- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

It's a shame the public can't impeach the media. If the American people could hold news outlets accountable for errors or bias in reporting, the industry might be reporting on its own electiongate.

For the first time, the Pew Research Center found that a majority (53 percent) felt that news organizations exerted too much influence on the outcome of this year's presidential election. The center's poll, conducted Nov. 10 through 12 among 1,113 voters, found that 39 percent graded the media's performance a D or F.

And while the media is supposed to limit itself merely to reporting events, on election night it directly affected the vote by incorrectly identifying winners, according to those polled by the center. A majority (52 percent) said that the media's premature report of a Gore victory in Florida had an effect on other voters. And while 62 percent of Republicans were particularly concerned about the early call of Florida for Vice President Al Gore, against just 42 percent of Democrats, voters for both parties were equally unhappy with the subsequent report of a Bush victory.

The American people clearly believe that the media are failing in their role as a source of information in the court of public opinion. In this close election, that role was all the more critical. In essence, Democrats and Republicans are still campaigning, as they try to win favor from the public on issues such as hand counts and overseas ballots. Triumphs in the court of public opinion could resonate just as powerfully as victories in the courts of law.

The media are supposed to be the watchdogs that break down spin and reveal the truth to the public. But in this election cycle, the media at their best give political spin masters their turns to talk all in the name of objectivity. At their worst, news organizations pitch questions, filter events and select speakers with a bias favoring the candidate of their choice.

Republicans are especially prone to feel that the media don't report fairly. Less than half of Republicans (47 percent) believe that news organizations have been fair to both candidates this year, compared to 68 percent of Democrats. An October poll by the Pew Research Center, meanwhile, found that six in 10 voters believe that journalists often let their political leanings influence their reporting.

If the media are supposed to watch government, who watches the media? News organizations must take steps to shore up public confidence in their work. Although the public may not apply formal censures to the industry, the public's disenchantment could hurt bottom lines. Then perhaps the media would take notice.

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