Filters And Lies

I know I carp constantly about the degree to which propaganda and conspiracy theories have displaced credible information, with the result that today’s Americans occupy different realities. It’s easy to blame social media for the reach of disinformation and lies–and social media does bear a significant amount of the blame–but research also illuminates the way propaganda has changed in the era of cable news and the Internet.

That research has identified two modern mechanisms for eroding social trust and constructing alternate realities. One –to quote Steve Bannon’s vulgar description–is to “flood the airways with shit.” In other words, to produce mountains of conflicting “news” along with lots of “shiny objects.” The faux “news” confuses; the shiny objects distract. Citizens don’t know what to believe, what parts of the fire hose of information, disinformation, and outright invention they can trust. They either accept a particular storyline (chosen via confirmation bias) or opt out.

But it isn’t simply the fire hose approach that has eroded our common realities. These days, when people get most of their news from partisan sources, all too often they simply don’t get news that is inconsistent with partisan biases.

A recent, widespread report illustrates that technique. As the lede put it, “The problem with Fox ‘News,’ the cable TV channel, isn’t just what it is — it’s also what it isn’t.” It was a fascinating new study in which arch-conservative Fox TV viewers were paid to watch CNN for a month.

The study, titled “The manifold effects of partisan media on viewers’ beliefs and attitudes: A field experiment with Fox News viewers,” was performed by a pair of political scientists: David Broockman, who teaches at UC-Berkeley, and Joshua Kalla, who teaches at Yale.

 According to Broockman and Kalla, when these Fox viewers watched CNN, they heard about all sorts of things Fox wasn’t telling them. They processed that information. They took it in. They became more knowledgeable about what was really going on in the United States.

The individuals who took part in the experiment didn’t change their political leanings or partisan preferences,  but the experience did alter their perceptions of certain key issues and political candidates.

The study authors differentiated between “traditionally emphasized forms of media influence,” like agenda setting and framing, and what they call “partisan coverage filtering”: the choice to selectively report information about selective topics, based on what’s favorable to the network’s partisan side, and ignore everything else.

The article emphasized what the author called the “real problem” with Fox : its viewers aren’t just manipulated and misinformed — they are left ignorant of much of the news covered by more reputable outlets. Fox gives them a lot of “news-like” information, but they don’t learn about things like Jared Kushner getting two billion dollars from Saudi Arabia.

That conclusion reminded me of another research project a couple of years ago. People were asked to identify their primary news sources and then quizzed on things currently in the news. Those who named Fox as their preferred news source knew less than people who didn’t watch any news from any source.

Lest you think that “filtering” of this sort is a tactic exclusive to the Right, when one of the authors of the research study was interviewed on CNN, he noted that CNN, too, filtered its reporting.

CNN’s Brian Stetler interviewed Joshua Kalla, one of the co-authors of the study, and they had the following exchange:

“You call this partisan coverage filtering,” Stelter told Kalla. “And basically, you’re proving what we’ve sensed for a while, which is that Fox viewers are in the dark about bad news for the GOP.”

Kalla confirmed the Fox News coverage model but put a stop to the victory lap: “On the flip side, CNN engages in this partisan coverage filtering as well… For example, during this time, the Abraham Accords were signed, and these were the agreements where Israel, the UAE and Bahrain signed a major peace agreement. And we see that Fox News covered this really major accomplishment about 15 times more than CNN did. So we established both networks are really engaging in this partisan coverage filtering. It’s not about one side, it’s about the media writ large.”

To be fair, CNN is apparently less culpable in this regard than Fox..

America’s ugly politics is obviously attributable to a lot more than the country’s media environment, even if you throw in the very divisive algorithms used by social media. (After all, the KKK didn’t use the Internet.) But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that both mass media and social media have contributed disproportionately to our loss of a common reality.

As always, the questions are: what policies might make things better? And can we pass those policies once they are identified?


  1. Actually, in a way, CNN’s coverage is more culpable than Fox’s. It wasn’t Fox that made Donald Trump the politician he became. It was CNN.

    During 2015, when Trump was way down in the Republican primary polls, CNN would give his campaign rallies wall-to-wall coverage. Other Republican candidates, more experienced and higher in the polls, couldn’t get coverage because Trump was getting almost all of it. It all came down to the ratings. Trump’s rallies were interesting to viewers, people watched, and ratings soared. But CNN had a higher ethical duty than simply putting on air something people watched. CNN wasn’t the only network that did this, but CNN’s saturation coverage of Trump was actually much worse than all the others, including Fox, at that point.

    The four people most responsible for Trump becoming President are: Mark Burnett (who used the Apprentice to change Trump’s image from business failure (which he was) to success, Mark Zuckerberg, who allowed the promotion of fake news on Facebook, including by Russian bots which promoted the Trump over Hillary, Jeff Zucker, former President of CNN who made the decision to give Trump widespread publicity his campaign had not yet earned, and Jim Comey whose decision to publicly reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email right before the election tipped a close election to Trump.

  2. Long ago, a good and wise friend told me, “You aren’t always responsible for the results of what you say.” We can place all blame for Trump’s lies directly on Trump but we can’t blame him for that vast number of supporters who believe him. Especially when his supporters within our government know his lies for what they are but continue giving him their full public support; whether due to keeping their position or through fear of losing it. Voters look closer to home for information; if their Representatives and Senators, locally and at the federal level, are continuing to support Trump, he will continue to get their votes.

    It has been a while since I have mentioned losing my friend Rick in Florida; we did not discuss politics due to knowing – and accepting – we were on opposite sides. In 2006 he E-mailed me that his partner did not believe I was a “leftie” so he was going to prove his point by discussing specific topics with me. E-mail after E-mail he got angrier and angrier when I denied understanding or even knowing what issues or candidates he was “accusing” me of supporting. He ended the friendship by saying we needed a “hiatus”; but that was in 2006, an end rather than a hiatus in our friendship. It was a few years before I remembered that he only watched Fox News cable channel. When current issues are vital I will sometimes switch from CNN and MSNBC to Fox News to see what they are reporting on the issue; usually unrecognizable or no reporting of it. Like the early Russian invasion of Ukraine when they were showing a stock car race.

    Fox News may have reported those mentioned issues more often than CNN; but CNN did report them and the financial benefits accrued by Jared Kuchner which Fox overlooked. I would much rather be watching stock car races than today’s news but it benefits me to know what is going on, frightening as it is and that it is escalating. News such as France’s President Macron’s opponent in their election is a Putin friend and supporter. That presidential outcome will have effects on our mid-term elections which will pretty much decide our own 2024 presidential election. It is our choice to accept what is thrown at us or use the research which is at our fingertips.

  3. It wasn’t FOX who made Trump the politician he became… He was always that man. Trump’s rise to the highest office in the land was just the culmination of decades of moral and ethical decline in the United States. Those millions of MAGA voters didn’t become un-thinking, cruel, and gullible over night. Decades of greed and selfishness (I got mine, too bad about you) carved the American soul into the abomination it is today.

  4. Lack of engagement worries me more than the FAUX News crazies. They are a small, but rabid proportion of our population. The unengaged, who either feel they don’t matter or can’t make a difference, are a much larger group. We need to find a way to motivate them.

  5. Did Brockman and Kalla also publish a fascinating new study in which arch-liberal CNN TV viewers were paid to watch Fox News for a month? If they did, what were the results? If not, is that an example of you getting your news from partisan sources?

  6. I believe Noam Chomsky literally wrote the book on “media filters and lies” back in the 80s and 90s, so why are we discussing CNN and FOX viewers who both receive steady diets of shit? lol

    When you consider the average American could care less about the truth and the majority of voters even less, you’ll grasp our problem. Even well-educated folks on this blog struggle with uncomfortable truths that challenge their preconceived beliefs.

    To be honest, if you still believe what you did a year ago, you’re probably old school by today’s standards.

    I just glance through Facebook at my “liberal” friends and marvel at how many, after 20 years of Afghanistan lies and 40 years of trickle-down economics lies, still believe the DoD, economists, and their same media channels.

    It’s the human condition as John would say repeated over and over again…

  7. I definitely agree with what Paul Ogden stated about CNN’s culpability (though other outlets were guilty also). In my own non-scientific study before the 2016 elections, I noticed during the day CNN would echo something crazy that trump said, then there would be some refutation by someone less popular. Lather, rinse, repeat. It appeared to be a highly repeatable cycle. This gave trump billions in free advertising, but more so, to paraphrase Chomsky, it didn’t manufacture consent, but rather manufactured authenticity where there was none.

  8. There is a simple policy that will fix the problem with not getting the whole story: Access at least three sources on any story of interest: right, left, and credible (FOX, CNN, and AP, for instance).
    Let’s take some personal responsibility, and advocate for teaching these skills in our schools starting at 5th grade.

  9. “To be honest, if you still believe what you did a year ago, you’re probably old school by today’s standards.”

    Can’t believe I am agreeing with Todd but will add to it this quote: “If you are the same person at 50 you were when you were 20, you have wasted 30 years of your life.” Muhammad Ali

    This fits the staunch Republicans who continue donating to and supporting the GOP despite the fact that the party is unrecognizable in its current condition and no longer has a foundation; only continuing the “Big Lie” because it claims to be the Republican party.

  10. I just love how Elon musk is being shut out from buying Twitter. Do you know when he makes comments about Netflix dropping 35% in its stock price and blaming it being too woke and unwatchable, I guess you can understand why some people still want to hang on the cancel culture. Probably why so many people like the guy so much though. Here’s a guy trying to solve climate change and those that don’t agree with him are the Social terrorists trying to lynch him. So you wonder why we’ve got such a problem in this country with being polarized ? Well here’s just one case of it. Disclaimer is that he and Trump are not smooth like the everyday politicians that lie and get away with it.

  11. I especially like Christopher’s point. It’s easy to quickly identify media disparities left and right, but the essential discussion lies more in the realm of civic responsibility to be informed and an educational system that teaches students how to evaluate what comes before them. Bring an old fashioned English major taught me to think critically, find sources, and test credibility. Viva the liberal arts education!

  12. Paul Ogden is absolutely correct!

    Even the New York times was culpable, they definitely had an agenda that was slanted against HRC.

    And of course, then you have the organizations who embraced the Donald, they would quote the Times or CNN or even MSNBC! Giving more credibility to their own partisan slant.

    But I will say, not giving the whole story, or funneling specific favorable information while ignoring everything else, or, quoting known conspiracies as truth, or factual, is, DECEPTION…..

    Deception is a falsehood or misleading information, and that, without a doubt =’s Lies/Liar! You can’t deceive without lying!

    What came first? The lie or the liar? Or, was it the liar or the deception? Or, was it the deception or willful ignorance? Willful ignorance or purposefully delusional? The truth is the truth, it’s the actual fact of the matter, the LIE is whatever one wants it to be. A deceiver is a liar! And, there is a group of individuals who enjoy being lied to because it creates or allows them to align themselves with an alternate reality! And subconsciously they absolutely know they’re being misled.

    Following the liar and the Liars supporting cast, is like a person who is thirsty but would rather drink a glass of gasoline! Piety is the shiny object, and, it allows one to follow a deceiver willingly! It can intensify fanatical leanings, it can lure in disaffected followers, even those who know they are being deceived, they convince their mind that it’s for the greater good. Except, no good ever comes from deception. The deceiver/liar and the deceived, have that symbiotic relationship that takes them right down the rabbit hole so to speak, together!

    2nd Thessalonians 2: 4 reads;

    “He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called God or object of worship, so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a God!”


    And every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth in order that they might be saved. That is why God lets a deluding influence mislead them so they may come to believe the lie, in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.

    I would absolutely say that these particular scriptures sound very familiar! After all, who were the evangelicals pining after and calling the son of god?

  13. I think in our understandable rage at the propaganda sources of today, we overlook basic political science and misunderstand what drives today’s national politics.

    There has always been an American “marketplace” of ideas that included blatant propaganda, and Americans have always been provincial thinkers, and ridiculous populists have always sought public office on the votes of the ignorant and conspiracy-minded.

    The most important single factor in all of this is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the reality of racism in America. Prior to that law the Democrats got the labor, isolationist, racist vote, and Republicans got the business, internationalist, socially progressive vote. That effectively split the worst among us (the greedy and the racist) and largely neutralized them as a voting bloc. Now the Rs get the business, isolationist, racist vote, so they represent the lowest, least thoughtful among us. It’s this unification of those with evil intent that is so dangerous to us now, and it may in fact be why our democratic way of government ceases to exist.

    Unintended consequences and all that…

  14. I never heard of the Abraham Accords until now; apparently signed in September, 2020. I certainly like the concept, and think it was/is something to
    celebrate. But, then, who knows of what else worthwhile I never heard about. I get my news from progressive internet sources. like “Raw Story”
    “Alternet”, and friends who are like-minded, watch “Jeopardy”, and “Animal Planet” like things, on occasion.

    So, I’m getting news that fits my bias.

    “Fair and Balanced” was Fox News’ first big lie, and it apparently fooled a lot of people, one of whom is a friend of a good friend of ours. She was college educated, but I do not know what her political leaning were before Fox started spewing garbage. She got totally sucked in, I’m told.

    Sadly, we ought not be surprised at the impact of lies, but that’s an old story now.
    Part of our problem with lies, is that even after very public lies cause various sorts of social/political problems, they never get seriously acknowledged.

    Did Senator Inhofe’s “snowball” in congress ever get the equivalent of indicted? Did Gingrich’s insistence that there was no such thing as acid rainever get singled out as a landmark on the way to allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue its lies?

    I have a hunch that in the UK’s parliament, such things would have been instantly called out.
    I’m getting close to the end of David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest,” and the reported role of filters and lies by so many people led to so much misinformation reaching both Kennedy and Johnson, that it seems these can be blamed for our gradual, insistently, falsely, delusionally, optimistic, escalation of that war, which led to so much tragedy.

  15. A post above advocates for bringing back the “Fairness Doctrine.”

    While I’m all for re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine for over-the-air broadcasters, it, unfortunately, would have no effect whatsoever on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, OAN, Newsmax or any other cable TV “news” channels. Let alone social media such as podcasts from the likes of Alex Jones’ “Info Wars,” and Steve Bannon’s “War Room.” Nor TicTok, Twitter, Facebook, and Trump’s “Truth Social” conservative Twitter clone.

    The Fairness Doctrine was a Federal Communications Commission [F.C.C.] rule that required holders of licenses to broadcast over the U.S. owned and regulated airways to fairly provide opposing views on controversial issues of public importance. Worked pretty well when there were only three major TV networks. But the U.S. Government has no right to require cable networks to have a broadcast license as they don’t broadcast over-the-air. Any attempt by the U.S. government to regulate the content of cable networks would run afoul of the First Amendment.

  16. To a large degree, we, the country collectively, has made peace with the concept that, in exchange for free “entertainment” from pervasive media, to while away our nonproductive hours, we will allow our exposure to advertising, which we accept as exposure to only the reasons why we will be made happier by buying the advertised product.

    Why would we expect that deal with the devil to be exempt from political products including candidates for office or certain laws and governmental policies?

    I can think of no difference between products for sale and politics for consideration including earning votes.

    The “devil” is in self advertised machinery in homes, cars and buildings to deliver the advertising.

  17. Good morning Todd!
    Lol, at least it’s morning somewhere?!?

    You are absolutely correct Todd, I definitely can’t argue with what you post. Well I could, but it wouldn’t do any good.

    The human condition is rife with untrustworthiness. And, that’s unfortunate! I remember before the Donald was elected, everyone was talking about the death of the Republican party, lol! That right there, shows the liberal thinking echo chamber. Wishing on a Star doesn’t make something so!

    I will say this though Todd, if the liberal side was the righteous side so to speak, wouldn’t Biden declare martial law? Wouldn’t he say to the public, he was going to straighten out the mess? Suspend habeas corpus and the supreme court? Then appoint liberal-minded justices?

    What about installing a fair tax system? Or basically anything else on the wish list? What about infrastructure? What about healthcare? It could all be done via executive order during martial law, and, I’ve checked and it could be done!

    Words are words, words can’t give you nutrition, words cannot put shelter over your head, words cannot put clothes on your back, words can educate but you have to pay for it, and, words cannot heal you unless you believe in faith healing which is ridiculous!

    So, as scripture states, faith without works is dead! So, if an individual or someone that has the authority, actually has the faith in their authority and they’re good intentions, their works would reflect that compassion and empathy. A person would do whatever they could to alleviate the suffering of their fellow citizens and their neighbors.

    The scary thing, it can also work the other way! You know who was close to doing that himself during the last election cycle. And you can bet your bottom dollar that if another one like him gets in, that’s exactly what we’re going to have, an authoritarian government run on slavery of the masses. And, as I recall, about 7 years ago or so, I mentioned the supreme Court. I also mentioned that the courts can control everything! That the next election would be a fight over the supreme Court’s makeup. Everyone poo pooed that, not on this thread, but on other blogs that I used to frequent.

    Sometimes there has to be enough intellectual firepower to actually read the handwriting on the wall! And, the handwriting on the wall says, this particular time is probably the best opportunity to stop all of this nonsense in its tracks. But, I don’t think anyone has the capability or the stones to make that decision.

    Over it,

    Very well said! And, I love the ending of that comment. I always enjoy your analytical foresight. Absolutely the coming together of those with evil intent.

    When the boat is filling up with water, what better way to spend one’s time than commiserating while drilling more holes in the bottom of the boat to let out the water!

  18. Dear Sheila,
    Since I was about 7, I’ve been annoyed by the lies told by the religious.
    I didn’t know then what the results of those lies would be.
    Now we all know the results, but have blanked out the reason:
    poor critical thinking skills instilled by religious education.
    I don’t need any more information about Americans than that.
    We can’t think critically, so we can’t figure out what’s wrong.

    Too late now. It’s almost never reversible.

  19. To answer the second question, No, nothing would pass, or the Supremes would knock it down.
    I don’t know what the solutions are in any event.

    This pervades more than politics.
    A half a century ago when I began my Masters program, my advisor gave me a paper written by his professor on how to keep up with the scientific literature. Even with computers, it is impossible to be up to date on any more than a thin slice of scientific knowledge.

    Pop music alone now has dozens of genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres.
    What shows do you follow on HBO, Showtime, Amazon, Netfilx, Disney, etc.
    Cable news – there are plenty of sources beyond those we usually mention here.
    — an aside – growing up in Detroit, we could often pick up Ft. Wayne’s WOWO, which was then a pop music (aka Rock), but now, driving through, I see that they have become right-wing talk radio – oh well

    Too many choices, too much to follow — so cherry pick a few that make you feel good. it’s hard to fight – I didn’t study Latin, but is today’s motto E pluribus pluribus?

    BTW – studies of “conservatives” and “liberals” have shown that “conservatives” more often have a single news source, Fox, while “liberals” more often had two or more — of course none of them listened to Fox, but then again, the term “Fox News” is an oxymoron.

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