As Joe Keohane reported last year in The Boston Globe, political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency “deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information.” He was reporting on research at the University of Michigan, which found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in new stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts were not curing misinformation. “Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.” You can read the entire article online.
I won’t spoil it for you by a lengthy summary here. Suffice it to say that, while “most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence,” the research found that actually “we often base our opinions on our beliefs … and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.”
However successful they are, we do have some hope :
DH: Do you think much about Fox? Olbermann and O’Reilly had this ongoing clash. Has that preoccupation with Fox faded from the air?
Cenk Uygur: To be honest, I think Fox News is very relevant. For so long, they have controlled the national conversation by incessantly talking about the stories they want to drive home. They do it until the other cable news outlets and eventually the whole press picks up on it. I want to drain them of that power. I want to put them back in the cave they came from.
So, yes, I think defeating Fox — and more importantly, getting the rest of the media to understand they do not do legitimate news — is very important. I hope to do that through pointing out their hypocrisy, propaganda and general foolishness. But I also plan to beat them in the ratings and make them fear me.