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Survey confirms Covid-19 news differs by source, often with misinterpretation

April 7, 2020 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Results from a new Pew Research Center study show that consumers perceive news differently about Covid-19 based on as their main source of political news. The research asked consumers to identify their single most source for political and election news. The responses ranged from the three commercial broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) to The New York Times, NPR, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, as well as individual social media sites. The data reflected here represents the three major cable news networks: CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

Factual orientation

Consumers were asked if had seen mostly the same set of facts or conflicting sets of facts about the pandemic across various main news source. Three-quarters of all Americans who identified MSNBC as their main news source stated they had mostly seen the same facts. Of those who named FOX News as their main news source, only 53% reported that they saw consistent facts on the network. For those whose main source was cited as CNN, 65% stated that they mostly saw consistent facts.

While networks offer news reporting as well as opinion and commentary-based programming, the comprehension of truly factual information appears to be compromised. For example, one in four of FOX News consumers (39%) report that the virus originated in a laboratory (either intentionally or unintentionally).  Only 37% of Fox News consumers report the virus came about naturally. In contrast, 66% of MSNBC consumers report that they believe the virus came about naturally.

Further, consumers referring to MSNBC as their main political news source are far more likely to say the media covered the outbreak somewhat to very well (92%) compared to the Fox News followers at 58%. Followers of MSNBC are also much less likely than those who name Fox News as their main political news source to say the media exaggerated the risks posed by the pandemic (35% of the MSNBC group vs. 79% of the Fox News group).

Once again, consumers who refer to CNN as their main news source fall in between the MSNBC group and the FOX group (82% rate the media as doing somewhat or very well covering the outbreak; 54% say the media exaggerated the risks).

Political make-up

While not surprising, it’s interesting to see empirical data regarding political affiliation and how it differs by main news source. Slightly more than three-quarters of those who name Fox News as their main political news source identify the viewers then conservative Republicans and Republican-leaners, while 57% who name MSNBC identify as liberal Democrats and Democratic-leaners. Approximately four in 10 Americans (38%) who name CNN as their main political news source identify as liberal Democrats, with another 40% stating they are moderate or conservative Democrats.

Regardless of consumers’ political affiliation, the Pew research findings suggest that editorial commentary across the networks can distort facts. News outlets needs to identify, perhaps in BIG BOLD LETTERS, what is factual and what is personal commentary to help consumers distinguish between the two formats.

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