Poll: Public Distrust Media's Iraq Coverage

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Nearly half of Americans think the situation in Iraq is better than the national media are reporting, according to a recent poll, while significant majorities think the news media are damaging troop morale and prospects for victory.

The Sacred Heart University poll surveyed 800 Americans nationwide about media coverage of the Iraq war and about media trustworthiness in general. In most categories, the news media faired poorly among respondents.

The poll was released Jan. 8. It found that 49.1 percent agreed that "things are likely going better for the U.S. (in Iraq) than the U.S. media portrays."

After the poll was released this week, scores of military personnel have sent e-mails thanking the university, said Jerry Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart Polling Institute.

"The facts are things are not great in Iraq, but there are good things happening," Lindsley told Cybercast News Service. "The news media presents the facts, but they don't present all the facts, such as the lower death toll, the hospitals being built, the soccer clubs and the women in the streets."

Lindsley said news consumers are finding much of this information in alternative media that reflect the positive trends in Iraq and are left wondering why the mainstream media - namely the network news, ABC, CBS and NBC - seem to be ignoring important stories.

Cybercast News Service
has reported on the declining casualty rate in Iraq for the last several months.

Almost 60 percent of respondents said that negative media coverage damages prospects for success in Iraq, because it encourage terrorists, while slightly more than 70 percent think negative coverage damages troop morale.

Other polls have shown contrary results, said Kelly McBride, an ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a national journalism education organization. Having seen other polls that represent a public frustrated with Iraq and desiring a media that would play a larger watchdog role of the war, she questioned the poll.

"The point of covering a war is to inform the democracy that is paying for the war," rather than to boost morale, McBride told Cybercast News Service.

According to the Connecticut-based university, the poll was conducted between Nov. 26 through Dec. 5, 2007. The sample was "generated proportional to population contribution in all 50 states" and has a 3.5 percent margin of error.

The poll says military officials have a slight edge over the U.S. news media - 30.8 percent to 28.3 percent - when respondents were asked who they considered would provide the most trustworthy and balanced information about the war. Foreign news media came in third with 20.8 percent, and non-military government officials had the lowest trustworthiness with 4.8 percent.

The poll also touches on the familiar question of media bias, with 86 percent believing U.S. media organizations try to influence public opinion, while 45.4 percent think journalists and broadcasters have a liberal bias. Less than a third of the respondents said they believed that the media provided balanced coverage.

"Americans know bias and imbalance when they see it, and they don't like it," Lindsley said. "Americans know that it's just not that hard to present both sides and keep personal bias at home."

However, even some media critics question the poll.

"It's not so clear what they mean by media, with so many forms of media now, and I think you would find 100 percent of the people distrust some of the media some of the time," Cliff Kincaid, editor of the conservative Accuracy in Media Report, told Cybercast News Service.

The poll showed that for television news, respondents found Fox News Channel the most trustworthy, followed by CNN and NBC.

But considering the 24-hour cable news stations get a maximum of 2 million viewers, Kincaid wondered how relevant those numbers were (discounting NBC).

"People are getting their information in a variety of different sources and are coming to their own conclusions," Kincaid said.

Bias is really the result of the larger problem of a lack of resources in newsrooms that leads to less screening for bias and thus a less stringent commitment to accuracy as well, said McBride of Poynter. She said a story is entirely, factually accurate, but failure to tell the complete story could be considered bias.

Further, she thought the questions were weighted toward Fox News Channel by using the phrase "fair and balanced," the network's marketing logo, in the question. She also thinks Fox News, which respondents in the poll believed leaned to the right, approaches news coverage with a larger political agenda than most other news organizations.

"The poll implies the old theory that journalists are biased liberally and that there is a gap between professional journalists and mainstream Americans," McBride said. "Bias seeps into news reports not so much out of an ideological conspiracy as much as other factors. If a newsroom is too thin, and there is no one to screen for bias, of course bias will go through."

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