Low poll results on press accuracy rooted in our increasing access to information
As if journalists needed any more bad news, poll results released Sunday indicate the public's confidence in the accuracy of our product is at its lowest ever, with just 29 percent of those polled saying news organizations generally get the facts straight in stories.
A whopping 63 percent told the Pew Research Center that news stories are often inaccurate, while 60 percent said news organizations are politically biased. Only 26 percent thought journalists were careful about political bias in stories, 20 percent said we were independent of powerful people and organizations and 21 percent are willing to admit their mistakes.
I blame these historic lows mostly on two factors: The rise of the Internet and the spread of politically-skewed cable TV news channels.
In other words: The more access the public has to information, the less it trusts those of us who are paid to deliver it.
The Pew Center for the People and the Press polled 1,506 people in mid-July, finding that the accuracy figures dropped by nearly half from 1985 (55 percent), while the inaccuracy figures rose by almost that much in the same time period (34 percent).
The Internet has impacted these ideas in several ways: Because news reporting is instantaneous, avid news consumers can almost watch reporting in real time, as news outlets scramble to cover stories in the full sunlight of continuously updated blog posts and Web site stories.
Cyberspace has also allowed any potential problems with news stories or journalists to flash across the world with the speed of a mouse click. When CBS anchor Dan Rather reported a story on President George Bush's National Guard service, critics were ready with substantial criticisms the same evening the piece was broadcast.
The Internet helped catch plagiarists such as New York Times writer Jayson Blair, and pushed conventional news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times to keep pace with TMZ.com's reporting on the story of the year, pop star Michael Jackson's death.
Online sites and messages boards have also been havens for a host of misinformation which encourages readers to doubt traditional media. From messages falsely claiming a host of awful ideas on specific pages of health care reform legislation to a 10-point peace plan from notoriously liberal comic Robin Williams which included deporting all illegal immigrants, there's a lot of half-truths and quarter truths out there in cyberspace.
The cable TV newschannels haven't helped, with Fox News Channel's right-friendly programs clashing with MSNBC's liberal voices and CNN's all-over-the-map approach. Small wonder three-quarters of the Democrats polled had a favorable view of CNN compared to 44 percent of Republicans, while 72 percent of Republicans had favorable views of fox News compared to 43 percent of Democrats.
And because most people still get their national and international news from TV -- according to this poll, 71 percent -- their view of those TV outlets get conflated to represent all media.
One curious stat; despite the fact that local newspapers tend to report more local news than TV stations -- because we have more reporters and space to do so on our platforms -- 44 percent of those polled said TV stations do the most to report on local issues. That may be because television is the place where most of those polled got their local news.