These figures reveal that the public’s perception of news-story accuracy has hit a two-decade low, Pew said. In its initial 1985 survey, 55% of US adults said news stories were accurate while 34% believed them to be inaccurate. Things went downhill from there as this percentage had fallen sharply by the late 1990s and has remained low over the last decade.
Media Now Viewed as Biased
The research also found that Americans’ views of media bias and independence now match previous lows. Only about one-fourth (26%) this year say that news organizations are careful that their reporting is not politically biased, compared with 60% who say news organizations are politically biased.
The percentages of Americans who think news organizations are independent of powerful people and organizations (20%) or are willing to admit their mistakes (21%) now also match all-time lows.
Republicans Most Critical, Democrats Gaining
Republicans continue to be highly critical of the news media in nearly all respects, Pew said. However, much of the increase in negative attitudes toward the news media over the last two years has been driven by increasingly unfavorable evaluations by Democrats.
On several measures, Democratic criticism of the news media has grown by double-digits since 2007. Today, most Democrats (59%) say that the reports of news organizations are often inaccurate, even though only 43% said this two years ago.
Democrats are also now more likely than they were in 2007 to identify favoritism in the media: Two-thirds (67%) say the press tends to favor one side rather than to treat all sides fairly, up from 54%. And while just a third of Democrats (33%) say news organizations are “too critical of America,” that reflects a 10-point increase since 2007.
Though the partisan gaps in several of these opinions have narrowed, Republicans increasingly see news organizations as influenced by powerful people and organizations and not professional, while Democrats’ views have changed little.
Media Sources Divided Along Party Lines
The study found that even as the party gaps in criticisms of the press have lessened over the past few years, views of many individual media sources are – much like the US Congress – deeply divided along party lines:
- Democrats hold considerably more positive views than Republicans of CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times and the news operations of the broadcast networks.
- Democrats’ views of National Public Radio (NPR) are somewhat more favorable than those of Republicans (50% favorable vs. 39% favorable).
- Republicans view Fox News – and to a lesser extent The Wall Street Journal – more positively than do Democrats. Within the GOP, the balance of favorable to unfavorable assessments of the Journal is second only to that for Fox News. Democratic and independent assessments of The Wall Street Journal are also, on balance, positive.
Fox News Takes Right Turn; CNN, MSNBC Veer Left
Partisan differences in views of Fox News have increased substantially since 2007. Today, a large majority of Republicans view Fox News favorably (72%), compared with just 43% of Democrats. In 2007, 73% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats viewed Fox News favorably.
Three-quarters (75%) of Democrats assess CNN favorably, compared with just 44% of Republicans, which is little changed from two years ago. MSNBC also rates substantially higher among Democrats (60%) than among Republicans (34%).
The New York Times Has Starkest Partisan Division
Pew found, however, that the starkest partisan division is seen in assessments of The New York Times. Although most Americans are not familiar enough with the newspaper to express an opinion, Republicans view it negatively by a margin of nearly two-to-one (31% to 16%), while Democrats view it positively by almost five-to-one (39% to 8%). More independents rate the Times favorably (29%) than unfavorably (18%).
TV Most Dominant News Source
The poll found that TV remains the dominant news source for the public, with 71% saying they get most of their national and international news from it. More than four-in-ten (42%) say they get most of their news on these subjects from the internet, compared with 33% who cite newspapers.
Last December, for the first time in a Pew Research Center survey, more people said they got most of their national and international news from the internet than said newspapers were their main source.
Online news still lags behind newspapers as a source for news about local issues. As with national and international news, most people (64%) cite television as their main source for local news. Yet despite declines in newspaper readership over the last several years, about four-in-ten people (41%) turn to newspapers for news about issues and events in their local area, more than twice the number that turn to the internet for local news (17%).
A just-released study by ARAnet found that consumers report getting 31% of their news and information from TV, and that remains the most credible medium for news and information, though its score dipped slightly from last year.
TV Best for Local News
More than four-in-ten (44%) say that local TV stations do the most to uncover and report on important local issues, while a quarter (25%) identify local newspapers as the primary sources of local news reporting, Pew found.
Far fewer identify local independent online organizations (11%) or radio stations (10%) as responsible for uncovering most local news stories. Even among those who get most of their local news from newspapers, about as many say most original local reporting is done by TV stations (41%) as by newspapers (38%).
Additional comparisons with 1985 results:
- The proportion of Americans saying news organizations “try to cover up their mistakes” has reached a high of 70%, up from 63% two years ago. In 1985, a smaller majority (55%) said news organizations tried to cover up their mistakes.
- Most Americans (59%) see news organizations as “highly professional,” though this represents a dip from 66% in 2007. In 1985, 72% agreed.
- Today, by greater than two-to-one (60% to 26%), Americans say the press is biased. In 1985, fewer than half (45%) said so, while 36% said news organizations were careful to avoid bias.
- Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Americans think news organizations tend to favor one side in dealing with political and social issues, while just 18% say they deal fairly with all sides. The proportion saying the press favors one side has risen eight points since 2007 (from 66%). In 1985, a much smaller majority (53%) said the press favored one side.
- Nearly three-quarters (74%) now say news organizations are influenced by powerful people and organizations compared with 20% who say they are generally independent. In 1985, more said that news organizations were influenced by the powerful than said they were independent (53% to 37%).
- More than twice as many people believe the press is liberal vs. conservative (50% vs. 22%). In 1985 it was 40% vs. 19%
About the survey: The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press’ biennial media attitudes survey was conducted July 22-26 among 1,506 US adults reached on landlines and cell phones.