Monday, October 04, 2004

Information Failure

This Annenberg Center study on the impact of late night shows on political awareness has already been mentioned here. It was also mentioned in the slashdot discussion discussed below. There an astute reader pointed out just how bleak the data from the study is. They asked participants six simple (one might say blindingly obvious) questions relating to Bush and Kerry. They were:

'Who wants to privatize Social Security?'
'Which one doesn't like assault weapons?'
'What is the cutoff income for Kerry's tax increases?' (50k, 100k, 200k, or 500k)
'Who is a former prosecutor?'
'Who favors making the recent tax cuts permanent?'
'Who wants to make it easier for labor unions to organize?'

Note that for 5 of the questions there are two possible answers (Bush or Kerry), and for the tax question there are four. If, then, you selected answers completely at random you should get 2.75 questions correct. The controls in the survey were people who did not watch late night comedy shows. On average they scored 2.6 correct answers. In other words, their responses were worse than random. It may now be said in all honesty and candor that a monkey could score better in a quiz on American politics than the average America. This coincides with another study posted here which found that more a person watches Fox News, the more likely they were to answer a quiz on the Iraq war incorrectly. Is it any wonder that the results of our political elections seem absurd to any informed observer? I say again that failures of the press are just as dangerous to this nation as failures by the CIA or any other part of our government. Our media cannot be regarded as simply another industry competing for market share.

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