Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fox News and Death Panels: A Love Story

Remember death panels?  Freshly published research in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly examines the predictors of the death panel misperception and I'm gonna point out one main result:

Fox News, you did it again.

The research, by Patrick Meirick at the University of Oklahoma, used national survey data from 2009 to establish that watching Fox News, not other media outlets, led to belief in the myth.  Hardly shocking, but here's the kicker.  It do so -- only among highly educated respondents.

Huh?  Education tends to be associated with greater political knowledge -- not belief in political myths.  Enter into the fray a little thing called motivated reasoning.  I've written in detail about this theory before, and I've used it in my own research (which, oddly best I can tell is not cited in this study ... tsk tsk). Essentially, the theory argues people believe what they want to believe, and the more they care about an outcome, the more they'll believe stuff that fits their predispositions, even if it's obviously bogus.  Biased processing run amok.

The study includes a big fat multiple regression, which makes my data-crunching heart happy, but if you're not a number nerd let me translate.  The author statistically controls for a number of factors you'd expect to lead to belief in the myth and the combo of watching Fox News and education pops out quite nicely. 

Skip to the next graph if you're not into methodological quibbles: I'd argue he fails to account for political interest, but you could counter-argue that's captured by his "follow health reform news" variable, and then I'd counter-counter-argue that no, it doesn't -- that's a global media variable, not a motivational one, and if you included political interest, education might very well disappear.  Yes, methodologists argue about stuff like this, which explains why we rarely get invited to parties.

If you dig into the table, you'll see other media variables basically play no role in this screwy belief.  Only reading newspapers is statistically significant, and it's in the opposite direction of watching Fox News.  In other words, newspaper reading reduced your likelihood to believe in the death panel myth, and it did so regardless of education level.  Whew.  Newspapers still rule.

No comments: