Many Americans do not believe the news media are fair, accurate or even moral, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. The poll of 1500 Americans conducted late last month found that most of the public thinks news organizations are politically biased (55%) and often publish inaccurate stories (53%), and that roughly a third of the audience say the media are too critical of America (43%), hurt democracy (36%) and are immoral (32%).
Half of Americans (52%) label the media as liberal, led by self-described Republicans (75%) but also large percentages of independents (49%) and even Democrats (37%). And while journalists tout themselves as the public's objective eyes and ears, many more Americans are confident that the military provides an accurate view of the war in Iraq (52%), compared with 42 percent who trust that the press offers accurate reports.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Pew found that those who have chosen to bypass traditional news outlets in favor of the Internet give the “harshest indictments of the press.”
Here are some excerpts from the Pew report, which can be read online at people-press.org.
The American public continues to fault news organizations for a number of perceived failures, with solid majorities criticizing them for political bias, inaccuracy and failing to acknowledge mistakes. But some of the harshest indictments of the press now come from the growing segment that relies on the internet as its main source for national and international news.
The internet news audience – roughly a quarter of all Americans – tends to be younger and better educated than the public as a whole. People who rely on the internet as their main news source express relatively unfavorable opinions of mainstream news sources and are among the most critical of press performance. As many as 38% of those who rely mostly on the internet for news say they have an unfavorable opinion of cable news networks such as CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, compared with 25% of the public overall, and just 17% of television news viewers.
The new survey underscores the fundamental change in basic attitudes about the news media that has occurred since the mid-1980s. In the initial Times Mirror polling on the press in 1985, the public faulted news organizations for many of its practices: most people said that news organizations "try to cover up their mistakes," while pluralities said they "don't care about the people they report on," and were politically biased.
But in the past decade, these criticisms have come to encompass broader indictments of the accuracy of news reporting, news organizations' impact on democracy and, to some degree, their morality. In 1985, most Americans (55%) said news organizations get the facts straight. Since the late 1990s, consistent majorities – including 53% in the current survey – have expressed the belief that news stories are often inaccurate. As a consequence, the believability ratings for individual news organizations are lower today than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.
In Pew's first measure of media favorability in 1985, there were modest differences of opinion across party lines. Both Democrats and Republicans held overwhelmingly favorable views of network TV news (92% of Democrats who gave a rating, 88% of Republicans)...[Now] just 56% of Republicans express favorable opinions of network television news, more than 30 points lower when compared with the 1985 survey (88%). Independents also express less positive opinions of the three major broadcast news operations (70% today, 88% in 1985). But opinions among Democrats of these outlets remain overwhelmingly positive. Currently 84% of Democrats able to rate the network news outlets express favorable opinions of them, compared with 92% in 1985.
CNN viewers feel much more favorably toward the Fox News Channel than Fox News viewers feel about CNN. Fully 79% of CNN viewers rate Fox favorably, while just 55% of Fox viewers say the same about CNN – 45% express an unfavorable view of Fox's major competitor.
Dislike of both major cable news networks runs notably high among Americans who count newspapers and the internet as their main sources of national and international news. One-third of people who count on the internet for most of their news express an unfavorable view of Fox, and roughly the same number (31%) feel negatively toward CNN.
The deep political divisions in opinions about the press are reflected in views of coverage of the Iraq war. Overall, about four-in-ten Americans (42%) express a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that the press is giving the public an accurate picture of how the Iraq war is going. By comparison, more people (52%) say they are confident that the U.S. military is presenting an accurate picture of the war.
As might be expected, Republicans express little confidence in the accuracy of war coverage. Only about a third of Republicans (34%) say they have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence the press is giving an accurate picture of the war. More than twice as many Republicans (76%) have confidence that the U.S. military is accurately portraying the war in Iraq.
By contrast, a solid majority of Democrats (56%) have confidence in the press to give an accurate picture of Iraq, while just 36% express comparable trust in the U.S. military. Nearly a quarter of Democrats (23%) say they have "no confidence at all" in the military to give an accurate account of progress in the war; about the same percentage of Republicans expresses no confidence in the press (26%).