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Professor Tells Students Fox News Viewers Are Ignorant

People who watch Fox News are less informed than people who get their news from other outlets such as MSNBC and CNN, a University of Arizona professor told his upper-level government class recently, according to a recording of the comments obtained by The College Fix.

The student who taped parts of Associate Professor Pat Willerton’s “Politics, Policy and Governing: The U.S. and the World” class on Oct. 8 said the remarks were couched in a larger argument that Fox News is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party.

The 25-second clip provided by the student, who asked to remain anonymous, starts right after that assertion about Fox News and the Republican Party, a remark that prompted audible gasps from the large room full of students.

The recording shows Willerton defending his comments as students continued to murmur, saying: “They use government, they use, well – c’mon, look at the studies, look at the studies. If you look at MSNBC, ABC, CNN, all of these cases, the average viewer knows more than the person who doesn’t consult any source. When they survey people who watch Fox News regularly, they know less.”

The “studies” Willerton cited to students to back up his claim was a controversial 2010 survey conducted by the University of Maryland-based WorldPublicOpinion.org that was touted by many left-leaning news organizations as proof Fox News misinforms its viewers.

However, Fox News published a point-by-point refutation of that survey shortly after it was released stating in part “researchers themselves were clearly misinformed and frequently picked incorrect or left-wing biased answers as the ‘correct’ ones.” That was never brought up in Willerton’s class.

The student who provided the clip told The College Fix that the professor often criticizes Republicans in the beginning of his class, which is reserved for remarks on current events before the academic lecture begins. During the first week of October, he told the class Republicans were responsible for the ongoing government slimdown, and on Oct. 8 – the same day he disparaged Fox News – Willerton declared the U.S. House of Representatives is currently controlled by Republicans because of gerrymandering, the student said.

In a second clip provided to The College Fix, Willerton states regarding the House: “You had a relatively even split, how many people voted, one party or the other, actually Democrats had more votes, but as you can see, the Republicans ended up with 33 more seats, and this is very much tied into gerrymandering.”

The student said the professor neglected to mention Democrats, just as much as Republicans, stand accused of gerrymandering tactics by many nonpartisan sources.

“It’s maddening,” the student said. “No one in the class challenges his ideas or questions what he has to say, which is what I find the most discouraging.”

The professor did not respond to repeated requests for comment by phone and email over the last week.

In a statement to The College Fix, University of Arizona spokesman Chris Sigurdson defended the professor’s actions, calling them appropriate.

“It would be remiss for a professor of comparative politics and policymaking not to use the relevant examples of the day,” Sigurdson said in an email. “He is clear about when he’s citing published research and when he’s offering insights based on his expertise. He encourages students to ask questions and add comments during the lectures. He also uses Twitter in class to solicit differing views and questions from those who may not want to speak out.”

Sigurdson said the professor posts Tweets in class that disagree with things he said or things students have thought he said, as well as follows up with the proper academic citations.

“There are 542 students in the class and, based solely on the numbers, the professor acknowledges that some part of his lectures are likely to affront or engage some portion of the students at any point,” Sigurdson said. “To all indications, he is conducting the class responsibly and within his authority and expertise.”

Watch a video of the professor’s comments about Fox News viewers:

ProfClip1 from The College Fix on Vimeo.

Watch a video about the professor’s comments on alleged Republican gerrymandering:

ProfClip2 from The College Fix on Vimeo.

Jennifer Kabbany is associate editor of The College Fix.

CLICK HERE to Like The College Fix on Facebook / TWITTER: @CollegeFix

IMAGE: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix. She previously worked as a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for a decade in Southern California, and prior to that held editorial positions at The Weekly Standard, Washington Times and FrontPageMagazine. She is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship recipient and has contributed to National Review.

Add to the Discussion

  • Robadob

    Debating policy is a waste of time when one side is smart and the other dumb. Liberals are smart and conservatives are dumb; end of argument.

    • troll much?

    • octagon999
      • goodspkr

        Well done octagon999. It appears the prof who found this out was surprised since he normally only gets his news from liberal sources. It certainly is a good fit for a story that claims Fox News watchers (which if you read left wing sources is everyone in the Tea Party) are less informed than even people who read no news.

        Thanks for the link.

      • Robadob

        OK. But that doesn’t change the fact that the prof in the article, and other liberals like him, actually think the way to argue policy is to label opponents stupid.

    • Yeah, that’s why all trolls are liberals, because they are so smart…

    • RW

      Good News! Here is a problem for you to solve and make some bucks with your super brain: The American Mathematical Society (AMS) in Rhode Island has announced that the prize for the solution to the Beal Conjecture, a number theory problem, has been increased to USD 1 million.

      Debating policy is a matter of discussing dependent and independent variables in the function of how people behave and trying to create a formula that optimizes the use of scarce resources.
      I think your theory is false. I know some smart liberals and dumb ones too. Same for conservatives. Intelligence is not the end all be all. There are a lot of intelligent people in prison.

    • goodspkr

      First sentence is correct. The second one is not. End of argument.

  • MichaelKennedy

    My daughter just graduated from U of A. Her freshman English Comp instructor, a grad student, spent the review session before finals on a one hour rant about Reagan, how he was an actor and read only speeches written by others, etc, etc. In her “American History Since 1877” class, her study guide for finals was full of false info. For example, the “Silent Majority” of the 60s was composed of write people who rejected the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also stated that western settlers learned to farm from Indians. Plains Indians were hunter gatherers, except for the Navajo. A U of A degree is questionable. I’m sorry I let her go there. One of her textbooks, the only one for the class, was on “Whiteness Studies.” My older kids got better educations elsewhere.

    • Brennan

      This is not even worth addressing properly.

  • CPO_C_Ryback


    Best part: his UoA photo is 20 years YOUNGER than he is today.

    What a hack. What a phony. What a fool.

  • anonymouser

    So instead of debating the professor, the student just secretly records him…classy

    • Pat_Loudoun

      Would you risk your grade “debating” a left wing ideologue who has power over you?

      • anonymouser

        That’s not really at issue in my comment. ““It’s maddening,” the student said. “No one in the class challenges his ideas or questions what he has to say, which is what I find the most discouraging.'” The student wants someone to challenge the professor, but instead of doing it himself, he secretly tapes the professor. If the student wants to challenge the professor he should do so, not secretly record him.

        • goodspkr

          He can do both. If a professor is saying things that he doesn’t want to have recorded, he probably shouldn’t be saying them.

          • seriously concerned

            It’s fine to record them…just show the entire lecture. These short clips do not show the overall message, which was NOT a direct attack on Republicans or Fox News.

      • Sarah

        The professor welcomes opposing opinions and encourages debates and critical thinking.

      • kmars32

        That is a poor excuse. I am student in the class and I can assure you that a student would not “risk” their grade by debating the information presented. Moreover, Professor Willerton encourages EVERY student to voice their opinions- almost to the point of annoyance.

    • Pepperspray137

      HA! I was chased down the hall by my lit teacher earlier this semester and was told my arguments were disrupting the class. Then later when I told her her research on OWS was flawed because she only used OWS friendly sources. Her answer was she was earning her P.H.D. and I was just another idiot who just didn’t understand the nature of research. She dropped me, I laughed.

  • WyckHolland

    Don’t trust anything that comes from a university or college. Professors are among the most ignorant, dull, narcissistic people in the world..

    • Nullifidian

      You might want to look up where most primary research is done, including the site of the first fission reactor. I guess the far-right can now make common cause with the environmentalists on not trusting nuclear power.

  • Pepperspray137

    It is the mantra of the left that “Fox news = bad.” It must be repeated over and over until it’s so “uncool” to watch the network, people run from it. I used the equals sign instead of spelling it because the left uses pop culture and modern mass media “lingo” as a way to make their ideas seem like they’re something new. Their ideas are the same as they were when the French were cutting heads off their royalty in the center of Paris. You attack your opponents with slander through propaganda, and mass media personalities when violence is impractical. Colleges are now getting more press thanks to alternative media, so finding these “teachers” isn’t too difficult. My advice to everyone is, find a school that has the least amount of conservative complaints on it and go with that. That is to the left leaning students too, if you have no argument you have only parroting, and no one learns anything.

    • Nullifidian

      My advice to everyone is, find a school that has the least amount of conservative complaints on it and go with that.

      And enjoy the sterling education you’ll receive at Bob Jones University.

      • Pepperspray137

        “It is wonderful to be back in Oregon,” Obama said. “Over the last 15 months, we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go. ”

        This is from the highly educated leftist Obama.

        • Nullifidian

          He must be highly articulate considering the fact that you’re still rehashing one slip of the tongue from HALF A DECADE AGO. Let me count all the things that are wrong with your response.

          First off, it is just a slip of the tongue, saying “fifty-seven” for “forty-seven”. If he had been to 47 states in the continental U.S. while campaigning, then he would have had only one to go.

          Second, Barack Obama is not a leftist. The leftist political positions ever since the 19th century have been the anti-capitalist ones: anarchism, communism, and socialism. Social democracy (e.g. Sweden’s government) is in the political center. Obama’s deregulationist, neoliberal (in the economic sense) policies put him firmly on the right-wing. Just because he’s not as far to the right as the far-right is does not make him a leftist. Hell, Richard Nixon wasn’t as far-right as the clowns in the GOP today, much less Eisenhower who presided over a top income tax rate of 91%.

          See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/02/01/obama-the-deregulationist/

          Third, this is a massive non sequitur, plus a wholly worthless use of anecdote. I’m talking about universities and you come back with individuals. You could have just as well used Bush, who entered Yale as a legacy case, and whose solecisms continued through both terms and didn’t even stop after he left office. That doesn’t mean that Yale doesn’t have higher academic standards in general than Oral Roberts U. or Bob Jones U. or Liberty U. or whatever other jumped-up bible college passes for an admirable academic institution to the know-nothings of the extreme right.

          Fourth, you erred in your tactics. Like most of the far-right, you have a Manichean belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be a pro-Obama liberal. I probably hate Obama more than you do—or at least have clearer reasons for my dislike than you do—and I didn’t vote for him either in 2008 or 2012. The article I linked above was one I just read in an anthology called Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank. Doesn’t sound like I’m head of the local Obama fan club, now does it?

          • rocketride

            Your screed may just be the funniest thing I’ve read yet this year. . .

          • Nullifidian

            You must be easily amused.

            But please, go on refusing to see what’s in front of your face and treating everyone who disagrees with you on any point as if they were your ideological opponents on every point. That way you can continue to ensure your own political marginalization and perhaps we’ll a day when being an adult is considered a qualification for office.

  • anonymous

    This is all completely false. I’ve taken this class, and it is absolutely fair and equal. Most of this website is essentially propaganda so I wouldn’t take anything seriously. There are definitely some parts of the clip that are conveniently removed. Also, maybe the student should grow up and instead of secretly film the class, go into his office hours. This particular professor is VERY open to anyone (regardless of political affiliation) coming into his office hours. Clearly, this student is just a coward.

    • John McDonn

      This coming from “anonymous.” Who’s the coward?

      • Brennan

        “coward” or someone who simply doesn’t have an account?

  • John McDonn

    College educations today are a huge waste of money…. graduate and still have no job because these teachers are not teaching. They are propagandizing.
    And they graduate owing 100k or more which goes to fools like them?!
    Get rid of the tenure system and cut tuition in half. If these so-called professors are all about “giving” and “equality,” none should disagree when their paychecks are cut in half. Actions speak louder than words! Watch if that happened, these so-called professors would act up and think they are “better” than you and deserve more.

  • Concenred

    Parents should know what kind of school their sending the kids to. Get involved like they care what kind results there paying for and yank them before they become like
    The freaks teaching them

  • Max Rodriguez

    This is a joke. I take this class and Willerton is taken completely out of context.

    He made it clear that he was just going acording to the numbers. Fox News was the worst in Fairleigh Dickinson’s study which is the one he used by the way, but he made an effort to point out that CNN and MSNBC are just as bad.

    He was talking about the failures of the news in general and to disparage him like this out of context is ridiculous.

    Every single class and every viewpoint brought up is discussed. Willerton opens himself up to criticism through Twitter as well as questions in class.

    He makes a concerted effort to present multiple viewpoints to us on the issues we discuss. He wants to be challenged. He welcomes it. Whoever put these comments could have voiced his or her opinion out loud instead of hiding behind this.

    Profesor Willerton even responded to multiple Tweets in the next class responding to people’s criticism of this lecture.

  • Max Rodriguez
  • Notafool

    This article is COMPLETELY and totally partisan. What this article fails to realize is that Professor Willerton brought up separate cases of Democrats doing the same things as you glorified conservatives would do, but the student forgot to record that part and send it in, I guess. This is a slanted piece that anybody in that class will tell you is entirely and completely wrong

  • Anon

    I am in this class and this is taken WAY out of contex. Professor Willerton is always open to everyone’s opinions, and even encourages them. He WANTS to hear the other point of view. You can’t base all your comments off less than a minute of his 75 minute lecture.

  • Brennan

    This is all laughable. I’m in this class currently and I have never had a professor who is more open to debate and sensitive to the views of his class. What this article failed to mention was that he did not single out Fox News or Republicans, but addressed all popular media sources as well as Democrats. Students are encouraged repeatedly to raise their hands or anonymously tweet their questions/comments about the lecture and Professor Willerton devotes a significant part of each class to addressing these. Students who do not want to listen to opposing viewpoints should not take a political science course.

  • seriously concerned

    I would like to point out that this short clip does NOT provide the professor’s entire viewpoint. He did NOT single out Fox News. He pointed out, using information he gained from a study, that news is not as informative as we would think it to be. This article right here just serves to prove the professor’s point. Journalists can take a small selection from somebody’s lecture and turn it into something it is not. Prof. Willerton offers a way to challenge his ideas. In fact, he has responded to several tweets about his views on different issues, including this one, throughout the year and has never belittled anyone for their opinion. For someone to say, no one in class challenges his ideas is just outrageous. Of course people have challenged his ideas. And this individual was in disagreement with him then why not take his disagreement to the professor or tweet the question anonymously. I am in this class and can tell you that his comments were taken out of context. I have always voted republican in elections, but that does not mean Prof. Willerton’s comments do not make sense to me. Gerrymandering is a real issue and so the fact that our current media is not as informative as it should and needs to be.

  • my opinion is probably wrong

    The interesting thing is that the professor’s argument actually agrees with the conservative ideology that states how misleading most sources of news actually are. Why is it that some people can only tolerate discussion when it agrees with their own ideology, while any dissenting opinion must be wrong?