Media Believability Poll Prompts Congressman's Call to Action on House Floor

News Story:

A Sacred Heart University Poll that found significantly declining percentages of Americans saying they believe all or most of media news reporting prompted a call to action by Congressman Lamar Smith, of Texas.

In a one-minute speech, Rep. Smith presented the U.S. House of Representatives with results from the SHU poll. “We need to encourage the media to adhere to the highest standards of their profession. Only then can we restore Americans’ faith in news reporting,” he concluded.

In the current national poll, just 19.6% of those surveyed could say they believe all or most news media reporting. This is down from 27.4% in 2003. Just under one-quarter, 23.9%, in 2007 said they believe little or none of reporting while 55.3% suggested they believe some media news reporting.

“The fact that an astonishing percentage of Americans see biases and partisanship in their mainstream news sources suggests an active and critical consumer of information in the U.S.” stated James Castonguay, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of SHU’s Department of Media Studies & Digital Culture. “The availability of alternative viewpoints and news sources through the Internet no doubt contributes to the increased skepticism about the objectivity of profit-driven news outlets owned by large conglomerates,” he continued.

The perception is growing among Americans that the news media attempts to influence public opinion – from 79.3% strongly or somewhat agreeing in 2003 to 87.6% in 2007.

And, 86.0% agreed (strongly or somewhat) that the news media attempts to influence public policies – up from 76.7% in 2003.

Americans surveyed provided poor ratings for the national news media on six different characteristics measured. The average overall positive rating across all six characteristics measured was 33.4%. The highest positive rating, 40.7%, was recorded for quality of reporting followed by accuracy of reporting at 36.9% and keeping any personal bias out of stories (33.3%). 

Other low positive ratings included: fairness (31.3%), presenting an even balance of views (30.4%) and presenting negative and positive news equally (27.5%).

“Americans know bias and imbalance when they see it and they don’t like it. When most service organizations strive for consumer satisfaction ratings in the high eighties to low nineties, an overall positive rating of 40.7% is dismal,” said Jerry C. Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute. He added, “Americans know that it’s just not that hard to present both sides and keep personal bias at home.”

By four-to-one margins, Americans surveyed see The New York Times (41.9% to 11.8%) and National Public Radio (40.3% to 11.2%) as mostly or somewhat liberal over mostly or somewhat conservative.

By a three-to-one margin, Americans see news media journalists and broadcasters (45.4% to 15.7%) as mostly or somewhat liberal over mostly or somewhat conservative.

And, by a two-to-one margin, Americans see CNN (44.9% to 18.4%) and MSNBC (38.8% to 15.8%) as mostly or somewhat liberal over mostly or somewhat conservative.

Just Fox News was seen as mostly and somewhat conservative (48.7%) over mostly or somewhat liberal (22.3%).

The most trusted national TV news organizations, for accurate reporting, in declining order included: Fox News (27.0%), CNN (14.6%), and NBC News (10.90%).  These were followed by ABC News (7.0%), local news (6.9%), CBS News (6.8%) MSNBC (4.0%), PBS News (3.0%), CNBC (0.6%) and CBN (0.5%).

In 2003, CNN lead Fox News on “trust most for accurate reporting” 23.8% to 14.6%.

The poll also found that the public and the media may be increasingly divided in perceptions of success in Iraq.

“Americans are discerning, through a maze of information sources, the truth about our status in Iraq. They see more success than the media is reporting,” said Jerry C. Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute. He added, “They are especially disturbed that negative media reports damage U.S. troop morale.”

Nearly three-quarters of all Americans surveyed, 70.7%, indicated they strongly or somewhat agreed that negative media reporting damages troop morale.

Over half of all survey respondents, 59.8%, agreed (strongly or somewhat) that negative media coverage damages prospects for success in Iraq because it encourages terrorists, and about half, 49.1%, agreed (strongly or somewhat) that things are likely going better for the U.S. than the U.S. media portrays.

Over one-third of those surveyed, 38.3%, agreed that media coverage of the Iraq conflict is accurate and under one-third, 31.2%, agreed that the coverage is fair and balanced.

Military officials slightly edge out U.S. news media – 30.8% to 28.3% -- when Americans surveyed were asked who they consider most likely to provide trustworthy and balanced reporting on the Iraq conflict. Others said U.S. government officials (4.8%) and foreign news media (20.8%).

How the Poll Was Conducted
The Sacred Heart University Polling Institute completed 800 interviews with residents nationwide between November 26 – December 5, 2007. The sample was generated proportional to population contribution in all 50 states. Statistically, a sample of 800 completed telephone interviews represents a margin for error of +/-3.5% at a 95% confidence level.