Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Saturday, May 29, 2004  

The Pew Research Center has another of their fantastic reports out. It's a survey of American journalists of their views on the media. As with all their reports, it's a treasure trove of info. The findings are far too many to report or summarize (though you could do a lot worse than spending a half hour reading through them).

Pew describes the key findings as those revolving around a cluster of issues related to media consolidation--profits hurt coverage, (41% in 1995, 66% now); a timid press unwilling to criticize power (up 25%); and a press weakened by the 24-hour cycle (up 24%). All of these are striking findings, but, given what has happened since Bush took office (FCC, saber-rattling), not surprising.

What I found even more interesting was the split that has developed between the way the national and local journalists see media. On the question of whether the press was too critical of Bush, 55% of national print and broadcast journalists said they had not been critical enough. Only 28% of local TV reporters did (local print--46%). This kind of finding is echoed (though not so strongly) throughout the report.

On the question of whether the press is liberal or conservative, it seems journalists believe it to be mainly conservative. When asked if any news organizations were "especially liberal" about 40% of jounalists said yes. However, the only organization registering more than 4% on the "liberal" scale was the NY Times, at about 20% (NPR came in a woeful 2%). Contrast that with the three-quarters who called some news organizations "especially conservative." The fair and balanced Fox scored an impressive 69% among national journalists and 42% among locals. The WSJ came in a distant--but significant--second with about 10%.

Finally, the finding that I've already seen quoted by conservatives is that the press is liberal. Actually, what's more accurate is that it's not conservative. Twenty percent of the general public describe themselves as liberal as compared to 23% of local press and 34% of national press. Members of the press are much more likely to describe themselves as "moderate"--54% for national, 61% for local journalists. They just aren't conservative. Where a third of the population describe themselves that way, only 7% of the national press and 12% of the local press do.

Evidence of bias, right? I think not. The press, who are far more educated about public policy and news (it's their business, after all), have come to the middle. We would expect that. But the general population, wallowing in the ignorance of Limbaugh lies and Savage hate, manage to innoculate themselves from actual reality. Thus they stay more conservative. It's like asking the general population whether they think AIDS comes from kissing or not and comparing that to what doctors say. Are doctors just nutty because they're out of step with the population? We know, for instance, that people who only get their news from Fox are way more likely to believe there was a connection between Osama and Saddam. Their ignorance of the facts makes them a poor comparison population.

There's a lot more, and I expect we'll be hearing this report cited in news stories for the next few months. Do yourself a favor and read the report so you know the facts before you hear the spin.

posted by Jeff | 8:55 AM |
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