Is Fox really to blame?

We recently watched documentary film Outfoxed, which lambasted Fox News’ claim of “fair and balanced” reporting by exposing a veritable river of bad journalistic practice and blatant bias in Fox News’ internal workings. There’s no debating that Fox News is responsible for a shocking amount of misinformation. Nevertheless, we must consider: is Fox’s bad practice responsible for propagating sexist and racist beliefs in viewers? Or does it go the other way, a la reflection hypothesis?

Brendan Nyhan seems to think otherwise. In his New York Times article, “Americans Don’t Live in Information Cocoons,” he points to studies that indicate that some cultural force other than media is driving the divide between how Democrats and Republicans see the world. His conclusion (emphasis mine):

In short, while it’s still possible to live in a political bubble of your own choosing, the best evidence suggests that very few people are getting their news only from like-minded outlets. Why, then, do so many Americans seem to live in different political realities?

The problem isn’t the news we consume, it seems, but the values and identities that shape how we interpret that information — most notably, our partisan beliefs. In other words, Democrats and Republicans don’t see the world so differently because they see different news; rather, they see the news differently because they’re Democrats and Republicans in the first place.

It’ll be worth tracking this, especially as the struggle to quantify and think about media effects continues. I’d be interested to hear some other peoples’ thoughts on this.

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