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Study: Press Is a Great Political Watchdog but Lousy Reporter

News outlets get bad grades for inaccuracy, bias

Photo: Jamie Grill

The public gives the press high marks for its role as a watchdog, but that's about where the good report card ends. When it comes to accuracy, fairness and independence, the public's opinion of news organizations remains at an all-time low, according to the Pew Research Center's biennial media attitudes survey.

By more than three to one, the public says news organizations' criticism of political leaders keeps those leaders from doing things they shouldn't. Moreover, 48 percent believe news organizations protect democracy rather than hurt it (35 percent).

The study was conducted in July against the backdrop of stories over the NSA's surveillance activities and the IRS targeting of political groups; those stories may have contributed to a 10 percent jump since 2011 for the media's watchdog role.

Outside the press' watchdog role, the industry gets low marks on performance measures, ratings that have steadily declined since 1985 when Pew first began measuring attitudes toward the news.

On the fundamental question of accuracy, 67 percent said that news reports are often inaccurate, a 29-point increase since 1985.

The public also believes the press shows bias, with 58 percent describing the news as politically biased in its reporting. An even greater percentage (76 percent) said that the news organizations favor one side; 75 percent believe that powerful people and organizations often influence coverage.

A whopping 65 percent say news organizations are fixated on unimportant stories rather than important ones.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to negatively rate news organizations, the study found. In eight of the 11 measures, Republicans gave news organizations lower marks on things like accuracy, political bias and political bias in reporting.

Those who use the Internet as their main source of news were also more likely to negatively rate news organizations as politically biased (65 percent).

Although about 50 percent of the public now cites the Internet as the main source of news, up from 43 percent in 2011, TV is still the top source at 69 percent. Newspapers fall at 28 percent and radio is at 23 percent.

The Pew Research Center's study was based on responses from 1,480 adults.

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