Pew Poll Finds Huge Gap Between Democrats, GOP On Whether Media Acts Like a Watchdog

Jennifer Harper of The Washington Times reported on a new Pew Research Center poll on Monday that showed a widening gap in perceptions of the media between Republicans and Democrats in the Trump era. Pew asked whether the media's criticism of political leaders primarily keeps them from doing things they shouldn’t – or keeps them from doing their job.

Eighty-nine percent of Democrats picked “keeps them from doing things they shouldn’t.” Only 42 percent of Republicans agreed. This 47-point gap is a record for the Pew poll, which has been asking the public their opinion on the watchdog role of the press since 1985.

“The gap stands in sharp contrast to January and February, 2016 — when Americans were asked the same question. Then, in the midst of the presidential primary season, nearly the same share of Democrats (74 percent) and Republicans (77 percent) supported the watchdog role,” Pew researchers said. The largest previous gap was 28 points during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Would Democrats really express interest in a "watchdog media" if journalists were applying exactly the same scrutiny to Schumer, Pelosi and Co. right now that they're applying to Trump? If journalists brought this level of aggression to reporting on Obama?

Other questions brought smaller, but still significant differences by party:

-- 87 percent of Republicans say news organizations “tend to favor” one side of politics; 53 percent of Democrats agree.

--13 percent of Republicans say news organizations are fair to both political parties; 46 percent of Democrats agree.

-- 11 percent of Republicans say they trust information from news organizations “a lot”; 34 percent of Democrats agree.

When AP's David Bauder asked me about this poll last week, I said at this time, Democrats see the media as their "last line of defense" against Trump and a GOP congressional majority, while Republicans see the media as "prosecutors in a kangaroo court."

The AP put this headline on it: "Study finds Democrats far more interested in watchdog media​." That misses the point entirely, and makes it sound like Republicans oppose accountability. What Republicans can't abide is the notion that the media are always government watchdogs with objectivity and restraint, when in reality, they're aggressively hostile toward Trump, and tried to protect Obama like a journalistic Secret Service.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis