- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

On Media

The honeymoon is over. America is once again annoyed with its media, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released yesterday.
"Public criticism of the news media, which abated in response to coverage of the 9-11 attacks, is once again as strong as ever," the survey states. "As the media's focus has shifted away from terrorism, Americans regard news organizations with the same degree of skepticism as they did in the 1990s."
Positive opinion has simply dried up.
The new poll finds that 49 percent of the respondents think the news media are "highly professional," down from 73 percent in November. Thirty-one percent, in fact, called the press downright unprofessional.
The relationship between press and public has also eroded. Just 31 percent said the new media helped society solve its problems; 58 percent said the media "gets in the way."
Do we believe our media? Not much though the public does have preferences.
Of a selection of 13 networks or programs, the Pew Survey found CNN topping the list, though only 37 percent said they believe "all or most" of what they saw. CBS' "60 Minutes," ABC's "20/20," C-SPAN and MSNBC followed. The Fox News Channel came in 12th, topping NPR, which was in last place.
Of 14 "news people," the survey found that Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings topped the believability scale though again, even the top poll numbers are low. Just 39 percent said they believed "all or most" of what Mr. Brokaw had to say. Fox's Geraldo Rivera was in last place with 9 percent.
Overall, old-fashioned accuracy still matters to the public. Just 35 percent of the respondents thought the press got their facts straight, compared with 45 percent previously; 56 percent said news coverage was inaccurate altogether. That figure stood at 45 percent in November.
Americans also think their media are a wily bunch: 67 percent said the press tries to cover up its mistakes, up from 52 percent in November. Just 23 percent said the press was "willing to admit mistakes."
Belief in media bias is also widespread: The poll found that 59 percent of the respondents said news organizations were politically biased, compared with 47 percent eight months ago. Just 26 percent said the media were careful "not to be biased," down from 35 percent.
Patriotism numbers are not what they were, either. Just 49 percent think the media stand up for America, down from 69 percent in the November poll. Another 35 percent said the press was too critical of America, compared with 17 percent previously.
And are those journalists compassionate? Only 30 percent of those polled said journalists "care about the people they report on," down from 47 percent. The survey also found that 39 percent felt the press is "moral," compared with 53 percent previously.
There is some good news, however. "Most Americans continue to favor the watchdog role performed by news organizations," the poll noted.
Six in 10 Americans said press criticism keeps political leaders in line, and 49 percent said criticism of the military "keeps the nation prepared," a figure that has not changed since November.

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