Journalism’s warped mirror

Journalism’s warped mirror

: The Annenberg Foundation, at whose event I’m sitting right now, released a survey of journalists and members of the public, often about the same questions but with very different views. Some highlights:

: “To what extent do journalists who report the news try to do so objectively and fairly, without regard to their own political views?…”

56 percent of journalists said they do to a great extent and 38 percent to a moderate extent, adding up to 94 percent

But only 18 percent of the public say to a great extent and 47 percent to a moderate extent, adding up to 65 percent.

One could argue that 65 percent is still a good majority, but it’s a rather wide gulf.

: Journalists were asked the reason why journalists “unintentionally let bias into their reporting.”

38 percent say they accept information without checking, 29 say they have strong personal views on a subject, 18 percent blame tight deadlines, 7 percent blame writing for editors’ approval.

: On Dan Rather, the two groups were not far apart on three questions: A sizable majority of both groups said that a major or minor reason for running the Bush story included that CBS and Rather “believed the story was accurate” and they were “in too much of a rush” and that they “were lied to by their sources.” A split came on this theory: “CBS News and Dan Rather are liberals who dislike President Bush.” 41 percent of journalists said this was a reason, major or minor, but 69 percent of the public believed this reason.

: Here’s a fun one: Both groups were asked whether people on a list were journalists or not. I’ll list the number from journalists the public’s number for each name with my comments: Peter Jennings 91/88; Mike Wallace 92/80; Brian Williams 80/69; Bob Woodward (question asked before Deep Throat’s PR) 96/64; George Will 64/50; Katie Couric (note the shift) 49/62; Chris Matthews 49/55; Larry King 26/43; Bill O’Reilly 12/55 (now there is a disconnect); Rush Limbaugh 3/32.

: The two groups certainly disagree about whether journalists get the facts straight.

86 percent of journalists think they get the facts straight while only 45 percent of the public agree; 11 percent of journalists say they are “often innacurate” while 48 percent of the public say that is the case.

: They also disagree about whether mistakes are corrected.

74 percent of journalists say they quickly report they have made a mistake vs. 30 percent of the public.

: The public thinks most journlists are liberal but most American aren’t.

Asked to describe the majority of journalists, the public said 42 percent are liberal, 29 moderate, 16 conservative. As to the majority of Americans: 17 percent liberal, 39 moderate, 33 conservative.

: Journalists are asked the same question on many job descriptions. I’ll quote just the liberal number: 54 percent say the majority of newspaper journalists are liberal, 34 percent for TV and radio journalists, 34 for editors and producers, 5 for media owners, and 6 for radio talk show hosts. And the public? Only 1 percent of journalists say the majority of Americans is liberal.

: 30 percent of journalists say news media have been more critical of the Bush administration, 64 percent of journalists say they were more critical of Clinton.

: On the idea of news organizations having “a decidedly political point of view in their coverage of the news,” the two groups split… but I think the question is not properly put. The issue in the minds of many is not whether journalists have a bias but whether they reveal it. In any case, 16 percent of journalists say it’s very or somewhat good to have a decedily political point of view in coverage while 80 percent say it’s very or somewhat bad vs. a split public: 43 percent say it’s very or somewhat good and 53 says it’s very or somewhat bad.

: Asked about watching “shows such as the O’Reilly Factor or Hardball,” I find it interesting that the public argues against the echo-chamber theory: 80 percent say they watch because they “like to listen to people who have a different point of view than me.”

: Asked whom they believe in all or most matters, here’s the public’s ranking: Local TV news ranks first at 72 percent followed by CNN, 65; Jennings and ABC, 64; Williams and NBC, 60; the local daily paper, 59; Fox, Time, and CBS tied at 56; People at 23; Limbaugh at 20. Some are amazed by that local TV news number but I think it makes sense because (a) it’s local and local is what matters in our lives, (b) it’s easy and doesn’t try to, in the words of one participant here, treat news as porridge, (c) it’s human and has a personality, vs. impersonal and institutional newspapers.

: 85 percent of journalists think it’s not easy for the public to distinguish journalists from nonjournalists. (Whatever the hell a journalist is….)

: On blogs, 45 percent of journalists say they have a very or somewhat positive effect on the quality of news; 38 percent sasy very or somewhat negative.

: As for eading blogs, 20 percent of journalists do it every day, 17 percent a few times a week, 15 percent a few times a month, 5 percent once a month, 18 percent less than monthly, 24 percent never.

  • Let’s look at these stats from a different perspective, shall we:
    43% of journalists admitted that they DO NOT TRY TO A GREAT EXTENT to objectively and fairly report the news without regard to their own political views.
    7% didn’t even try to do so to a moderate extent.
    So a total of 50% of journalists, when asked, admitted they DO NOT TRY to a moderate or great extent to objectively and farily report the news, without regard to their own political views.
    That is just STUNNING.

  • RightNumber, I took the survey. On the question to which you refer, it didn’t ask reporters what they did, it asked what they think journalists do in general.
    Jeff, I’m afraid this is not a new survey – it was released May 24. There’s a pdf of the results online here, and I blogged about it at the time here

  • Derek: Thanks so much. I took out the “just” before “released.” I got fooled by the release mention here. Still interesting stuff and thanks for the links!

  • Looking at it again, I think part of it is new and part old. The question about who is a journalist wasn’t released before, but questions about correcting mistakes and the Killian memos were.
    I guess they’re releasing the results in dribs and drabs, for maximum publicity!

  • I wasn’t surprised at all by the findings on local news (72 percent of public trusts local stations the most). When people grumble to me about media bias, it’s NEVER about the people on at 5, 6, and 10 (or 11). It’s always some network guy. I’ve had people write me email to comment on stories and say “we love KZZZ, but we can’t stand CBS!” It reminds me of the term-limit debate (remember that?). People said they liked their congressman, but they couldn’t stand Ted Kennedy, Newt Gingrich, etc.

  • RightNumberOne

    Thanks for the clarification. Let’s look at some of the other numbers from a different perspective (and since I don’t have access to the questions, I have to rely on the PDF):
    20% of journalists admit its not a “bad thing” if news organizations have a decidely political point of view in their news coverage! 20 PERCENT! Extrapolated, that’s THOUSANDS of “journalists.”
    14% of journalists polled admit that their news organizations can’t even generally “get their facts straight.”
    26% of journalists admit that when their newspapers make “serious mistakes,” they don’t correct them quickly.
    52% of the journalists polled believe CBS did a good job of correcting the situation involving Dan Rather’s use of forged documents. Rather wasn’t fired, and to this day claims the documents haven’t been proven to be forgeries. He is a star CBS employeee even today. 52% think CBS did a good job here?
    58% of journalists think its OK to just say both sides in a political debate are being deceptive, even if they know that’s not really true.
    And yet, 95% of journalists rank their trade’s ethics as good?
    What stuns me about this survey is the willingness of the American press to ADMIT its shoddy practices. It’s almost as if they aren’t embarassed by these revelations.
    I am a former journalist. And I sure am glad most people are unaware of that fact.