Liberals Fall for Hoax ‘Study’ Claiming Fox News Viewers Are Mentally Deficient

Whatever its origins, there seems to be an innate desire among many lefties to classify those who disagree with their belief system as mentally, morally, or psychologically inferior—or preferably all three. This being the case, it should come as no surprise that in addition to cooking up real academic studies using biased questionnaires designed to make conservatives look stupid, statists also have a habit of getting taken in by fake “studies” which validate their alleged superiority.

Perhaps the most famous such hoax involved the fictitious Lovenstein Institute and a ranking of presidential IQ which supposedly showed former president George W. Bush as having the lowest intelligence of all presidents in the 50 years preceding him. Gleeful statists repeated this meme on numerous blogs and even in some newspapers, never bothering to check whether or not a Lovenstein Institute actually existed. Fast forward to 2012 and once again, the left has been taken in by another hoax “study,” a press release from a fictitious Intelligence Institute which claimed that the average IQ of Fox News Channel viewers is 80, 20 points below the standard IQ of 100.

Given that actual legitimate polling of Republicans and Democrats has consistently showed that those on the right are much more likely to be informed about basic political facts, the “study” on its face should have been immediately suspect to anyone who read it. The lowball intelligence quotient of 80 also ought to have been a red flag for anyone since it means that a huge number of regular Fox News viewers have IQs in the 70s, 60s and 50s, a range classified as mentally disabled, a very unlikely prospect.

Readers might also have been tipped off since the original press release directed people seeking more information on the alleged study to a Huffington Post article about a completely different one which was released in May by an entirely different but actually extant organization, Fairleigh Dickinson University.

But basic logic did not enter into the equation for the liberal blogosphere, however. A member of Daily Kos eagerly jumped to promote the “study,” Democratic Underground also did its part as well. Gullible member “Whovian” posted the press release in whole and received dozens of comments before anyone bothered to question the alleged survey. Even more amusingly, after member “gslusher” rained on the parade by pointing out that the study couldn’t possibly be true, his/her post questioning the meme was hidden by the DU community for allegedly violating the site’s terms of use.

The study was just too good to fact-check, especially since the Intelligence Institute was identified in the press release as being a “conservative non-profit group.” The following quote in the release also was of particular sensation to gullible lefties:

Lead researcher, P. Nichols, explains, “Less intelligent animals rely on instinct when confronted by something which they do not understand. This is an ancient survival reaction all animals, including humans, exhibit. It’s a very simple phenomenon, really; think about a dog being afraid of a vacuum cleaner. He doesn’t know what a vacuum is or if it may harm him, so he becomes agitated and barks at it. Less intelligent humans do the same thing. Concepts that are too complex for them to understand, may frighten or anger them.”

He continues, “Fox News’ content is presented at an elementary school level and plays directly into the fears of the less educated and less intelligent.”

Unfortunately, before more gullible lefties could be taken in, the creator of the hoax, a man identifying himself only as “P. Nichols,” confessed to playing the joke to writer Michael Giltz. The story took a strange turn, however, since “Nichols” claimed that there was an actual study conducted and it was funded by a moderate Republican political action committee:

A fake study claiming conservative viewers of FOX News were significantly dumber than conservatives who didn't watch FOX News spread through the internet like wildfire, even though the briefest of attention to the details in this glorified press release should have raised suspicion. The pr guru behind the hoax -- our term, not his -- said he was surprised by how quickly and broadly the item spread but not by how easily its claims went unquestioned. "Facts are obsolete," said P. Nichols, the contact given for the press release who claimed Nichols was his last name but refused to confirm his entire name, the name of the Republican PAC he says backed the "study" or any of the people behind the actual report he insisted did truly exist. And no, he wouldn't send us a copy of it. [...]

Nichols himself brought up the fact that the study was designed to reach the conclusion they were looking for: that is, to show that self-identified conservatives who watched FOX News were less smart than conservatives who didn't. "They told me what they wanted to do and I said I could do it," he claimed. Nichols said the moderate Republicans behind the PAC supporting this effort wanted to counter the effect of the Tea Party and encourage moderates to come forward. Making people embarrassed to say they watched FOX News (or better yet not watch FOX News at all) might help that goal. So the 5000 people who took part in the study were chosen by Nichols and non-scientists, essentially selected to guarantee the results they were looking for. "We stuck to the rural South," said Nichols, who admitted they had a hard time finding conservatives in Alabama and other states who didn't watch FOX News but dug them up to give the study some balance. He insisted the actual study was performed and that the results were genuine, though of course the "scientists" involved accepted the fact that the people being studied would be supplied to them and therefore not be random. Nichols admitted this meant the study would never have passed any sort of peer review panel or be accepted for publication by any journal of note. Still, he repeatedly stated that the study was real and did exist. "I would not have published it were it completely fraudulent," he said, pointing out that to do so might have crossed some legal boundaries and "nobody wanted to do that." Hence his claim that the study was actually commissioned and performed, even though it would never meet the most minimal standards for a valid scientific report.

Who knows whether or not this is actually true, either. Is it a hoax within a hoax? At this point it does not really matter. Perhaps the gullible lefties who were taken in by the original prank might want to redeem themselves by looking into the matter.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013