Thursday, March 15, 2007

The vast majority of American voters detect the presence of political bias in the mainstream news media, according to a Zogby poll released yesterday in conjunction with the George Washington University Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.

Sentiment is strong: 83 percent of likely voters think bias is “alive and well.” Of that number, 64 percent said the press leans left, while slightly more than a quarter — 28 percent — said there was a conservative bias.

Naturally, there’s a partisan divide, and a pronounced one. Among Republican respondents, 97 percent said the press was liberal. Two-thirds of political independents agreed with them, with less than a quarter of the independents — 23 percent — saying there was a conservative bias.

Democratic respondents revealed a spectrum of perceptions.

“Democrats, while much more likely to perceive a conservative bias than any other group, were not nearly as sure the media was against them as were the Republicans,” the survey said. “While Republicans were unified in their perception of left-wing media, just two-thirds of Democrats were certain the media skewed right — and 17 percent said the bias favored the left.”

Such wavering sentiment may not align with the thinking of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. In a speech Tuesday, the New York Democrat insisted that the “vast, right-wing conspiracy” — the so-called alliance between conservative point men and journalists that once vexed her husband, former President Bill Clinton — was fully operational.

Meanwhile, the Zogby findings also revealed a trend that may sober the enthusiasm of broadcasters, magazines and newspapers that have rushed to establish an Internet presence, complete with snappy blogs, message boards and interactive features.

“American voters remain skeptical of major news outlets diving in the blog pool — 26 percent speculated that the reason news organizations are placing blogs on their Web sites is that ‘blogs give news organizations a chance to promote a political agenda they could not promote in regular broadcasts, cablecast or publications,’ ” the survey stated.

The poll of 1,757 likely voters nationwide was conducted Feb. 20 to 26, and had a margin of error of two percentage points.

Other research confirms public skepticism.

“The State of the News Media 2007,” a 700-page analysis released Monday by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, found that 68 percent of respondents preferred getting news from sources without “a particular point of view.” Still, less than half gave positive reviews of credibility and trustworthiness in the press itself. The presence of liberal bias was cited by 28 percent, up from 19 percent in 1996.

“Perceptions of bias and the partisan divide of media, appear to be on the rise,” the study said, though it also noted the rise of a new “answer culture” over the long dominant “argument culture” in the press, marking “an appeal more idiosyncratic and less ideological.”

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