox News Really Does Shape Its Viewers Attitudes

We’ve known for a long time that Fox News rots the brains of its viewers. We’ve tons of anecdotal evidence, namely our parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. Every minute you’ve spent listening to the spittle inflected rantings and ravings of your favorite drunk uncle as he regurgitates his alcohol of choice and Fox News talking points at you makes it seem like you know all you need to know about the effect that Fox News has on its viewers. But, like Galileo found out when he dropped four-inch iron and wooden balls off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Aristotle’s intuitive conclusions didn’t reflect reality. They need to be tested.

This is the strongest data yet for reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on our news outlets.

So, here, dear reader, is scientific empirical evidence that Fox News really does rot the brains of its viewers. #ScienceFact. In this paper reporting on this experiment is evidence that the damage is reversible, Fox viewers can be saved from their pernicious influence.

The Effects of Partisan Media

David Brookman and Joshua Kalla conducted an experiment in which they persuaded real live loyal partisan conservative Fox viewers to give up their Fox News viewing for one whole month and watch CNN instead! I know, it defies belief, but, unless they are making the whole thing up, it really happened.

They had the participants complete real-time viewership quizzes to help ensure that they really were watching CNN and not sneaking peeks at Fox. The outcome strongly suggests that what you’re viewing influences your “actual beliefs, attitudes, perceptions of issues’ importance, and overall political views.” They attribute this media viewing affect to something they are calling partisan coverage filtering.

Partisan coverage filtering is the bias that is induced when news “outlets selectively report information, leading viewers to learn a prejudiced set of facts.” While those who study media influence have long known that media influences behavior, attitudes, and beliefs, including voting and which “facts” you cherry-pick to believe, no one has really figured out the how of it… until now.

The Three Simple Techniques Partisan Media Uses

Partisan media’s coverage and reporting can be broken down into three methods of influence: agenda setting, framing, and partisan coverage filtering.

AGENDA SETTING. By looking at the volume of coverage on a particular issue, you can see how it influences the “agenda” of the viewers. Agendas in this context refer to the issues that viewers consider important and how they rank these issues. We see big differences in the issues that conservatives and liberals consider important. We see shifts in what the general public considers important based on the stories being reported in the media.

FRAMING. Issues are framed by emphasizing certain aspects of the issue before actually addressing any of the factual information. You know, the whole abortion is murder thing. If you describe abortion as murder, the viewer frames all other subsequent information through the filter of an abhorrent crime. We can’t help it. It is the way our brain is designed to work. To defy the framing of an issue, you have to (a) realize the issue is being framed and (2) consciously and effortfully counter the frame, which is only partially successful at best. It takes cognitive effort, which in and of itself runs counter to our evolution. Our brains evolved to be lazy and accept frames. Thinking is hard, so we avoid it.

PARTISAN COVERAGE FILTERING. When media companies cherry-pick the “facts” about a cherry-picked story to present to its viewers in a heavily slanted partisan-way, it directly influences which “facts” the viewers learn and accept about the story. So, not only have the media companies set the agenda by selecting which stories to report on, and not only have they framed the issue by presenting the information in a biased manner, they have also helped form the memories and recall of its viewers about these topics so that it is all favorable to the media’s political point-of-view.

Conclusions of the Study

The researchers developed two particular conclusions:

FIRST, political partisan points-of-view are not driven by cherished political belief, nobly rejecting contrary information, and fighting for what they believe in. Instead, their cherished political beliefs are driven by the information that they are exposed to.

It only took a month to transform your rabid drunk rage uncle from a quaking waddling conservative duck into quacking waddling whatever kind of duck watches CNN, but they were no longer volcanoes spouting ludicrous Putin-driven drivil.

SECOND, highly partisan media is undermining our democracy. Since democracy is dependent on the electorate making informed choices, manipulating the information that those choices are made suing fundamentally alters the choice. By omitting crucial information makes the decisions made without that information complete rubbish. Democracies cannot work if their electorate is not properly informed.

THIS STUDY CONFIRMS what we already knew, Fox News and other even more partisan media outlets are poisoning the minds of their viewers. They are using tried and true propaganda techniques. They focus on issues that allow them to hype fear, threats, and loss. They set the agenda by the amount of coverage the devout to an issue. They lead their viewers to their conclusions by framing the issue using phrases and words that inflame their viewers in the ways they would like them inflamed. And, then ensure that these views of these issues are cemented into their psyches by selecting the information that is given about them.

It is clearly a deliberate attempt to manipulate our electorate to control our government to ensure that the needs of the Murdochs and their ilk are met at the expense of the average American. The damnable thing is that their viewers are willing lambs being led to the slaughter. They “prefer” the Fox News version of the world no matter how far it deviates from reality.

The participants in the study changed their attitudes, beliefs, interests, and behaviors to more closely align with the information CNN provided. After the study ended, though, they went right back to Fox News and right back to the attitudes, beliefs, interests, and behaviors that Fox was promoting.

Fox News and other partisan news media outlets are distorting the views of a segment of our electorate. The distorted beliefs of Fox viewers is also supported by the social bubbles of fellow viewers. They are radicalizing them. They are creating the conditions for real political violence in which real live innocent Americans will be killed.

The editorial positions perpetrated by Fox has been created by an equally distorted view of reality. This view of reality has been distorted by the billions of dollars that the ownership and their cronies have. You cannot understand the actual problems that are threatening the continued existence of humanity when you’re viewing it all through $100 billion rose colored glasses.

In short, as long as Congress refuses to manage our media, including social media, the more untenable our democracy becomes. Wherever Republicans control government, our democracy and rights have been eroded, making the next election, the MOST IMPORTANT election in the history of the country. Give Republicans control of any governing body from school boards to Congress, and whatever they touch will turn to shit.

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Image Attribution

Cloud Gate visual illusions” by Minarae is marked with CC BY 2.0.

26 replies »

    • Howdy Carol!

      I am continually amazed at how easily the mind is fooled. Fox News and their ilk are just tricking those fools, but the good news is that they can be easily tricked into becoming average citizens again. All we have to do is eliminate those conservative media outlets or, at least, limit their reach.


      Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      I suddenly remember that I hadn’t answered your excellent comment and links.

      It will never cease to amaze me how certain I am of what is right and wrong, for example, people are born gay and can’t chose or change it, and how equally certain people who believe the exact opposite are of their beliefs. I like to think that I’ll change my belief if someone has some kind of proof that I’m wrong or they’re right.

      Some views have become reified, like those on abortion; others have not. It is some comfort that if you change the inputs, people will change their beliefs and practices. Just like those of the younger generations seemingly to be less racist.

      I am reminded of Arlie Hochschild’s finding that many conservatives have a very distorted view of reality and believe many things that are just plain wrong and easily demonstrated to be wrong. For example, that most people receiving state or federal assistance are white, the birth rates of whites and blacks are roughly equal, and that state employees make less than their for profit counterparts. These are all easily demonstrated, yet their misconceptions persist.

      It isn’t just conservatives, though. It is also the “average” person. They believe right now that unemployment is up, for example. This is in part because the media reports much more negatively on the Biden administration, and, seemingly, on Democratic administrations in general.


      Liked by 1 person

      • For a lot of people, if they happen to know one person who is unemployed, then unemployment is up. And, it is clear that those who promulgate and profit from the misconceptions rely on the fact that most people don’t understand statistics. Add to that the general response that anybody who is presenting evidence that your preconceptions are wrong must be lying or stupid (or, both). Our old friend motivated reasoning is alive and well.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          We do have that tendency to overgeneralize and then with Fox News and conservative media outlets just lying about unemployment and not reporting the actual employment figures unless they are bad, it is easy to get the wrong idea. Also, employers who are underpaying are having difficulty finding employees, so there are lots of help wanted signs out. That more reinforces the lazy ungrateful taker mythology and high unemployment because of it.

          And, when you have a conclusion that you just have to defend, you’ll use motivated reasoning to do so. We live in a helluvan age, don’t we?


          Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Ten Bears!

      No comment gets posted here until I approve it. You’re only recent comment was made two hours ago. I just approved it. Pretty fast turn around for me. Given time differences between Cambodia and the States, it can be twelve or more hours.


      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think there’s more to it, to barely literate bare-footed rubes sprawled drooling Pavlovianly across a “couch” the backseat out of a nineteen and sixty-nine Chevy Suburban drunker than seven hundred Scots on the Ambien, Prozac, Viagra and crotch-shots on Fox Kool-Aid, but yeah, that’s the core of it: gaslighting.

    It’s true: there’s no separation of church and state, of politics and religion. Arabic and by extension, Arabic script was at base a religious language used for religious purposes, and its use for secular subjects was not common. We use Arabic script. Though not rooted in Akkadian our language is rooted in the language of religion. Everything we do and say is rooted in religion.

    Religion’s most successful tool ~ I don’t care what kind of religion it is ~ is gaslighting.

    That there are minds susceptible to it is another conversation …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Ten Bears!

      As I understand it, we are all susceptible to gaslighting. Some more so than others, though.

      The thing that I found curious and hopeful was that when the participants watched CNN, they just adopted those ideas even though they knew that it was only temporary, CNN was the “enemy,” and what was backed by Fox News. One thing that supports is the notion that we form our impression of reality from the beliefs of those around us. If everyone believes it to be true, then it must be true. Trying to hold on to some absolute form of truth is damned difficult. It is a lie that we tell ourselves so that we will accept that what I believe today is what I’ve always believed. In that sense, the core of human thought is the basis of gaslighting.


      Liked by 1 person

      • That is another conversation, one we’ve already touched upon the edges: the Narrative is but one leg of the three-legged stool that maintains the status quo, with a by design failed education system and religious fear and loathing the other two. Gaslighting has been around as long as there have been individuals who have figured out how to profit from others’ labors, their pain and the potential of their pain.

        Liked by 2 people

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