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Cambridge, MA— Most Americans do not trust what they hear or read in media coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign. Poll results just released by the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School and the Merriman River Group show that 62% of those surveyed are distrustful of campaign media coverage and that same percentage think that the media does a poor job of separating their own opinions from the facts in their reporting. The public’s trust has not improved since one year ago, when a statistically equivalent 64% said they did not trust the media’s election coverage.
Among the reasons for the lack of trust:
“Americans believe we face a crisis in leadership and that this election is critically important to the country’s future,” said Seth Rosenthal, the study’s lead author. “At a time when Americans are demanding better leaders, their mistrust of the media’s coverage of the presidential campaign is troubling.”
77% of Americans believe that the news media’s election coverage is politically biased: either too liberal, too conservative, or both. 45% say the coverage is both, sometimes too liberal and sometimes too conservative, 25% say that the media is too liberal and 5% say it is too conservative.
Americans’ Most Trusted Media Sources
Americans vary widely in their response to the open-ended question asking what news source or outlet do you trust most for information about the candidates and the campaign? 39.5% trust cable television most, 18.9% trust over-air television news most, and 10.6% trust print media most. But 11.7% of Americans say they either don’t trust or don’t use any media source for campaign coverage.
“These findings suggest that the news media is at a crossroads in shaping their political coverage and winning viewers’ trust,” said Rosenthal. “One road forward is to provide coverage that echoes the political views of a particular segment of the population, gaining their trust while alienating others. The other is to make a serious attempt to discover why so many viewers of all political stripes perceive bias, and to strive for political coverage that more viewers trust as objective.”
The poll, of a demographically representative survey of 997 U.S. citizens, was conducted from September 13–22, 2008 and has a margin of error of ± 3.1%.