Deprogramming the Cult: In Experiment, Fox Viewers Paid to Watch CNN

April 4, 2022

Cutting thru the fog of denial has often felt for me like trying to deprogram cult members. New research confirms that it’s do-able if you put in the effort.


A groundbreaking new study paid viewers of Fox News Channel to watch CNN for 30 days. Those viewers ultimately became more skeptical and less likely to buy into fake news. The early impacts, after just three days, showed that the viewers were already starting to change.

The findings of the study, written by David E. Brockman and Joshua L. Kalla, explained that the experiment used content analysis comparing the two networks during September of 2020.

During this period, the researchers explained that “CNN provided extensive coverage of COVID-19, which included information about the severity of the COVID-19 crisis and poor aspects of [Donald] Trump’s performance handling COVID-19. Fox News covered COVID-19 much less,” said the study. “The coverage of COVID-19 it did offer provided little of the information CNN did, instead giving viewers information about why the virus was not a serious threat. On the other hand Fox News extensively but highly selectively covered racial issues, and its coverage of these issues provided extensive information about [Joe] Biden and other Democrats’ supposed positions on them and about outbreaks of violence at protests for racial justice in American cities. CNN provided little information about either. The networks both covered the issue of voting by mail, but again dramatically different information about it (in addition to offering different frames).”

It was “far from obvious,” the authors surmised, that viewing different networks would affect the beliefs and attitudes of the viewer. In fact, It wasn’t so much that viewers were tuning in because they already felt that way, but that their attitudes were actually being formed from the Fox network.

The Fox viewers were nearly all very conservative and strong Republicans, the study explained. “Of 763 qualifying participants, we then randomized 40 percent to treatment group. To change the slant of their media diet, we offered treatment group participants $15 per hour to watch 7 hours of CNN per week, during Sept. 2020, prioritizing the hours at which participants indicated they typically watched Fox News.”

At the three-day mark, the viewers took a survey. “We found large effects of watching CNN instead of Fox News on participants’ factual perceptions of current events (i.e., beliefs) and knowledge about the 2020 presidential candidates’ positions,” they found. They discovered changes in attitudes about Donald Trump and Republicans as well as a large effect on their opinions about COVID.

The viewers also evolved to believe that if Donald Trump made a mistake, “Fox News would not cover it — i.e., that Fox News engages in partisan coverage filtering.”

The findings might suggest that the most cost-effective way for Democrats to win elections is to start running their own infomercials or commercials on the Fox networks.


9 Responses to “Deprogramming the Cult: In Experiment, Fox Viewers Paid to Watch CNN”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    All we need is $15/hour per viewer….

  2. fletch93442 Says:

    Peter, I recommend that you rename your Climate Denalialism,as it is now, you have multiple entries winning the honor title of “Cimate Denialism of the Week, rather than a single “winner” for the week.

  3. fletch93442 Says:

    “Ezra Klein has a long column in the New York Times in which he quotes from an essay I wrote a couple of years ago entitled “The Empty Radicalism of the Climate Apocalypse.” In that essay, I argued that the best way to understand what climate activists really think about climate change is to watch what they do, not what they say, and, judging by that, they are not nearly as apocalyptic about climate change as they say they are.
    Klein’s column is, in places, a rebuttal to that view. He offers two primary arguments for why the apocalyptic rhetoric is not matched by actions that would seem to be consistent with that view of the problem.

    The constant production of deadlines and carbon budgets, attached to ever more threatening forecasts of future catastrophe, serve little beyond discourse and polarization. Direction of travel, not destination, is what really matters. Because the destination is so far in the future, and so shot through with deep uncertainty, we cannot possibly imagine it, much less work backward from some desired state in that unimaginable future to the present. As I wrote at the end of the essay that Klein quotes from:
    “[I]nsofar as climate mitigation proceeds at all, it is much more likely to proceed in a partial, capillary, oblique, and emergent fashion. Incremental steps such as improving land, energy, and resource productivity to accelerate salutary environmental trends, the continued spread of urbanization, and the demographic and forest transitions will tend to be more successful than direct efforts to restrict environmental impacts or deploy environmental technology, not because the latter are not technically possible but because the proliferation of values, identities, and ideologies that modernization brings simply can’t support the level of social solidarity or consensus that planning and coordination of infrastructure and development at national—much less global—scale requires.”
    Nothing that has transpired since would lead me to change that assessment.
    Once again, Mr. Nordhaus has captured the essence of the modern day Eco-warrior

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