Courtesy of tvspy.com...
Americans Want Facts and Flags
By Mark Jurkowitz
The American public may want its coverage of the war on terror straight down the middle, but it wants it delivered by people who share its patriotism.
That's the finding of a new Pew Research Center survey of 1,200 Americans and their media habits and views. It comes amid an ongoing debate within journalism circles about whether embedded reporters, flag logos on TV screens, and the undiscovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq suggest American news organizations were too jingoistic or complacent in their coverage of the war against Saddam Hussein.
The Pew study -- taken from June 19 to July 2 -- found that 70 percent of the respondents thought it was good for news outlets to take a strong pro-American point of view. Yet, 64 percent said news coverage of the war on terrorism should be neutral.
Pew Research Center director Andrew Kohut believes the poll shows citizens want objective news, but want to feel in sync with those gathering and presenting it. ''They don't want propaganda,'' he says, ''but they want the media to be on our side, so to speak, giving you the sense that they have your values, your interests.''
That may be a narrow tightrope to walk. Kohut says the survey contains findings pointing to a ''public still on balance suspicious of the media.'' Nearly half of those polled -- 46 percent -- say some news organizations are becoming too critical of America. The survey also revealed that 43 percent worry that media criticism of the military was weakening the national defense, compared to 45 percent who thought such scrutiny kept the nation prepared. After the Gulf War in 1991, Americans believed that journalistic scrutiny of the Pentagon was good for the country by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
Some of those most suspicious of the media are fans of the Fox News Channel, the outlet winning the cable news ratings wars. While some critics have accused the cable network of a distinctly rightward tilt, Fox's famous ''Fair and Balanced'' slogan seems to appeal to an audience convinced the rest of the media is rife with left-leaning bias.
As the Pew survey found, 38 percent of Fox viewers say the media is too tough on Bush compared to only 25 percent of the general populace; 65 percent of Fox watchers say some news organizations are too critical of America compared to 46 percent of the overall sample; and two-thirds of all Fox fans believe the news media is liberal.
The poll reveals that the long-smoldering issue of liberal media bias is alive and kicking, with 51 percent of the public subscribing to that belief, compared to only 26 percent who see the press as conservative.
Among Fox viewers, 41 percent describe themselves as Republicans, 24 percent as Democrats and 30 percent as Independents. Overall, 30 percent of those polled say they back the GOP compared to 32 percent who are Democrats and 32 percent who are Independents.
The more conservative characteristics of the Fox audience prompts Kohut to note that ''Fox has a constituency. . . . It's taken a niche [that says] `this is what we think and we think like you.' ''
The Pew study also revealed that two recent media controversies have penetrated public consciousness -- with differing results. Half the respondents had heard a great deal or at least something about the Jayson Blair reporting scandal at The New York Times that indirectly led to the resignation of executive editor Howell Raines. Yet, the survey concluded that exposure had minimal impact since ''people who followed the story closely express no more or less cynicism about media accuracy or responsiveness'' than those had who heard nothing about the furor.
But one subject in which coverage seems to have influenced hearts and minds is the June 2 Federal Communications Commission move to ease the rules governing media ownership, a decision assailed by critics as consolidating too much power into too few hands. Nearly half the Pew respondents say they have heard about the issue and a sizable majority of them now believe deregulation will have a negative impact. Kohut is surprised by the level of public interest on the subject since he thought the media ownership debate was an ''inside the Beltway, wonky issue.'' But he believes the growing citizen opposition to the FCC move reflects ''a deep-seated belief that the media is pushed around by powerful people.''
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