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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Let's be clear about non-profit media

Non-profit media such as NPR are the best media available. They get the story right and are not motivated by profit. Not being constrained by a corporation that owns them, they are much more likely to ask tough questions, critically analyze claims by our leaders, and give us the information we need to function fully in a democracy.

Here is an important example.
A study by the Program on International Policy at the University of Maryland reported that a majority of Americans had significant misperceptions about Sadaam Hussein and Iraq prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The study found that 48% incorrectly believed that evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda have been found (they did not exist), 22% that weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq (there were none), and 25% that world public opinion favored the US going to war with Iraq (it did not). More than half (60%) had at least one of these three misperceptions.

The misperceptions were also found to be related to support for the war on Iraq. For example:

Among those with none of the misperceptions, only 23% reported supporting the war;
Among those with one of the misperceptions, 53% reported supporting the war;
Among those with two of the misperceptions, 78% reported supporting the war;
Among those with all three misperceptions, 86% reported supporting the war.

So being uninformed was related to higher support for the war and being informed was related to lower support for the war.

How does relate to the media and NPR?

Well, where you get your information impacts how informed or uninformed you are about the world and ultimately whether you support proposed policies like when leaders start talking about going to war.

The study found that the number of misconceptions people held varied depending on their primary source of news. Viewers of TV News were most likely to have at least one misperception, led by Fox News (80%), followed by CBS (71%), ABC (61%), and NBC and CNN (55%). Only about half (47%) of people who reported relying on print sources had at least one misperception, followed by only 23% of listeners of National Public Radio (NPR) and viewers of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

Got that? Listeners of NPR were the most informed and thus the least likely to support the war, a war that turned out to be a major, costly disaster.

So when a Senator from Florida (who is on the short list of candidates for Vice President) starts questioning spending public money on public broadcasting, someone needs to call him out on it. Stated simply, if more people listened to NPR and less watched Fox News, we'd be a whole lot smarter and a whole lot less likely to be duped into stupid and unnecessary wars.

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