Just the facts? No, not according to study Americans know trivia better than issues, study says

October 19, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

More people know that President Bush has a dog named Millie and TV character Murphy Brown has a baby than are aware Caspar Weinberger has been indicted for his alleged role in the Iran-contra scandal.

A survey being released today by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, a liberal media watchdog group in New York, highlights the perhaps not surprising truth that Americans are better versed in trivia than substance.

And sometimes they're even a little shaky on the trivia. Only 23 percent of the FAIR survey respondents could name Gennifer Flowers as the woman who claimed during the early primaries to have had a 12-year affair with Bill Clinton.

FAIR conducted the nationwide survey of 601 people likely to vote earlier this month to find out not just what voters think about the presidential race but what underlying assumptions shape their views.

One of the more surprising conclusions, said FAIR research director Janine Jackson, was that only 22 percent knew that the federal government will spend more money on the military in 1992 than on foreign aid or welfare. Forty-two percent answered foreign aid and 30 percent welfare.

FAIR's conclusions: The majority of voters lack even basic knowledge about many supposedly important issues. Their conclusions are often flat-out wrong.

FAIR blames the ignorant state of the electorate on the media in general and television in particular because television is where most Americans get their news.

"The news media's emphasis on reporting campaign rhetoric rather than the facts, their reluctance to focus on the record rather than on 'claims' about the record seem to make it difficult for voters to distinguish between truth and propaganda," the FAIR report states.

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