Pew Survey: Charges of Media Bias Continue to Grow

By: More bad news for journalists: The percentage of people who believe their work is inaccurate and biased continues to grow.

Nearly two-thirds ? 63 percent ? of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press believe that news stories are often inaccurate. That's a flip from when Pew first asked that question in 1985, when 34 percent of respondents believed stories were frequently inaccurate.

Pew also found that 74 percent of respondents believe stories tend to favor one side of an issue over another, up from 66 percent two years ago.

Those trends tend to go hand in hand, said Andrew Kohut, the Pew center's director.

"If people believe that news reports are often biased, they will say they're inaccurate," he said.

The findings indicate U.S. newspapers and broadcasters could be alienating the audiences they are struggling to keep as they try to survive financial turmoil. Pew Research's questionnaire didn't attempt to gauge how shrinking newspapers and other cutbacks at news organizations are affecting people's perceptions, though the reductions probably haven't helped, said Michael Dimock, an associate director for the center.

The financial problems mainly stem from a steep decline in the ad sales that generate most of the media's revenue. Newspapers' print editions have been losing readers to the Internet, and broadcasters' audiences are fragmenting in an age of cable TV and satellite radio.

The budget squeeze "means facts don't get checked as carefully as they should," according to Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times.

But he still believes many media outlets still go to great lengths to get the facts right and own up to their mistakes when the information is wrong.

"The great flood that goes under the heading `news media' has been poisoned by junk blogs, gossip sheets, shout radio and cable-TV partisans that don't deserve to be trusted," Keller told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

The Internet also has made it easier to research information and find errors in news stories, said Kathleen Carroll, the AP's executive editor. And the Web's discussion boards spread word of mistakes when they're found.

Carroll said she hopes the increased scrutiny and accountability fostered by the Internet will lead to better journalism.

"We're in the early stages of a changing relationship between news organizations and consumers, who are becoming much more vocal about what they like, what they don't and what they want to know," Carroll wrote in a statement. "It's not always pretty or pleasant, but that engagement can and does help improve coverage."

The slippage in attitudes toward the press primarily comes from Democrats. Republicans have long been critical of the news media, and now Democrats are joining them. Most Democrats (59 percent) say that news reports are often inaccurate, compared with 43 percent two years ago, Pew said.

Partisan attitudes toward cable news networks have hardened in the past two years, just as many of their programs become more overtly partisan.

Nearly three-quarters of Republicans surveyed (72 percent) view Fox News Channel positively, with 43 percent of Democrats feeling that way, Pew said. CNN had the opposite results: 75 percent of Democrats view the network favorably, while 44 percent of Republicans do. MSNBC, which has become more overtly liberal in primetime over the past year, has 60 percent approval from Democrats, with only 34 percent from Republicans.

Television is the dominant news source, while over the past year the Internet has surpassed newspapers as a dominant news source for national and international news. Newspapers still have a significant advantage over the Internet as a local news source, Pew said.

Seventy-eight percent of Republicans said the press was politically biased, compared with 50 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents, Pew said. In 1985, less than half of Republicans, Democrats and independent believed the press was politically biased.

A majority of people who say they get most of their news from Fox News Channel say that the media is too critical of America (59 percent) and immoral (51 percent), Pew said.

Despite the negative attitudes, a majority of those surveyed said it would be an important loss if news outlets are shut down, because of the economy or other reasons. Oddly, though fewer young people cite TV news or newspapers as primary sources, a higher percentage of them than of older respondents say it would be important if they were lost.

Pew surveyed 1,506 adults by landline telephones and cell phones from July 22 to 26. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

AP Business Writer Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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