< By the Numbers


Friday, July 01, 2005

MIKE PESCA: A new study conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press shows that the people actually are for the press. Well, under some circumstances. For instance, there are big drops in the percentage of people who find their daily newspaper believable, the percentage of people who think news organizations stand up for America, and a drop in the percentage of people who think media protect democracy. Andrew Kohut is the president of the Pew Research Center. He joins us now. Welcome to the show.

ANDREW KOHUT: Happy to be with you.

MIKE PESCA: One of the things we did was we talked to about 14 people. You talked to 1400. And we asked them some of the questions you asked your sample group. This is Maryann Coppersmith of Bozeman, Montana. Is the media too critical or do they stand up for America?

MARYANN COPPERSMITH: Depends on who you listen to. [LAUGHS] If I'm listening to Fox, I'm certainly listening for a specific viewpoint. If I'm listening to NPR, I'm listening for a completely different viewpoint.

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, there is a big difference in the way people react to specific news organizations, Republicans finding Fox News more credible than Democrats, and the Democrats finding network news and CNN more credible than do Republicans, so her answer is not too surprising, no.

MIKE PESCA: If you look back, there was a poll that you did a month after the September 11th attacks, and then I think it was a 4 to 1 margin, people were more pro-press, at least on this question - they were saying the media stands up for democracy.

ANDREW KOHUT: Criticisms of the press, and they've been growing over the course of the '90s, sunk in response to the way the public thought the press handled coverage of those terrible attacks. Since then, they more often think the press does not get the facts straight in stories, there are more charges of political bias, particularly over the past five years.

MIKE PESCA: And now here's another person that we talked to, Jay Thompson, a real estate developer from Florida on the question does the press stand up for America or are they too critical, and Jay is going to take us to another area that you polled on.

JAY THOMPSON: The problem with the news media is that they emphasize the negative and do not make the public aware of the positive, and that's, that's true in Iraq.

ANDREW KOHUT: The public is pretty evenly divided as to whether press criticism of the military either weakens our defense or keeps the country prepared militarily. Now the watch dog role that the press plays with respect to political leaders is, by a 2 to 1 margin, the public thinks it keeps the pols honest.

MIKE PESCA: There's some good news, I guess you would say, if you're the owner of, say, a local television station or a local newspaper - what do people think about them?

ANDREW KOHUT: Eighty percent say they have a favorable view of daily newspapers; 79 percent local TV news; 79 percent cable; 75 percent network TV. These numbers are much higher than favorability ratings for the Supreme Court, which was only at 66 percent or the Congress at 54 percent or President Bush himself at 55 percent. They like the news.

MIKE PESCA: And on that point, one of the most interesting aspects of the survey, I found, was that even though say daily newspapers had an 80 percent favorable rating, their believability score in the public's eyes have been going down, and I, I didn't really understand how someone could say yea, I view my newspaper favorably but I generally don't believe it, so I tried talking to some people, and I found one who had that exact view. Ken Surratt reads the Newark Star-Ledger. He's from East Brunswick, New Jersey, and here's what he said.

KEN SURRATT: They make a story, and it's a good story, and whether it's believable or not, it's good reading. It's like the National Enquirer. I mean, you know, they have stories in there, and you could take it for what it is.

MIKE PESCA: Is that something you're finding - a disconnect between how people use the media and what the media providers have in mind when they're sending this information out there?

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, there's some of that, and there's also more than one kind of material in newspapers and in, and on television news shows. We found that 53 percent of the people that we questioned said that network evening news mostly reported the facts, but 31 percent said it mostly did opinion, and for newspapers the percentages were almost the same. So, to some extent, people are saying well there's a lot of opinion, not factual stuff in newspapers, and the believability of that's questionable.

MIKE PESCA: So if I was programming a local TV news station or editing a paper, should I look at your survey and take away the lesson of we really need to work on our believability, or should maybe I take away the lesson of - hey, believability is not the most important thing.

ANDREW KOHUT: No, I think that other surveys and this one included show that people who rate the news organizations give them a high believability score, like them even more and use them even more. What people tell us they're going to the news organizations for are facts and information. So that's the first deliverable, which isn't to say it's the only deliverable.

MIKE PESCA: Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Thanks a lot, Andy.

ANDREW KOHUT: You're welcome, Mike.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, how the Western press blew the Iranian election, and cartoon characters who politicize with a piece of talking poo. Yes, South Park conservatives.

MIKE PESCA: This is On the Media, from NPR.