Is America, as a nation, gullible? Well, based on the recently published results of a large-scale survey, we certainly seem to be.
The Program on International Policy Attitudes — a non-partisan, non-profit research group that studies the attitudes of the American public and policymaking community regarding international policy issues — joined Knowledge Networks, a polling, social science and market research firm, to publish the results of a study conducted from January to September. The study dealt with the misconceptions Americans held regarding the war in Iraq and of how different news sources affected these misconceptions.
Choosing their large pool of respondents randomly, PIPA took great care to ensure that its results would be representative of the entire adult population.
These statistics draw into serious question the objective integrity of American news media, and most notably Fox News, with regard to the war in Iraq.
If nothing else, this report proves that the American people need to be substantially more critical of their news sources.
Given the profound influence the media had on American popular support for the war, it’s surprising that conservative demagogues nationwide are still decrying the media as liberal.
Over the past year, the United States has been the center of fierce international controversy over its buildup to, and involvement in, the war in Iraq. Many otherwise influential nations were wringing their hands in helpless consternation as America pursued this policy.
Despite the vehement opposition of the rest of the world, a noteworthy majority of Americans supported the war throughout its every stage.
At times of political controversy, we cannot deny the powerful influence of mass media on the perceptions of the general populace. As the major source of information upon which members of the public base their opinions, the media plays a crucial role in deciding the prevailing character of the public’s perception of any issue.
It follows that news coverage throughout the war, its buildup, and its aftermath, must be considered among the principal influences on American popular opinion regarding Iraq.
PIPA surveyed a total of 8,634 respondents over seven polls, regarding three major misconceptions: that Iraq was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks and that there was evidence of links between Iraq and al Qaeda; that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the war; and that world public opinion generally approved of the United States going to war.
The results showed that 60 percent of the respondents held at least one misconception, of which 32 percent held one, 20 percent held two and 8 percent held all three. Not surprisingly, the greater number of misconceptions held by any group of respondents, the greater chance they supported the war.
Since 80 percent said they usually got their news from television and radio, the polls focused on the most popular news networks.
With 18 percent citing it as their primary source of news, Fox claimed the largest number of respondents. Of that 18 percent, 80 percent held one or more of the three misconceptions, more than any other group by at least 9 percent.
Respondents citing any of the other networks as their primary news sources, including print media, fell into a range of 47 to 71 percent holding any number of the three misconceptions, except those who preferred Public Broadcasting Service or National Public Radio. Of the latter group, only 23 percent held at least one of the three misconceptions.
The overwhelming majority of the news networks included in this poll perpetuate misconceptions to substantial portions of their audiences. They, thereby, peddle popular support for President Bush’s war.
It’s times like these when the incessant conservative griping about the so-called liberal media seems more ludicrous than ever.
J.P. Fridy, The Pitt News,University of Pittsburgh