Attitudes Toward News Media Improve

By: Will Lester, Associated Press Writer

(AP) The American public’s attitude about the role and performance of the news media has grown significantly more positive since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, a new poll says.

Almost two-thirds now say those in the news business stand up for America and help protect democracy, says the poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. These are the highest levels on those measures in the center’s 15 years of polling on the news industry. Fewer than half felt that way before the attacks.

“The public thinks the media have performed well and feel better about the media’s values than they did in the 1990s,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. “They had gotten disillusioned about whether the media was moral, was protecting our democracy, and standing up for America.”

TV newscasters were openly patriotic in the weeks immediately after the attacks, wearing American flag pins on their lapels and talking frequently about the importance of remaining united behind the anti-terrorism effort. Public opinion about the media’s accuracy, morality, and compassion are also on the rise.

Past surveys have shown public opinion about journalists’ honesty and ethical standards were at the lower end of the scale of occupations, along with politicians, lawyers, and insurance salesmen. About one in five were likely to give high marks for ethics and honesty to those occupations in a Gallup poll taken a year ago. A solid majority — six in 10 — felt doctors, pharmacists, and members of the clergy had high ethical standards.

The higher regard for the news media in the Pew poll may be related to the public’s increased need for information about terrorist attacks and efforts to protect their homeland.

“People who were more worried about personal attacks gave the media a better grade,” Kohut said.

There were some reservations, however. A majority, by a 53-39 margin, said it’s more important for the government to be able to censor stories it thinks threaten national security than for reporters to be allowed to report stories they think are in the national interest.

About half said the news media is politically biased, down from six in 10 who felt that way before the attacks. Republicans remained more likely than Democrats or independents to think the media is biased.

The poll of 1,500 adults was taken Nov. 13-19 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Among the poll’s other findings:

* By a 2-to-1 margin, the public wants neutral — not pro-American — news coverage.

* Three-fourths of Americans rate coverage of the war on terrorism as good or excellent, down from nine in 10 who felt that way right after the attacks.

* People were about evenly split on whether alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden has gotten too much media exposure.

* The number who think the news media cares about people they report on has doubled from 23% just before the attacks to 47% now.

* Two-thirds said they are generally more interested in the news than they were before the attacks.

* Just over half said cable television was a leading source of news for them and about a third listed newspapers as a principal source.

* Half in the poll said the press tries to cover up mistakes rather than admit them.

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