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Extended exposure to Fox News makes voters stupid, university study finds

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The troublesome record of spin by conservative television station Fox News has long been a cause for concern to many Americans, who frequently allege that the nation’s most viewed “news” network has the effect of dumbing down voters.

Turns out, they were right.

A University of Maryland study (PDF) published earlier this month found that people in the survey who had the most exposure to Fox News were more likely to believe falsehoods and rumors about national and world affairs when compared to those who paid attention to other news outlets.

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In a summary carried by Alternet, the following falsehoods were most relayed by Fox News viewers:

91 percent believed the stimulus legislation lost jobs;

72 percent believed the health reform law will increase the deficit;

72 percent believed the economy is getting worse;

60 percent believed climate change is not occurring;

49 percent believed income taxes have gone up;

63 percent believed the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts;

56 percent believed Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout;

38 percent believed that most Republicans opposed TARP;

63 percent believed Obama was not born in the U.S. (or that it is unclear).

The poll’s findings seem to sync with those of an NBC News survey (PDF) taken during the height of America’s health care reform debate, where Fox News viewers were found to be most likely to have believed wildly inaccurate interpretations of the legislation.

While Fox News and parent company News Corporation have long been criticized cheerleading Republican causes and conservative-allied business interests, it has been under more intense criticism of late over high profile donations to Republicans, deceptive video editing on multiple programs and even on-air GOP fundraisers.

Though the station claims to run “news” programming during the daytime, liberal watchdog group MediaMatters recently revealed a leaked email that shows one of the network’s top editors ordering anchors to use terminology favored by conservatives.

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In a follow-up, the media blog released a second leaked email showing the same editor, Fox News Washington, DC managing editor Bill Sammon, directing staff to cast doubt upon climate data, even when it was not in question. The revelation was hailed by former Vice President Al Gore, a champion of climate change activism, who argued it proves the spin coming from Fox News is straight from the top.

And it doesn’t help that one of their most-watched opinion hosts, conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck, is prone to making up outrageous falsehoods to scare viewers.

The network has big plans to expand it’s brand into the future: According to anchor Chris Wallace, the 2012 Republican presidential primary elections will be “a production of Fox News,” not unlike the Fox network’s American Idol.

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Virtually all the leading GOP candidates are paid contributors for the network, and over 30 Fox News personalities have endorsed Republicans in the past.

The Obama administration, similarly, has called Fox News “a wing of the Republican party.”

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