I just came across a dead depressing and very interesting study conducted by the Farleigh Dickinson University — about which institution I freely confess I know nothing — which concludes that listeners of the National Public Radio in the United States are amongst its best informed citizens. Those that indulge themselves with Fox News, on the other hand, are the worst.

And the cheer goes up from the liberal gallery.

But be still a moment, my blue hearts. The survey also shows a striking similarity in levels of ignorance between MSNBC-watching American liberals and their foxy conservatives counterparts. So pop goes that weasel, cupcakes. Now, dedicated Team Blue folks might wag their fingers and insist I admit that MSNBC/CNN watching libs did better than Fox-watching cons. It’s true. They did. But given that their edge was only 0.61, which had to be further adjusted to accommodate their perception of themselves as well-informed global citizens, I am inclined to dismiss this difference and declare this one a draw.

The most fascinating part of the study, however, was the bit where MSNBC/CNN watching conservatives (you read that right) and Fox-watching liberals did significantly worse on both domestic and international questions, than when they were allowed to watch broadcast/opinion shows of their choice. Funny, that. Did their distrust and/or dislike (or virulent hatred) of the news (or ‘news’) source act as metaphorical earplugs? Were they unto these channels as the villagers to the boy who cried wolf? Did they bare their fangs at the talk-show hosts, and believed them not? Idle minds wish to know.

For those amongst you who are more inclined to thinking seriously (instead of giggling behind palms — my favoured modus operandi), however, the report also offers this little nugget:

News organizations’ tone and allocation of resources also apparently affected respondents’ abilities to answer questions. NPR has as many domestic bureaus as foreign ones; its listeners did best on questions about international events. “Daily Show” viewers were next. On domestic questions, people who watched Sunday news shows did nearly as well as NPR listeners.

Chew that for a moment. Move it from cheek to cheek. What does it weally say?

Yes. That’s right. This study secwetly confirms that the news-and-opinions business is really a circus within a theatre in a magic show, keeping us distracted, amused, impressed, prejudiced, furious and strategically misinformed with metaphorical dancing elephants, chatty clowns, and blondes in bodysuits on tightropes, to keep us from noticing the owner’s crew of pickpockets quietly working the rows from under the seats. Paying for the privilege of being temporarily enchanted and offered a sense of community, while being permanently cleaned out, and thinking you came out on top. That’s were the news desks are at.

Why yes, you can always come to me for crowd-pleasing pop analysis, with an extra helping of the paranoia cheese. I live to serve.



  1. Farleigh Dickinson University is an example of a certain kind of private university in the US that eschews the traditional disciplines in favor of providing access to high-impact programs like dental hygiene, hotel management, etc. – the kinds of degrees that won’t change the intellectual world, but result in employed graduates pulling down decent salaries. It’s basically the private counterpart of a Tier-II public university. The kind of place you take a job at because you have run out of options, or you need to be in New Jersey, and Rutgers didn’t want to have anything to do with you. These institutions thrive on student loan money. Hence the university does actually have some vested interest in undermining the Republican Party, which is always seeking to under-fund or de-fund higher education.

  2. As for the distinction between MSNBC / CNN and Fox news observers, I’d offer the following conclusions (based on personal experience and hunches). 🙂

    1) MSNBC viewers have received the Gospel according to Rachel Maddow (which is actually fairly good, if quite slanted and ideological): it is at least anchored in the real world, in particular her remarkable coverage of the anti-Republican rebellion in my own state, otherwise blacked out by the mainstream media.

    2) CNN viewers read headlines and fill in the bubble with their own prefabricated notions. They probably represent the large number of Americans who demand an opinion, but don’t exactly know what it is yet.

    3) Fox News people are not mis-informed at all. Their information is perfectly correct, provided you are also willing to accept the existence of the entirely fictional, parallel universe that is the world of Fox News, in which billionaires invest tax breaks into job creation, and Obama is a Kenyan Muslim terrorist, and also (somehow) a godless socialist as well. But Fox is run by Glenn Beck, who believes (as does Mitt Romney, a fellow Mormon) that Native Americans are descended from the Lamanites, a cursed race of pre-Columbian Israelite refugees who once ruled a vast, advanced civilization in the Americas. Um… yeah. So, basically we’re considering whether or not to give the codes for nuclear weapons to a bunch of people who believe in fairy tales.

    • My questions are these: Does Beck still run Fox News? A few relieved acquaintances informed me that he had been kicked off his show, and when I asked if he still held behind-the-scenes positions, they said it was unlikely. I’m quite curious now.

      Second, do you think Beck or Romney really believe what they profess to believe? Isn’t the premise you just outlined a little, well, excruciating on the faculties of trust? I’d sooner believe their conversion to Mormonism is a cover for joining a secret underground international chain-of-power organisation, than accept that elected reps. believe in cursed Israelites who pre-date Columbus, yet found their way over to rule the Americas on the sly.

      • Actually, being a Mormon is a huge political liability for both Beck and Romney, given that Republicans must pitch themselves to Christian Fundamentalists, who used to (not long ago) be fairly certain that Mormons were all devil-worshipping, Satan-possessed monsters. (No kidding: they really did.) But in recent years, the savvy marketing campaigns of the LDS, and their stalwart refusal to be open about what they really believe, have allowed the Church to build a nice gloss of acceptability.

        As for Beck’s position, I hear he has been removed, as much as possible, from the red buttons and important levers, and he’s been awfully quiet lately, but Fox News still “marches in lock-step” with the Republican Party (its words, not mine… actually, Glenn’s words, from back around 2005). If you pay careful attention to Fox News, you realize it is the most relentlessly ideological, carefully-crafted propaganda imaginable. It’s not just babbling idiocy. Someone who knows exactly what they are doing writes every word the Fox talking-heads say. Like announcers for Soviet State Television, they never deviate from their script for even one mili-second.

        • James, here’s a funny story. When we first moved to the States, my good friend and I both discovered Beck at the same time, and we BOTH thought he was an excellent, excellent stand-up comedian. I remember telling her how contemptuous I was of my American peers, because every single one of them preferred this man called Jon Stewart to him, when Beck clearly a far, far superior writer and performer.

          Then we discovered he meant what he said. And people took him seriously. It was surreal.

    • Dipanjan… I’m guessing they didn’t. “Market-oriented research” like this is the latest big thing for Tier-II college administrators. You crank out some *scientific* study that is of use to someone (whether or not it is accurate), and your university / business school gets 15 minutes of fame, worth marketing millions for the institution. It’s all the rage in higher education these days. (Being a professor, I even get to see all this nonsense up close.)

    • I gathered from the way the report presented the data that they took self-identified liberals and conservatives into a closed facility, and allowed them access to only stipulated media outlets. Those that didn’t watch any news shows were probably those that got their news from print, although that detail has been left out. Besides, of course, what James said.

      • Restricting access will be the right way to control, but difficult to do and does not seem they did that. – seems like they randomly surveyed people over phone and along with answers, also wanted to know how the respondents usually get their news. Methodology appears suspect, but I am not surprised by the results.

        • Wonderful. So much for methodological intergrity. My heart swells with pride and joy at my ilk’s new-found genius for simplifying all the boring, annoying, dull stuff.

          The thing is, few of us would be surprised at the results, but now we shall no longer be able to stand by it, because now it looks more like a rigged, finding what you’re looking for ‘study’. Conspiracy theorists might find that very interesting. You know, the same way some people insist the hullabaloo about N. D. Tiwari’s paternity test is really a back-handed confidence-boosting PR move for the Congress, so that when the blood samples are switched and paternity disproved, he can ride on the crest of injured honour and shining integrity?

  3. Don’t know about all that US viewers’ levels of awareness or intelligence. What I do know is that I agree, more or less, with your final analysis which approximates my reasons for having left the media industry after almost a 20 year stint and never looking back. And being the happier for it. (This happiness quotient includes getting rid of my TV five years ago and reading random newspapers everyday instead of any one or two regular ones).

    • Pat, as I tell my parents every time their TV shows get particularly screechy or their news anchors especially jatra-esque, the one thing I will not have at my home is a television. I haven’t watched TV in ten years, and I have no qualms admitting that I am contemptuous of most people who do.

        • You’re a better person than I am. Living ten foot away from a blaring television with Mirakkel, 24-hour news and Bangla/Hindi serials have ground my tolerance down to a fine powder, then thrown it to the four winds.

  4. The two media outlets(Fox and NBC) serve as the mouthpieces of the two main parties. The media-political complex is just too powerful in the USA. No wonder they have been able to manage dissent so well. Look at the coverage of the Occupy for example, the party James Carvil at Rachel Maddow Show is all too bent on shoehorining them in the Democratic fold. While Hannity is all to busy demonising them. Slowly they are creeping back to the first gilded age and the times of Randolph Hearst.

    • Nothing slow about it. We’re already there. But the main difference between now and the Gilded Age is that back then, there was an active socialist movement in the U.S., and the people were considerably more suspicious of the ruling elite. Also, the state did not have anything nearly like the coercive apparatus or propaganda machine it has today.

      • This is what I have been wondering about. In the gilded age, there were the Knights of Labor who formed electoral alliance with the farmers in the Midwest and sent some of their representatives to the Congress. The state was largely absent which meant the Socialist movement was crushed by overt violence backed by the barons like Vanderbilt themselves. But I wonder what is the political strategy of the Occupy Movement as they have been largely absent from the electoral fold apart from a few candidates like Lori Saldana or Nate Kleinman(who to my disappointment failed to make it)? This is a genuine progressive moment to take back the system. And to dismantle the ideology that has been a ruse for what Daniel Rodgers has called the ‘Age of Fracture’. If the solidarity does not translate into concrete policy changes and the electoral arithmetic (already exacerbated by the Supreme court ruling), the momentum will be lost

        • The Occupy movement never generated a coherent political ideology that was successfully conveyed to the masses. The movement hived off in too many directions too quickly. This is always a problem with progressive movements in the U.S., since the left is considerably more complex here than the right-wing (it’s almost the opposite in India, I think). Occupy didn’t last long enough to develop a strategy. It was vehemently not an organized movement, and that was part of its problem. In the U.S., if you oppose the government, you are vilified as being a “lawless mob” if you’re not organized, and vilified as being a conspiracy if you are. In the end, the corporate-military combine wins, and “democracy” delivers yet another demagogue to the White House. The political model that most closely parallels what the U.S. is becoming is perhaps the Roman Republic in its declining decades. Pretty soon, we’ll all be sitting around waiting for a man on horseback. Sad, but I think it’s almost inevitable at this point. Every election seems to come down to a 49-49 split, with the two percent of the population who are truly clueless making the final decision. Do we want corporate blue, or corporate red?

          • Haha. Now, now please do not be so pessimistic. At least you have got a constitution that safeguards certain liberties and is still a dysfunctional republic. The Occupy movement might have fizzled out for now, but as the cuts kick in and the pain really begins to feel, I am sure people will rise up. The left, especially the big unions who have the financial and organizational muscle should try to form an alliance with the Occupy Candidates. They really need to form PAC s and do more community outreach programs. Now there will always be dirty tricks as you have just said, but if the Occupy movement or the Progressives do not realize that the only way to change the system is by entering it first, they are sadly being mistaken. And there are historical precedents in the USA. A cohesive third party will not survive both because the political arithmetic as well as the vehemence of the movement to remain non programmatic, but they can send some of their candidates to the Congress in this election cycle riding onthe wave of discontent.. The real worry as you say, is the ignorance of the swing voters as well as general political apathy. I was so dismayed to see Russ Feingold defeated last time. He was one of the few people who was interested in Electoral reform. When you have moneybags like Chuck Schumer as the ranking no. 2 in the Dems, you know the game is up already. At the end of the day, the Corporates will always have their way(I’m being a realist). The only question is by how much

          • Anindya… you may be unaware that Obama just signed a new law that severely limits protesting at political events. As for the unions, there really is no “big” labor in the U.S. anymore. The number of union jobs has dwindled, shrinking the political clout of organized labor considerably. There is also considerable anti-union bias among working class Americans who don’t “get” how the political system operates against their interests. As for getting progressive candidates into office, the odds are stacked in favor of incumbents. Consider the failed efforts of the “Tea Party,” despite its massive corporate backing, to send more than a handful of new representatives to Washington. (For which I am thankful). It’s very hard to unseat an incumbent in an American congressional or senate election unless you are rich enough to just buy the election outright. As for Russ’s lost, I was just thinking about that, as I live in Wisconsin. I stood just a few feet away from Feingold as he gave one of the last speeches of that campaign. It’s doubly disheartening when you consider the inexperience, lack of character, and utter venality of the Republican candidate who defeated him. Russ told voters the truth, and Johnson told them what they wanted to believe. As for corporations, I’m not necessarily anti-corporate, provided they can be controlled. A recent study showed that most U.S. corporations that spend heavily on right-wing political campaigns do so primarily to compensate for poor business performance. The only way these allegedly hyper-capitalistic firms can survive is by manipulating the political system. In a truly free market, without government support, the corporate right wing would collapse. Which is ironic, you have to admit.

          • The irony of political economy is the USA is held up as the example of what a Free Market can achieve. And there is no bigger lie than that for reasons you have just mentioned(and for historical reasons as well). I am aware of the act Obama has signed. And the recent Nato summit was an example of how militarized the USA has become, even in cases of dealing with peaceful protest. Also there is the controversial clause in the NDA Act 2013 that allows US Military to infinitely detain US Citizens. It is hard to believe the US government can stoop to such levels. Once again, I am remembering the detention of Eugene Debs and the way Wilson crushed the populist moment in early 20th century. But at least, you have the Supreme Court who even in the dark days of Bush upheld certain constitutional principles. So all hope is not lost yet, as Judicial Scrutiny might strike down such laws. Union membership has been dwindling since the 70s 😦 But what is the way forward? We have to make do with the existing institutions. I am thinking the Occupy folks should use the Right to Recall mechanism to bully their members of the Congress into doing something. Also the youth needs to channelise the energy into community organizing and have a more localised strategy e.g. focus on the liberal New England or the North West corner of the country this election cycle and take a cue from Obama’s 08 campaign. But most importantly what they need is a vision, an manifesto of sorts that should rally the people around. Let us face the fact that the lay folks are gullible and believe the talking heads. And they need the issues simplified to comprehend. The progressive movement will succeed only if it comes off its high horse, ‘dumbs down’ a lot of issues and is not afraid to play dirty. Politics and morality do not go well together.

  5. Anindya, I fail to share your optimism and hope for judicial scrutiny and dismissal. I had that hope for several laws pertaining to abortion rights, public school curricula, invasion of privacy in the name of security and so on, and in most cases, I was disappointed. The judges of the US Supreme Court are appointed by the President — a practice, incidentally, that I find goes against the very grain of a democracy, since an appointed judiciary cannot claim to be independent of the legislature — and in such a deeply-polarised binary political environment, we cannot rationally expect them to remain politically neutral. Indeed, as you well know, populist commentary about the US SC centres a great deal around the number of ‘conservative’ judges to ‘democratic’ judges, and the policy implications of this distribution.

  6. Also, I would argue that electoral politics is deeply entrenched in morality, ‘morality’ being the dominance of majoritarian mores or norms in any given society. In other words, politics is a (willing) slave to the hegemonic normativities in a given culture, and eventually their master. Only a political group that claims such moral heritage can then acquire the authenticity to start subvert and recreate it at will, which the Hindu right in the Indian cowbelt and north-west and the fundamentalists everywhere else do. By virtue of their carefully-crafted rep. as the keepers of a society’s identity and crusader for its interests, it can invent ‘traditions’, radically misinterpret scriptures, disenfranchise their own culture/religion’s progressive and rational histories, slowly eat away at the well-being of their own people, and their supporters will still cheer them on, because they’ve made the only connection that matters to an electorate too exhausted by life or too bereft of analytical tools cares about — a visceral us-against-them one, which thrives on a fear of the clawing and grasping others.

    Morality, my friend, is bread and butter to a politician. Ethics are a different matter altogether.

    • About morality in politics, I think you and I have a different conception here about it. My point about morality was more grounded in respect for the other and truth in a deontological sense. While you seem to be talking about morality as a stage tool, a carefully manicured texture of noramativities to suit the contingencies of politics foregrounded by speech acts. If I am right in my understanding, then I agree with you. But my premise was different. I was alluding more towards the ethical framework of Kant and it s incompatibility with real politics.

      • I’d like to make a point here, Anindya, that I wish I could make to a broader academic audience. Theory in political analysis should, I think, be a sublimated presence — it should enable us to perceive, contextualise and analyse, but never be the predominant frame of reference. If you wish to limit your interpretion of ‘morality’ (or ‘justice’ or ‘politics’) in any particular philosophical framework, that is certainly an interesting academic exercise — pun unintended — but quite useless to understanding/combating the current sociopolitical use of the term.

        Although this is a sentiment that can be twisted by conservatives to bend education-funding out of shape, I believe we should ground our (rather excellent) education to the milieus we live in, adding to and updating the definitions of crucial ideas, and not restrict ourselves to older frames of reference.

  7. Priyanka: Judges are nominated ,not popularly elected in almost every state. The crucial question is that of tenure and independence of the judiciary. And here I find the USA not going the Rome way yet. Secondly, Policy implications need to flow from the elected representatives, not the judges. I will be worried about judicial overreach then. While I do agree with your point about judges being politically motivated, I will also remind you of the progressive record of the Warren court that ushered in a generation of social reforms inspite of popular and olitical misgivings. Yes, they have been depressing, the citizens united decision was shocking to say the least, overturning a century of rulings. But this same Roberts court ruled in favor of Gitmo detainees about tge right to be heard. Don’t loose hope. If progressives like us feel down and out, the fight is already lost. The young people fought against Vietnam and won. It will take time for our generation. But eventually the people will find a better system like they did after Ww 2.

    • Anindya, when I said SC judges were appointed by the president, of course, I must have meant that state-court judges were popularly elected 🙂

      I appreciate your optimism, but I would appreciate a careful of reading what I said even more 😀 On a more serious note, I object very strongly to the enforced good cheer, and the simultaneously frowning-upon of an acknowledgement of the very dire situation we are in (esp. vis a vis public awareness of their own interests in the context of global political and financial structures) as losing heart or giving up or losing the battle. An accurate and brave acknowledgement of the quicksand we’re in is, I think, the first real step in combating it and changing it for the better.

      • Well, the system.of judicial elections is almost unique as a feature in the USA. But my point stands. A judge is not beholden to the president. What he does in real life is another matter.As i said, one can be a warren or blackmun or one can be a thomas or roberts. But the broader independence of judiciary remains intact and there has been good and bad judgements that we have to accept.
        Secondly, I object to the charge of mosreading and spreading enforced cheer. You are free not to share my optimism. But that does not amount to my purported trivialization of the matters. As i have typed above, the community outreach programs is a need of the hour to improve public understanding. Being realistic does not preclude being hopeful and optimistic.

        • Candidates for Supreme Court positions in the U.S. are nominated by the President, but must be vetted by the Senate, an especially grueling process, especially when the country is divided, as it is now. However, at this point the Senate is the only part of the entire Federal legislature that I would even remotely trust. Congress is stuffed full of special interest crooks and Tea Party hatchet men (and women). Indeed, it’s so divided right now that I think we’ve even surpassed the level of I-hate-you that preceded our civil war in the 1860s: and, of course, every Supreme Court appointment boils down to one issue: abortion. However, one interesting power a President has is the right to create new justices for the Supreme Court. Obama could haul off and stick six Democrats in there. But then if the Republicans won, they would create twenty hyper-conservative justices, and pretty soon we’d have each case being heard by 500 judges, all wearing corporate logos on their robes. As it is, the justices who handed down the Citizens’ United decision should have been disqualified, having received honorariums only recently from the plaintiffs, connecting with speaking at their lobbying events.

  8. The way forward isn’t political at all. It’s the old “revenge of the cradle.” To begin with, much of the Republican Party’s support comes from the elderly, especially people who lived through the imagines glory years of the 1940s and 1950s. Soon they will be gone, and hopefully we will see an end to this insane desire to bring back the world-that-only-had-3-billion-people mentality. And the unreasonable fear of communism – we can throw that out, too. But the Republicans have a significant following among people of my age (40-ish), and younger Americans… provided that they’re white and living between the coasts. Here’s the kicker: over half the babies being born in the U.S. right now are not white, and the population of the liberal coastal regions and urban areas is growing much faster than hay-seed rural America’s population is. The balance will tip within about 15 years, and the U.S. will begin to become a Latin / Asian country very quickly. This, at any rate, is my hope. If nothing else, I’m hoping that a decent taqueria will open up in my town. The people around me will hate it, but I’m from California. I would like more Spanish surnames around me. All these Germanic types frighten me a little. 🙂

    • James, your point about the SC judges was exactly what I wanted to say, but wasn’t articulate enough. And I certainly hope your dream comes true, although I wish it didn’t require a change in ethnic demography for it to happen 😦


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