SHU National Poll: Trust and Satisfaction With the National News Media

News Story: September 22, 2009
NATIONAL SHU POLL FINDS ONLY ONE-QUARTER OF AMERICANS BELIEVE ‘ALL’ OR ‘MOST’ OF NEWS MEDIA REPORTING AND DECLARE OLD –STYLE JOURNALISM IS DEAD 
  • Fox News Trusted Most – and Least
  • Large Majorities See Media Attempts to Influence Public Opinion and Policies
  • Americans Provide News Media with Dismal Satisfaction Ratings
  • Little Support Found for Tax Dollar Bailout of Newspapers
The Sacred Heart University Polling Institute released its third survey on "Trust and Satisfaction with the National News Media." The national survey of 800 Americans was fielded from Sept. 8-11 and covered new subjects as well as updating results from 2003 and 2007.
 
ON MEDIA TRUST, INFLUENCE AND RATINGS…
 
Respondents were asked if they believed all, most, some, little or none of news media reporting. Just 24.3% indicated they believe all or most news media reporting. While this is up from 19.6% in 2007, it remains lower than the 27.4% recorded in 2003.
 
Just over half of all respondents, 54.0%, said they believe “some” news media reporting. This is down slightly from 55.3% in 2007. Those believing little or no news media reporting dropped to 20.4% in 2009 from 23.9% in 2007.
 
According to Sacred Heart University Government and Politics Professor and Chair Dr. Gary Rose, "The low level of trust exhibited by poll respondents towards the media is in some respects a manifestation of the growing resentment and distrust among the American people regarding large and powerful institutions in general. The American people have become increasingly skeptical and suspicious towards institutions which they perceive as distant and manipulative. Small wonder that the media, which is now controlled by a handful of large corporations, is perceived in such a negative light."
 
In 2009, 86.6% (87.6% in 2007 and 70.3% in 2003) strongly and somewhat agreed that the news media have their own political and public policy positions and attempt to influence public opinion. And, 85.3% (86.0% in 2007 and 76.7% in 2003) strongly and somewhat agreed that the news media have their own political positions and attempt to influence public policies.
 
"The results suggest that we are witnessing a new era of partisan media with the important difference that current news outlets claim to be offering objective coverage when they often aren’t," says Sacred Heart University Media Studies and Digital Culture Associate Professor, Dr. James Castonguay.
 
Researchers were asked which national television news organization they trusted most for accurate reporting. Fox News was named by 30.0% of all respondents – up from 19.5% in 2003 and 27.0% in 2007.
 
Those named most frequently as the television news organization most trusted for accurate reporting in 2009 included: Fox News (30.0%), CNN (19.5%), NBC News (7.5%) and ABC News (7.5%). Fox News was also the television news organization trusted least. Just over one-quarter, 26.2%, named Fox News, followed by NBC News (9.9%), MSNBC (9.4%), CNN (8.5%), CBS News (5.3%) and ABC News (3.7%).
 
Researchers asked respondents for their perceptions of political leanings of various news sources. The Daily Show/Colbert Report was viewed, by a six-to-one margin, as mostly or somewhat liberal over mostly or somewhat conservative. By nearly five-to-one margins, respondents see “news media journalists and broadcasters,” the New York Times and MSNBC as mostly or somewhat liberal over those that see them as mostly or somewhat conservative. 
 
Fox News is viewed as mostly or somewhat conservative over mostly or somewhat liberal by a four-to-one margin. And, by approximately three-to-one margins, CNN and USA Today are viewed as mostly or somewhat liberal over mostly or somewhat conservative. The Wall Street Journal is viewed as more conservative by a two-to-one margin while National Public Radio is viewed as more liberal by the same margin.
 
Researchers read the following question to respondents: "Many considered Walter Cronkite, who recently passed away, the most trusted television news anchor. In your view, who is the most trusted news anchor today?" A total of 25 different individuals were named in the open-end format question. The top six mentioned as most trusted were Charles Gibson (19.8%), Brian Williams (17.3%), Katie Couric (9.9%), Bill O’Reilly (9.3%), Tom Brokaw (8.0%) and Jim Lehrer (2.4%).
 
Over half of all respondents, 56.1%, suggested they trust the electronic and print news media for accurate news and information over blogs (7.8%), the social media such as Facebook (3.4%) and entertainers/celebrities (4.3%). Others, 28.5%, were unsure whom they trusted most.
 
The average, overall positive rating for the national electronic and print news media across eight service characteristics was 35.9%. Most organizations strive to attain and maintain customer satisfaction ratings in the high 80s and low 90s.
 
The highest positive ratings were recorded for "quality of reporting" (40.6%) and "meeting expectations" (40.0%). The lowest positive ratings were recorded for "presenting negative and positive news equally" (30.6%), "keeping any personal bias out of stories" (33.0%), "presenting an even balance of news" (33.6%) and "fairness" (33.1%).
 
More respondents agreed (strongly or somewhat) with the statement "The news media are not as responsive to consumer preferences and market desires as they claim to be" (70.4%), than disagree (25.5%). Some, 4.1%, were unsure.
 
ON NEWS MEDIA VIEWING HABITS…
 
Researchers asked respondents which television news organization they turned to most frequently. The top five news organizations were Fox News (28.4% - up from 26.5% in 2007), CNN (14.9% - down from 16.0% in 2007), NBC News (10.6% - down from 11.8% in 2007), ABC News (9.3% - down from 11.0% in 2007), and "local news" (7.6% - down from 8.5% in 2007). Other organizations respondents turned to most frequently included CBS News (7.4%), MSNBC (4.3%), PBS News (1.3%), CNBC (0.6%) and CBN (0.1%).
 
Respondents were asked if they selected their favorite because they offer objective reporting or because they view the issues as they did. In results that were nearly three-to-one, 59.0% suggested they made their selection based on objective reporting, while 19.0% chose their favorite because they share the same views on issues. Another 21.0% were unsure or didn’t know.
 
Dr. Castonguay went on to say that "the polarization we are seeing around an issue such as healthcare is being reflected in news media preferences. Those same media outlets are covering, framing, and interpreting the issues for the public, so it becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy."
Nearly three-quarters of all respondents, 73.3%, indicated they did not have a personal page on a social network such as Facebook or MySpace. Another 25.5% said they did.
 
ON THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE…
 
While strong majorities of survey respondents (73.4%) believed the news media (newspapers, radio, TV and the internet) should provide equal time and space for multiple sides of issues, a similar percentage (70.9%) said the same media should be free from government involvement and allow the market to determine programming demand.
 
"The results once again show that Americans are not getting what they expect from the major news outlets, yet they don’t trust the government to fix the problem," says Dr. Castonguay.
 
ON MEDIA OWNERSHIP…
 
Nearly three-quarters, 71.0%, believed it is very (31.8%) or somewhat (39.3%) important that limits be placed on how many media outlets one company should own. Another 24.7% believe such limits are somewhat unimportant (8.4%) or not at all important (16.3%). Some, 4.4%, were unsure.
 
Over half of all respondents, 56.7%, believed it’s "bad for democracy" that six companies currently own almost all the major media outlets in the United States. Another 30.4% suggested it does not matter while 7.8% indicated it was good for democracy.
 
Nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed, 62.9%, suggested that these media ownership companies provide news that mostly generates ratings and advertising income over those (22.3%) who suggested these companies provide news that mostly informs the public about issues and policies.
 
Dr. Castonguay suggests that "many Americans feel that the news media are not giving them what they want as consumers or citizens, and are concerned about the effects of media ownership on the health of our democracy.
 
ON THE FUTURE…
 
Nearly two-fifths of all respondents, 38.1%, said they are reading newspapers less often than they did five years ago. And, nearly half, 45.0%, agreed that the internet is adequately covering for failing newspapers, while 35.6% disagreed.
 
More than three-quarters, 77.9%, disagreed with a statement suggesting tax dollars be used to prop up failing newspapers.
 
Two-thirds, 64.1%, agreed that the health of our democracy is directly tied to the health of journalism. And, 67.9% agreed with a statement that read: "Old-style, traditionally objective and fair journalism is dead." Just one quarter, 26.5%, disagreed while 5.6% were unsure.
 
ON MEDIA BIAS…
 
Poll results found 83.6% saw national news media organizations as very or somewhat biased while just 14.1% viewed them as somewhat unbiased or not at all biased. Some, 2.4%, were unsure.
 
A large majority, 89.3%, suggested the national media played a very or somewhat strong role in helping to elect President Obama. Just 10.0% suggested the national media played little or no role. Further, 69.9% agreed the national news media are intent on promoting the Obama presidency while 26.5% disagreed. Some, 3.6% were unsure.
 
Over half of Americans surveyed, 56.4%, said they agreed that the news media are promoting President Obama’s healthcare reform without objective criticism. Another 39.3% disagreed and 4.3% were unsure. Further, a majority, 57.6% of those surveyed agreed that the news media appear to be coordinating efforts to diminish the record of former Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin. One third, 34.6%, disagreed and 7.9% were unsure.
 
“It is sad,” suggested Jerry C. Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute, “when we find that only 55.9% say they expect the media to tell them the truth today.” He added, “This perception of bias will eventually catch up with the news media outlets – we found 45.9% have permanently stopped watching a news media organization, print or electronic, because of perceived bias.”
 
ON THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA…
 
A large majority, 85.3%, of those polled suggested they were very or somewhat aware of the term “mainstream media.” Respondents saw the members of the mainstream media as: NBC (37.6%), CBS (32.6%), ABC (29.5%), CNN (27.8%), Fox News (19.9%), and MSNBC (12.6%). Over half of those surveyed, 56.1%, suggested the “mainstream media” are mostly or somewhat liberal while 16.7% suggested somewhat or mostly conservative. Some, 19.7%, saw the “mainstream media” as neutral and 7.7% were unsure.
 
 ON LT. BRADSHAW AND THE WARS…
 
The poll found that, by a six-to-one margin, Americans would prefer to have their national news media cover the life of 1st Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw who was killed fighting in Afghanistan than that of entertainer Michael Jackson following their deaths on June 25, 2009. Another 14.6% suggested they would have preferred an even balance of coverage and 8.0% were unsure. 
 
“The overwhelming result is not at all surprising,” Lindsley suggested. “We found 70.4% agreeing that the national news media are not as responsive to consumer preferences and market desires as they claim to be. Just 25.5% disagreed.”
 
The poll of 800 Americans also found 57.4% saw too little news about the men and women fighting the wars while 7.3% saw too much and 31.3% suggested there was about the right amount. Overall, 45.1% saw too little news on the wars while 9.8% saw too much and 41.3% suggested war coverage was about right. Negative news on war development was too much for 31.3% and too little for 33.5% while 30.3% said there was about the right amount.
 
And, majorities saw too little truthful reporting on the wars (59.6%), news on successes (60.8%), and objective/unbiased news reporting (57.0%).
 
EXPERTS AVAILABLE FOR COMMENT
•Dr. James Castonguay, associate professor, Media Studies and Digital Culture
•Jerry C. Lindsley, director, Sacred Heart University Polling Institute
•Dr. Gary Rose, professor and chair of Government and Politics
 
To speak with these experts, please contact Funda Alp at  203-396-8241 or alpf@sacredheart.edu or Tracy Deer-Mirek at  203-371-7751  or deer-mirekt@sacredheart.edu.
 
How the Poll Was Conducted 
The Sacred Heart University Polling Institute completed 800 surveys nationally. All telephone interviews were conducted between September 8 and September 11, 2009. One survey instrument was used to elicit information from all respondents. Statistically, a sample of 800 completed telephone interviews represents a margin for error of +/-3.5% at a 95% confidence level.