Why Fox is the most trusted news source in the country and MSNBC is the least

June 24, 2014

TRUSTED NEWS: Recent survey finds Fox News
most trusted source, MSNBC the least.

Outrageous. A sham. Totally biased.  Bad data. Disgraceful. That just might be your response to a recently publicized survey that found Fox News to be the most trusted news source in America, while MSNBC to be the least. In fact, an astounding 25 percent of respondents cited Fox as the most trusted source, while only 10 percent said that MSNBC was their most trusted news source.

The survey was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Washington, D.C. think tank The Brookings Institution. How is that possible? I have written extensively in the past about my thoughts on both Fox News and MSNBC, and while I support their rights to project their own biases, I do fault both of them for the unrelenting focus on the outrage of the day — a non-stop storm of negativity that only serves to divide Americans from one another. Still, it’s about ratings, and the best way to steal viewers from episodic and reality-based TV is to piss them off.

I get that. But still, why the divide? If they both lack objectivity, shouldn’t they both rank similarly in trust, all things being equal? Well, as the survey demonstrates, it isn’t equal when it comes to analyzing cable news. The shortcoming isn’t in the set-up which innocuously asked, “Which of the following television news sources do you trust the most to provide accurate information about politics and current events?” That’s fair enough.  But then consider the range of answers:

  • Fox News
  • Broadcast TV
  • CNN
  • Public television
  • The Daily Show with John Stewart

It’s strange how the answers present a miss mash of categories. I mean, I do this stuff for a living, and I can’t tell you whether public television is or is not broadcast TV. It is, I think. But also, count up the number of conservative media points on this list: one. Then count the number of liberal media points. Well, there’s certainly MSNBC and John Stewart. But I would argue that for the sake of this survey, most people place both CNN and public television closer to MSNBC than to Fox.

Through this prism, the answers cook the results by defusing liberal respondents over a number of media points and concentrating conservative views on one — Fox News.

The truth is that we all tend to consume that media which affirms our own beliefs and outlooks on life. Confirmation bias is the primary ratings hook of both Fox News and MSNBC. But in this case, it’s more than just the bias that awards Fox the dubious distinction of being most trusted. It’s also in how the answers slice up one half of the audience while focusing the other half on a single choice.

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