- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

Many journalists and most of the public don’t understand the First Amendment — or each other, according to a poll.

Only 14 percent of the public — and 57 percent of journalists — can name freedom of the press as a right guaranteed by the First Amendment, according to a survey released today by the University of Connecticut.

Written in 1789, the 45 words contained in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protect the freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly, and the freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

“Freedom of the press is at the core of American democracy,” said poll director Ken Dautrich, who was taken aback at how little the public — and the press — knew about the subject.

“Even more disappointing is the fact that those who use free press rights in their work aren’t more knowledgeable about it,” he said.

But the press may be a little too free, according to the American public: 43 percent said the press has “too much freedom in our society.” Conversely, 3 percent of the journalists polled agreed.

A third of the journalists felt they had “too little freedom.”

The public, meanwhile, does not have much trust in the press’s accuracy. Only 39 percent said journalists reported their information accurately. Journalists had a different perception of their work: 72 percent said the press does a good job providing accurate coverage.

“This is at the very heart of journalism,” Mr. Dautrich said. “And it is the biggest disconnect we found between the press and the public. Journalists think they’re accurate; the public, for the most part, disagrees.”

The survey also found that 61 percent of Americans think news coverage is biased — a question not posed to the journalists, Mr. Dautrich said. The poll showed that 68 percent of the journalists said they had voted for Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, in the 2004 presidential election.

Americans also are leery of new stories relying on anonymous sources. More than half — 53 percent — say such stories ?should not be published.” Among journalists, 14 percent agreed.

Both, however, said unnamed sources should be protected. Eighty-nine percent of journalists said reporters should be able to conceal the identity of a source, even if ordered by a court to do otherwise; 59 percent of the public agreed.

Web loggers did not fare well in the poll. Among journalists, 59 percent said blogs were not a “legitimate” source of news and only 13 percent considered bloggers to be journalists — though 85 percent said bloggers should be afforded First Amendment protection.

Mr. Dautrich said so few Americans knew about blogs that the survey was unable to measure their opinions.

The poll of 1,000 American adults and 300 journalists was conducted in late March and April by the university’s Department of Public Policy. It can be seen in full at www.uconn.edu.

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