According to a major study done by the University of Maryland, the more commercial television news you watch, the more wrong you are likely to be about key elements of the Iraq War and its aftermath. The study also found that the more you watch Fox News, in particular, the more likely it is that your perceptions about the war are wrong.
Among the other results of the study:
• Forty-eight percent of the public believe US troops found evidence of close pre-war links between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist group; 22 percent thought troops found weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq; and 25 percent believed that world public opinion favored Washington's going to war with Iraq. All three are misperceptions.
• The more misperceptions held by the respondent, the more likely it was that s/he both supported the war and depended on commercial television for news about it.
• Sixty percent of the people surveyed held at least one of the three misperceptions through September. Thirty percent of respondents had none of those misperceptions.
• The percentage of people holding the misperceptions rose slightly over the last three months. In July, for example, polls found that 45 percent of the public believed US forces had found "clear evidence in Iraq that Hussein was working closely with al-Qaeda". In September, 49 percent believed that.
• Likewise, those who believed troops had found WMD in Iraq jumped from 21 percent in July to 24 percent in September. One in five respondents said they believed that Iraq had actually used chemical or biological weapons during the war.
• There was a high correlation between respondents with the most misperceptions and their support for the decision to go to war. Only 23 percent of those who held none of the three misperceptions supported the war, while 53 percent who held one misperception did so. Of those who believe that both WMDs and evidence of al-Qaeda ties have been found in Iraq and that world opinion backed the United States, a whopping 86 percent said they supported war.
• Among those who believed that Washington had found clear evidence of close ties between Hussein and al-Qaeda, two-thirds held the view that going to war was the best thing to do. Only 29 percent felt that way among those who did not believe that such evidence had been found.
• Republicans were substantially "more likely" to hold misperceptions than Democrats.
• The average frequency of misperceptions among respondents who planned to vote for Bush was 45 percent, while among those who plan to vote for a hypothetical Democrat candidate, the frequency averaged only 17 percent.
• When asked "Has the US found clear evidence Saddam Hussein was working closely with al-Qaeda"? 68 percent of Bush supporters replied affirmatively. By contrast, two of every three Democrat-backers said no.
• For each of the three misperceptions, the study found enormous differences between the viewers of Fox, who held the most misperceptions, and NPR/PBS, who held the fewest by far. Eighty percent of Fox viewers were found to hold at least one misperception, compared to 23 percent of NPR/PBS consumers. All the other media fell in between. CBS ranked right behind Fox with a 71 percent score, while CNN and NBC tied as the best-performing commercial broadcast audience at 55 percent. Forty-seven percent of print media readers held at least one misperception.
• As to the number of misconceptions held by their audiences, Fox far outscored all of its rivals. A whopping 45 percent of its viewers believed all three misperceptions, while the other commercial networks scored between 12 percent and 16 percent. Only nine percent of readers believed all three, while only four percent of the NPR/PBS audience did.
• Seventy-eight percent of Bush supporters who watch Fox News said they thought the United States had found evidence of a direct link to al-Qaeda, while 50 percent of Bush supporters who rely on NPR/PBS thought so.
• Conversely, 48 percent of Fox viewers who said they would support a Democrat believed that such evidence had been found. But none of the Democrat-backers who relied on NPR/PBS believed it.
• The study also debunked the notion that misperceptions were due mainly to the lack of exposure to news. Among Bush supporters, those who said they follow the news "very closely" were found more likely to hold misperceptions. Those Bush supporters, on the other hand, who say they follow the news "somewhat closely" or "not closely at all" held fewer misperceptions. Conversely, those Democratic supporters who said they did not follow the news very closely were found to be twice as likely to hold misperceptions as those who said they did.Source