It’s a chicken and egg kind of question. While it’s true that multiple studies have shown that Fox News viewers are incredibly misinformed about current events and basic facts, it’s hard to say how much of that is a result of watching Fox News and how much of it is explained by the type of people that are attracted to Fox News in the first place.
Imagine if you could somehow hold Fox News’ viewership constant but change the programming so that it was entirely factual, as objective as possible, and aimed at educating the public about complex and confusing aspects of public policy and government. In this thought experiment, these viewers wouldn’t become bored and switch the channel to American Dad and new voters would not become attracted to the better quality programming.
Would Fox News viewers begin to show signs that they understood current events and basic facts as well as or better than the viewers of other networks?
My suspicion is that they would make some gains but they would never reach parity. The reason is because their higher brain function is undeveloped or simply damaged. They are attracted to fear and they get some kind of positive rush out of hate. Their capacity for empathy is either lacking or it has atrophied. Without the kind of stimulus that Fox News provides to feed their distorted emotions, they’re unlikely to function, let alone learn.
Of course, this thought experiment is silly. We can’t force people to watch Fox News or any other network, nor would we want to. Yet. I think it’s still true that Fox doesn’t so much misinform as entertain. As Chris Wallace says, Fox viewers “aren’t the least bit disappointed” with what the network does. They don’t really care that they’re being fed a line of bullshit.
I know the feeling. It can be pleasurable to watch a segment on MSNBC that blasts the Republicans even if I feel the segment is ridiculous. But, I don’t really like MSNBC programming for the same reason I don’t like Fox. They both are trying to feed the same thing: permanent outrage. It’s like an addiction, and their audience tunes in for a fix.
But, what am I saying? I’m in the same business. I guess I don’t want to buy what I’m selling.
On the other hand, the shit I am outraged about is at least real.