The hiring of Howard Wolfson as a political contributor to Fox News has resulted in the ritual outrage from blue blogs and Fox haters. When they aren't smearing Wolfson ("sell-out", "right-wing Zionist", etc) the alternate tactic is used: diminish Fox by lying about its influence and reach.
The preferred method for doing so is to marginalize the Fox audience. It's something you've read repeatedly: Fox viewers are "a devout congregation of true believers, incapable of critical thought". They are overwhelmingly Republican and "will not vote for Democrats".
What do all these hyperbolic squeals have in common? They all reference the same single "source", as does this one whipped up by the Daily Kos today, fulminating over Wolfson "whoring" himself:
Democrats can pretend that there are "independents" watching Fox News, but the data is clear -- it is the most reliably Republican outlet in the nation.
The magic bullet that all these Fox haters rely on, their rosetta stone of "clear data", comes from Mark Mellman, John Kerry flack, who was at the time pushing for the famed boycott of Democratic debates on Fox:
In our 2004 polling with Media Vote, using Nielsen diaries, we found that Fox News viewers supported George Bush over John Kerry by 88 percent to 7 percent.
There are literally thousands of references to this "survey" in the Fox haters echo chamber, an astonishing number considering that as far as we can tell nobody has ever seen it. Every link we looked at eventually traced back to nothing more than Mellman's undocumented characterization in an opinion column.
What kind of polling relies on manipulating Nielsen data for its findings? Where has this "survey" been published? Is its methodology public? Have you ever seen a presidential poll from Media Vote? No matter. A four-year-old comment from a John Kerry operative is the definitive word on polling. It's "reality", according to Markos.
Now, what the blue blogs won't tell you. In 2007, Politico reported that an actual study (not mere fiddling with Nielsen diaries) from MediaMark found otherwise:
In fact, according to a study by Mediamark Research, only 38 percent of Fox News viewers self-identified as conservative. In terms of sheer numbers, that means the non-conservative audience for Fox tops CNN’s total viewership.
The Fox haters never mention this survey. Maybe it's too recent. Who wants findings from 2007 when you can have Mellman's unsupported claims from 2004?
To be fair, we don't have much detail about the MediaMark survey either. Luckily, there is an unimpeachable source that is universally recognized as legitimate. The Project for Excellence in Journalism issues its State of the Media report every year. In connection with the PEW Center they conduct scienctific surveys of news audiences using recognized methodology. Did their 2008 report find that the Fox audience is just a herd of "true believers" who are "overwhelmingly Republican"? Not exactly:
The largest share of its audience – 38% -- were Republicans, followed by Democrats (31%) and independents (22%).
Interesting. That 38% figure tracks exactly with the MediaMark study. And at 53%, more Democrats and Independents watch Fox than do Republicans.
In Q2, 2008 Fox News Channel averaged 1,585,000 viewers. CNN: 961,000, MSNBC: 685,000. So according to the PEW survey, how many of these are Democrats? Numbers don't lie:
- FNC (31% Democratic): 491,350 Dem viewers
- CNN (45% Democratic): 432,450 Dem viewers
- MSNBC (48% Democratic): 328,800 Dem viewers
Yes, it's true. More Democrats watch Fox News Channel than either CNN or MSNBC. And the Kossacks, blue blogs, and Fox haters who try to tell you otherwise are just plain wrong.