I was listening to the news the other day and I heard a startling thing. It seems that in an age in which we have an over abundance of news sources from TV, Radio, blogs, Internet, etc., a growing number of Americans know less and less about the news.
A media polling company called the “
That’s pretty significant. It’s one thing for well-intentioned people to disagree on the interpretation of facts, but when we don’t even know the facts, how do we function as a democracy? They cited a number of other issues (which party controls the Congress, is the Supreme Court Chief Justice a liberal or a conservative, and does the US have a trade deficit), and in all of these the percentage of people who got it right went down from 1989 to today.
A couple of years ago another polling organization called the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) did a similar survey of our grasp of facts in the news but this time added questions about where people get their news. The results were startling. People were asked about three things. First, did we ever find links between
All of these items were clear, objective facts and were reported on extensively in the news. However, the scary truth is that 60% of Americans got a majority or all of them wrong.
Again, it is one thing to say, “well, even though we don’t have any evidence of danger from
Here are some other things that the majority of Americans got wrong: a big majority (93%) believe that labor and environmental standards should be written into our international trade agreements with other countries. And by a big majority they believe that President Bush agrees with them on that (by 84%). In fact he opposes adding both labor and environmental standards to trade deals.
Americans also support the
Whether we support this or that issue is not my point. My point is that it is frightening that we are so consistently wrong in what we think the basic facts are.
Another part of the Pew surveys looked at where we get our news, and this was also interesting. It seems that if you get your news from Fox news, then you tend to get the basic facts of an issue (say, about whether Osama and Saddam were in cahoots together) wrong a whopping 80% of the time! And if you get your news from public radio or public television (NPR or PBS), then you get the facts wrong about 23% of the time. In other words, if you get your news from Fox, then you are highly likely to still believe that Saddam was somehow behind the attacks of 911 or that Osama Bin Ladin had training camps in
But my original fear is this: These basic facts in the news are not subject to debate. Not one weapons inspector, either from the