On Sunday, during Jon Stewart's twenty-five-minute media criticism debate with Fox News' Chris Wallace, the Daily Show host claimed that Fox viewers were the most "consistently misinformed" in "every poll." Politifact, the fact-checking project of the St. Petersburg Times, was surprised that Wallace let that claim go unchallenged. Perhaps, like us, he'd heard the refrain so much that he let it slip past him.
Politifact, however, investigated Stewart's statement by referring to the media "knowledge" surveys produced by two polling organizations: the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the University of Maryland's worldpublicopinion.org. What they found didn't exactly align with the Daily Show host's claim: Fox News scored low among media outlets, but--depending on the survey--it did outpace some competitors. Here's Politifact's nuanced conclusion, leading them to deem Stewart's remark "false":
So we have three Pew studies that superficially rank Fox viewers low on the well-informed list, but in several of the surveys, Fox isn’t the lowest, and other general-interest media outlets -- such as network news shows, network morning shows and even the other cable news networks -- often score similarly low. Meanwhile, particular Fox shows -- such as The O’Reilly Factor and Sean Hannity’s show -- actually score consistently well, occasionally even outpacing Stewart’s own audience.
Meanwhile, the other set of knowledge surveys, from worldpublicopinion.org, offer mixed support for Stewart. The 2003 survey strikes us as pretty solid, but the 2010 survey has been critiqued for its methodology.
The way Stewart phrased the comment, it’s not enough to show a sliver of evidence that Fox News’ audience is ill-informed. The evidence needs to support the view that the data shows they are "consistently" misinformed -- a term he used not once but three times. It’s simply not true that "every poll" shows that result.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.