Study: TV Still Drives Public Issues

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sept. 27 (UPI) — How Americans respond to false rumors that President Barack Obama is a Muslim shows TV is still a major influence on what topics engage people, a study shows.

Ohio State University researchers discovered that online searches about the rumor during the 2008 presidential election were highest on those days the topic was heavily featured on national television networks and declined when there was less coverage, a university release said Monday.

“With all the attention given to blogs and online news, some people have suggested that the mainstream media’s role has diminished in our society,” Brian Weeks, lead author and a doctoral student in communication at OSU, said. “But we found that the mainstream media, especially television, still helps place issues on the public’s agenda.”

Newspapers did not have as much of an effect as television did, likely because most newspaper articles effectively disproved the rumor, making online searches unnecessary, Weeks said.

“Newspaper articles tended to present the facts and dispel the rumor decisively, so readers didn’t have any reason to try to seek more information online,” Weeks said.

The massive online searches coinciding with television coverage may be one reason strong belief in the rumor persists, Weeks said.

“When people go online, they can find all kinds of misinformation and false information,” he said. “To some extent, people believe what they want to believe, and they can find information online that will reinforce their prejudices.”

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