Pew, FAIR Surveys of Media Coverage, Sources: Public Distrust Climbs, Use of ‘Think Tanks’ Falls

Fewer than three in 10 Americans think news organizations “generally get the facts straight,” according to a new Pew Research survey.

The survey finds public confidence in the accuracy of news stories at the lowest point in more than 20 years, with the public’s views of media bias and independence matching previous lows.

The survey by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that scarcely more than one-quarter of the 1,506 adults questioned think news organizations are careful that their reporting not be politically biased. Six-in-10 said they think news reporting is politically biased. Those identifying themselves as Republicans are more likely than those saying they are Democrats to be highly critical of news media “in nearly all respects,” the survey found. But Democrats’ criticisms of news media coverage have increased since 2007 – up to 59 percent compared with 43 percent two years ago.

Republicans are twice as likely to have negative views of The New York Times as they are to have positive views, while Democrats view the newspaper favorably by almost a five-to-one margin. More independents rate the newspaper favorably (29 percent) than unfavorably (18 percent).

The Wall Street Journal is second only to Fox News for favorable ratings from Republican voters, the survey reports. Democrats and independents, “on balance,” also regard The Journal favorably. The balance of opinion on National Public Radio is “favorable across the board,” but with Democrats somewhat more positive (50 percent) than Republicans (39 percent).

Television remains the dominant news source for people when it comes to national and international news, with 71 percent saying the tube tells them what they need to know on those issues. About 42 percent go to the Internet for their national and international news, and 33 percent go to newspapers for that coverage.

Fair on Think Tanks Shares of Newshole

In a separate study of media coverage, the liberal media watchdog group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) reported September 3 that coverage of progressive and liberal think tanks increased in 2008, a year in which overall media citations to think tanks declined for a fourth consecutive year.

The group said the most-cited think tanks in major U.S. media outlets got 13,149 citations in 2008, a 6 percent dip from the previous year, primarily coming at the expense of “conservative or right-leaning think tanks.” Those groups’ slice of the media “newshole” fell from 36 percent in 2007 to 31 percent a year later. “Progressive or left-leaning” think tanks saw their slice of the news hole increase from 17 to 21 percent over that same period.

Why the decrease in citations to think tanks? The group reports that the falloff “is quite likely simply a reflection of the changing media landscape …. the decrease in citations primarily comes from newspapers, not television; as newspapers fold and those that survive shrink their newshole, the overall news output of the outlets surveyed is decreasing.” National and international news, on which those think tanks are most likely to be sources, “are shrinking the fastest of all.”

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