The Things the Viewers Believe Are True

A couple of weeks ago a guffaw made its way around Twitter among the respectable journalist types concerning a Yahoo!-YouGov poll posing questions about COVID-19 and the response thereto.  Overall, the poll found most people intending to comply and supportive of various measures, with one contrary finding that Republicans and (more so) Fox News viewers thinking “the cure is worse than the disease.”

That said, even for them, that belief did not dramatically extend into blaming government officials for the overreach.  The attitude broadly appeared to be that they were doing the best that they could, albeit making decisions that would likely prove to be mistakes.

The J-school guffaws were in response to one question under the category “veracity of stories on the Internet”:

Bill Gates wants to use a mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 to implant microchips in people that would be used to track people with a digital ID

According to the poll, 50% of Fox News viewers said that was true, as did 44% of Republicans and of Trump supporters.  Naturally, this was presented on Twitter as evidence of the harm caused by the reporters’ least favorite news network, political party, and politician.  Conspicuously, they didn’t note that a plurality of Hispanics held the same beliefs and that the numbers for “local TV” and “network news” viewers were pretty close.  Only for CNN and MSNBC could one say that most viewers thought the story is obviously false.

So, are those stations the most accurate, or is the difference mainly that this particular false story more closely aligns with the ideology that they push?

Well, turning to the “veracity” of stories saying states like Florida, Georgia, and Texas had seen a “surge” of new coronavirus-related deaths after reopening, one must conclude that ideology is the bigger factor.  For this demonstrably untrue story, only Fox News viewers (as well as Republicans and Trump supporters) got it right.

The lesson, here, is that one should gather information from a variety of sources.  All networks and journalists will have ideological blinders that lead them to emphasize one story over another and to believe one claim over another.  Sometimes those that are more ideological will actually be better at catching the truth or falsehood of a story because they aren’t distracted by complications and because a desire for that outcome counterbalances deceptively plausible or implausible aspects.

This poll reinforces the widely held understanding that only one of the TV news sources will offer a reliably different view.  That suggests that Fox News viewers are more likely too hear conflicting views from some other source and, therefore, may actually be better positioned to know the truth than guffawing journalists.

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