Two-thirds of Americans say they think that when journalists make a serious mistake, most news organizations either ignore it or try to cover it up, a survey found.
The poll comes after a series of high-profile mistakes by the news media, though it was taken before Newsweek magazine reported — and then retracted its report — that a copy of the Quran was flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay.
A separate survey of journalists found that three-fourths say they quickly report their mistakes.
“If journalists believe what they told us in the survey, they’ve got a communications problem,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. “When the public lacks confidence that the media gets the facts right, it can’t perform the role it’s supposed to in a democracy.”
The American public is divided on whether it’s good or bad for a news organization to have a clearly political point of view — though a few more think it’s a bad thing. They’re evenly split on whether news organizations generally get their facts straight. And just over half think the government sometimes has the right to limit reporting of a story, according to the survey done for the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Four in 10 people said they think when journalists make a serious mistake they try to cover it up; another 24 percent say they just ignore it.
Working journalists take a decidedly different view. Eight in 10 journalists think it is generally a bad thing for a news organization to have a clearly political point of view. Almost nine in 10 think news organizations generally get their facts straight. More than nine in 10 think the government never or rarely has the right to limit reporting of a story.
Scribes rate higher than lawyers
One bright spot for journalists: People were more likely to rate them as ethical than they were to rate lawyers, politicians and government officials as ethical. Almost three-fourths of those polled rated the ethics of journalists as good.
Geneva Overholser, who along with Jamieson co-edited “The Press,” a new book published by Oxford University Press, said the study “reveals a worrisome divide between the public’s view of journalism and journalists’ own views of their work.”
The public survey was taken between March 3 and April 5 among 1,500 adults with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The journalists’ survey was taken between March 7 and May 2 of 673 journalists chosen at random from a list of working media of all types including 350 top newspapers, broadcast outlets, both local and national, and online publications by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. That survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Conyers: ‘From breaking stories ... to celebrity’
A congressman who organized a panel to examine the role played by the media said Tuesday that news organizations have drifted toward tabloid journalism and have been intimidated from reporting about the war in Iraq.
“The vast majority of the mainstream media is not only unwilling to accurately report on the failings of the administration, but the few who do have fallen victim to scapegoating and retribution,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. “We have turned from breaking stories like Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal to celebrity journalism.”
The congressman released an analysis by Congressional Research Service which found that reports in the British media about the United States and Great Britain secretly agreeing to invade Iraq received very little coverage on major cable TV outlets in the days after it was published in Britain.