Oct 21, 2014 · 3 minutes

When it comes to news consumption, the habits of conservatives and liberals are thought to be as polarizing as the political parties that represent them in Washington. A study from 2012 found that only 27 percent of Fox News watchers identify as Democrats, while only 16 percent of MSNBC viewers identify as Republican.

But what if go beyond the makeup of individual news outlet audiences to look at the broader habits within ideological groups. Fox News can't be the only place these conservatives get their news, right?

According to a new study from Pew, 47 percent of "consistent conservatives" say Fox News is their main source of news. Meanwhile, a whopping 88 percent of these consumers trust the outlet to report honest and accurate information -- the same outlet that, among more recent absurdities, gave voice to a Texas sheriff claiming that ISIS was ready to invade the US through Mexico.

But aren't liberals just as bad? After all, one Pew study found that MSNBC was even more biased than Fox News in its reporting during the 2012 election. In a widely read column from last year, the New York Times' David Carr suggested that confirmation bias is an equal opportunity offender. "More often than not," he writes, "when we tune in to cable or fire up the Web, we are staring into the mirror, not looking out a window."

The new data, however, tells a different story. While almost half of the most conservative viewers rally around a single news source, the tastes of "consistent liberals" are far more varied. 15 percent say CNN is their main source of news, 13 percent picked NPR, while MSNBC, the New York Times, and local TV were favored by 12, 10, and 5 percent of the most liberal consumers, respectively.

Conservatives may counter that the greater variety in liberal media consumption habits is immaterial because each of those organizations push a left-leaning agenda. But MSNBC notwithstanding, this liberal bias doesn't exactly stand up to scrutiny. In that same study of 2012 election coverage, CNN was less biased than both Fox News and MSNBC. A UCLA study on media bias did find a considerable leftist slant in the New York Times, but noted that if you disregarded the opinion pages, the Times was actually less liberal than the Wall Street Journal, which Pew identifies as the only news outlet conservatives "trust more than distrust," with the exception of Fox News and a handful of ideologues like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

As for NPR, long considered a bogeyman of bias for conservatives who want to cut public radio funding, the station "hardly differs from the average mainstream news outlet" in terms of bias. And biased or not, a Fairleigh Dickinson University study found that NPR listeners are the most-informed consumers when it comes to international current events. The least informed? Fox News.

Also telling are the metrics on trust: The Economist and the BBC were the only two outlets measured that consumers on both the extreme left and right trusted at least as much as they distrusted. The only outlet that was distrusted by both liberals and conservatives? BuzzFeed. Despite some of the great investigative journalism and longfrom analysis put out by BuzzFeed, it appears its reputation is still be strongly informed by kitten videos and listicles.

No news outlet is perfect. And even on Fox News, the level of bias differs wildly from program to program -- the UCLA study found that Fox's "Special Report with Brit Hume" was actually the fourth most centrist news source it measured. But it's difficult to argue that having a variety of news sources is a bad thing.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]