- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2001

Tracking the tempestuous relationship between press and public is a tricky business. While news consumers crave both clear information and emotional reassurance, journalists have yet to establish a consistent wartime footing to deliver the goods.
Irresponsible, invasive or sensational news coverage has vexed many in the past 11 weeks, a fact made particularly piquant when the father of fallen CIA officer Mike Spann admonished the persistent press during a news conference in Alabama yesterday.
But the media's lousy image could be improving, at least according to a new survey released by the Pew Research Center yesterday.
"Americans continue to praise the press for its coverage of the war on terrorism. The general image of the media has, at least temporarily, lost some its tarnish," the survey states. "At the same time, however, the public shows strong support for government control of the news for the sake of national security."
The public believes the press is becoming more patriotic, less critical of America and more "moral" since the terrorist attacks. In early September, for example, 46 percent of the respondents said the press protected democracy. The figure has now risen to 60 percent.
Journalistic craft has improved somewhat as well. Forty-six percent said news organizations "usually get their facts straight," up from 35 percent in September. While 57 percent previously said the press was inaccurate, the figure has since dropped to 45 percent.
The touchy-feely quotient is up, too. Back in September, only 23 percent felt the press "cares about people." The figure now stands at 47 percent. Previously, 40 percent said the press was "moral." The figure has risen to 53 percent.
Still, the public does not give the press carte blanche. Censorship of information to protect troops and public safety is favored by 70 percent. Another 73 percent prefer fair coverage that presents "all points of view."
Forty-seven percent said the press is "politically biased," down from 59 percent in September. But there are some strong ideological divides. Sixty-one percent of Republicans said there was a bias, but only 42 percent of the Democrats agreed.
"Republicans, especially conservatives, are dubious of aggressive reporting," the survey observed. "By a 55-to-38 percent margin, conservative Republicans say the media should trust government officials when they refuse to release information.
"Democrats strongly back aggressive reporting, with a solid majority (57 percent) saying the press should dig hard for stories," the survey stated.
Newspapers, meanwhile, are reaping some rewards. Since September, the number of those relying solely on print for their war news has tripled, rising from 11 percent to 34 percent. Another 53 percent cite cable as their primary news source versus 17 percent for network TV and 18 percent for local TV.
Not all surveys agree that the press has improved, however. Gallup polls taken since mid-October found that 54 percent of Americans disapproved of the media's wartime coverage, 60 percent said the media had overreacted to the anthrax scare and 68 percent said the press was revealing too many details about the U.S. military.
In addition, an online poll of more than 2,000 people at www.vote.com found that 92 percent felt the press "should know better than to report sensitive information to the public."
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.



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