- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The old problem of media bias persists despite the fact that America is a nation of eager news junkies who get their information fix from an array of “platforms,” according to a wide-ranging survey and analysis released Monday by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

It’s not just disgruntled Republicans who cite journalistic bias.

The report revealed that, yes, 81 percent of Republicans say that “most news sources are biased in their coverage.” But almost two-thirds of Democrats — 64 percent — also say that the news is biased, along with 76 percent of independents.

There was not much sympathy for news organizations. The survey also found that just 15 percent of Republicans, 19 percent of independents and 30 percent of Democrats said there was no bias in the press.

Analysts and cultural observers from conservative and liberal persuasions have debated the presence of bias for almost a quarter of a century, arguably prompted by the 1986 book “The Media Elite” by S. Robert Lichter, which surveyed 238 journalists to reveal that the majority described themselves as “left of center,” with 17 percent saying they were conservative. Eighty-six percent said they “seldom or never” went to church.

The public has been aware of this trend for some time as well. Surveys released in recent years by Pew, the Media Research Center and Zogby International have found that on average, about two-thirds of the public say journalists continue to lean left.

Still, all three political persuasions gave the press a little love when it came to its often herculean efforts, the new Pew report said.

Sixty-one percent of Republicans said, “Major news organizations do a good job covering all the important news subjects that matter to me.” Seventy-three percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents agreed.

The nation, meanwhile, is news-hungry. The Pew findings showed that overall, eight out of 10 Americans follow news all or at least some of the time, with 92 percent overall using a combination of newspapers, TV, radio and the Internet as sources.

Online news has created a spate of new behaviors: A third of the respondents access online news from cell phones, 28 percent create customized news pages for themselves, while 37 percent comment on news on message boards or through social media.

Politics is never far away, though.

“It is not surprising that affinities for online news sources also reflect a user’s political party and ideology,” the study said, noting that Democrats and liberals are more likely to get news from a news organization or individual journalist they follow on a social networking site such as Facebook, from “Twitter posts of individuals who are not journalists,” or from international news organizations, National Public Radio and the New York Times.

“In contrast, Republicans and those who describe themselves as conservative are more likely to make a daily visit to the Web site of a major TV news organization, and are also more likely than other online news users to utilize just 1-2 Internet news sources on a typical day,” the study said.

The study was based on a survey of 2,259 adults conducted Dec. 28 through Jan. 19, with a margin of error of two percentage points. See the entire report, titled “Understanding the Participatory News Consumer,” at www.journalism.org.

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