The fact-checking website PolitiFact gave Jon Stewart a “false” rating on its Truth-O-Meter for claiming that Fox News viewers were consistently the most misinformed group of media consumers, but admitted Tuesday that a slew of readers had criticized their analysis.
“Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers?” Stewart, host of The Daily Show, asked Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace. “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”
PolitiFact said it rated the comment as “false” because it was “simply not true” that every poll showed that Fox News’ audience were the most ill-informed. Studies conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press have found that Fox News’ viewers scored low on knowledge rankings, but the score was not the lowest and not lower than the national average.
PolitiFact admitted Tuesday that their “false” rating of Stewart’s comment received “swift and virtually unanimous” criticism.
“The striking thing about the comments we received — almost 100 e-mails plus countless tweets and Facebook postings during the first 24 hours — is how quickly readers zeroed in on a distinction our piece did not draw,” Louis Jacobson of PolitiFact said. “They said we erred by failing to distinguish between a viewer being ‘misinformed’ and a viewer beinig ‘uninformed’ or ‘ill-informed.'”
Readers noted that PolitiFact examined whether Fox News’ viewers were uninformed – meaning they have an absence of information, but Stewart claimed Fox News’ viewers were misinformed – meaning they have factually incorrect information.
“To give you a simple, though slightly extreme, example, an ill-informed person wouldn’t be able to name the president, but a misinformed person would think he was a Kenyan,” one reader explained.
Two studies – the “Misperceptions, The Media and The Iraq War” study (PDF) and the “Misinformation and the 2010 Election” study (PDF) – did in fact find that Fox News viewers were the most misinformed media consumers, as PolitiFact noted.