The source of the confusion

THE SOURCE OF THE CONFUSION…. The new NBC News poll found a frustrating amount of public confusion about health care reform. Reality notwithstanding, 55% believe illegal immigrants will get coverage; 54% believe there will be a “government takeover” of the health care system; 50% expect to see taxpayer-financed abortions, and 45% believe reform will “allow government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly.” None of these claims is true.

As it turns out, Fox News viewers are throwing off the curve.

Here’s another way to look at the misinformation: In our poll, 72% of self-identified FOX News viewers believe the health-care plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly.

That’s pretty amazing. Americans who get their news from more legitimate sources were also confused, but not nearly to this extent.

Matt Corley added, “As ThinkProgress has pointed out, Fox News regularly distorts the truth about health care reform. Last week, Media Matters found that over a two day period opponents of health care reform outnumbered supporters by a 6-to-1 margin on Fox.”

Let’s also not forget that this is consistent with recent history — in the midst of national policy debates, Fox News viewers routinely get key details wrong more often than the rest of the public. Six months into the war in Iraq, for example, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland released a report on Americans’ understanding of the basics. PIPA found that those who relied on the Republican network were “three times more likely than the next nearest network to hold all three misperceptions — about WMD in Iraq, Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11, and foreign support for the U.S. position on the war in Iraq.”

Fox News viewers would have done better, statistically speaking, if they had received no news at all and simply guessed whether the claims were accurate. Matters have clearly not improved.

It would take an unlikely twist of self-reflection, but at a certain point, Fox News and its audience might take a moment to ponder why these viewers are so wrong, so often, about so much. That almost certainly won’t happen, of course, since they’re not quite well informed enough to realize they’re uninformed, but it’d be interesting to see what they came up with.