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Over 700 Fox News viewers were paid to watch CNN for a month and the results are illuminating

April 13, 2022, 12:09 AM UTC

The nation watched while Ketanji Brown Jackson endured days of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee leading up to her confirmation. But depending on where you watched the coverage of the hearings, you may have gotten a different perspective or understanding of Judge Jackson’s experience and the agenda of the Republicans on the committee questioning her.

While CNN reported positive news in relation to Judge Jackson, such as the Obamas congratulating her on her Supreme Court confirmation or her “moving” speech from the White House following her appointment, all media outlets did not opt for optimistic or even accurate coverage. 

In late February, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson remarked that the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson was an attempt to “defile” the Supreme Court and “humiliate and degrade” the United States. The Fox News anchor also claimed that Judge Jackson—who served eight years as a federal district judge—was unqualified and “simply ignorant of the law,” and that her nomination had the ultimate goal of turning the United States into “Rwanda.” On top of maligning Judge Jackson’s credentials, Tucker also demanded she show her LSAT scores to prove her qualifications, dismissing her graduation from Harvard Law School

Fox News also used Janice Rogers Brown as a talking point to undermine Judge Jackson’s Supreme Court appointment. Fox News host Jesse Watters claimed that Democrats blocked the first Black woman nominated for the Supreme Court in 2007 “because she was a Republican.” This notion was echoed by Republican Congressman Josh Barnett, who tweeted on March 26 that Joe Biden blocked the Supreme Court nomination of the first Black woman, along with a black and white photo of Janice Rogers Brown.

However, Republicans did not nominate former Judge Janice Rogers Brown to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to In actuality, Republicans convinced the Bush White House not to nominate Brown for the high court because she was seen as “too controversial” at the time, citing ABC News

A new study on disparate political attitudes being fueled by divisive media outlets

The biased manner in which Fox News covered Kentaji Brown Jackson, the Senate hearings, and her confirmation are just the most recent examples of the media outlet’s partisan coverage filtering on display, which was the focal point of a recent political study. 

A new political study published on April 3 confirms that personalized media streams promote confirmation bias, or the tendency to filter new information through your existing and long-held beliefs and ultimately reinforce your previous ideas, irrespective of accuracy. On the flip side, exposure to varied news outlets can promote more divergent ways of thinking, as noted by the study’s two authors, political scientists David Broockman of University of California at Berkeley and Joshua Kalla of Yale.

What was the premise of the study?

In the study, Broockman and Kalla hypothesized that partisan media engaged in a practice called “partisan coverage filtering,” which is selectively reporting about specific topics in a way that influences viewers’ attitudes and political sentiments. In the study, 763 Fox News viewers—who typically watched about 14 hours of Fox News a week—were paid to watch CNN instead for up to seven hours per week during September 2020, and paid extra to take quizzes on the news coverage they watched. The average participant was over 50 years of age, and the majority of the study sample identified as both 95% white and 92% Republican.

How did news coverage differ between Fox News and CNN?

Agenda setting—or the amount of coverage granted to particular topics to show viewers their importance or lack thereof—can affect how important viewers think a topic is and then impact how they evaluate elected officials. In September 2020—a crucial news period two months before the U.S. presidential election—each respective news outlet had their own prioritized agendas. CNN mostly covered President Trump’s administrative failures, and Fox News, in contrast, primarily downplayed the severity of COVID and reported on protests of police violence, according to the study

In transcripts of the September 2020 news coverage, Fox News used 15,003 words to mention the negative consequences of “extreme racial ideologies” and protests as opposed to CNN, which used 1,712 words. Also in the September 2020 transcripts, Fox News used over 15,000 words to highlight Democratic support of extreme racial ideologies and protests while CNN only used 1,300, as reflected in the study

CNN used over 21,000 words to describe Trump’s failures to protect the U.S. and his supporters from COVID in the September transcripts whereas Fox News used a mere 2,086. Also, CNN dedicated 10,251 words to information on the severity of COVID while Fox News used 709, citing the study. The disparity in how different topics were emphasized between the two news organizations further illustrates how polarizing it can be to subscribe solely to one media outlet versus the other. 

What were the findings of the study?

After one month of an altered media diet that included CNN, study participants showed notable changes in attitude. They were five percentage points more likely to believe that people suffer from long COVID, 11 points less likely to say it’s more important for the president to focus on containing violent protesters than on the coronavirus, and 13 points less likely to agree that if Biden were elected, “we’ll see many more police get shot by Black Lives Matter activists,” citing Bloomberg’s analysis of the study. Perhaps most notably of all, study participants were significantly more likely to disagree with the statement “If Donald Trump did something bad, Fox News would discuss it.” As a result, the study authors concluded that “watching CNN instead of Fox thus led participants to conclude that Fox engages in partisan coverage filtering.” 

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