Monday, September 14, 2009

People Not Trusting News Media

Over the years a few themes have emerged from the thousands of posts and comments on this blog, and one of the most important is the role of the commercial media in influencing public opinion. The optimal business arrangement is that a news outlet reports accurately on events, citizens are well-informed, the competition in the marketplace is driven by customer's desire for accurate knowledge so publications and networks try to get the story first and most thoroughly, most accurately. Unfortunately human attention is easily captured by shiny things, and people will put a quarter into the machine for something outrageous and false faster than they will for something accurate, thorough, and possibly boring.

People cannot see firsthand what is going on in remote parts of the country, or behind closed doors, they can't race around and witness every newsworthy event firsthand, we rely on journalists to tell us what's happening. Even if journalists themselves, those individuals who go to a scene and witness an event and interview relevant players and then write up a summary, hold no preconceived evaluation of the event, their editors get pressure from the publishers, who get pressure from outsiders, to present a story in a certain light. Lately we have seen the Washington Post, for instance, lose its objectivity in a sharp swing to the right, as liberal writers are fired and stories glorifying conservatives get more and more prominent placement.

People know this. Anybody who has been on the scene of an event and then read about it in the newspaper, or has seen the story on TV, knows there were errors in it, errors that often appear intentional. Journalists seem not to report what they have seen with their own eyes but what they are told to report. People notice this.

Here's the Washington Post (as if you can believe them):
SAN FRANCISCO -- The news media's credibility is sagging along with its revenue.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans think the news stories they read, hear and watch are frequently inaccurate, according to a poll released Sunday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. That marks the highest level of skepticism recorded since 1985, when this study of public perceptions of the media was first done.

The poll didn't distinguish between Internet bloggers and reporters employed by newspapers and broadcasters, leaving the definition of "news media" up to each individual who was questioned. The survey polled 1,506 adults on the phone in late July.

The survey found that 63 percent of the respondents thought the information they get from the media was often off base. In Pew Research's previous survey, in 2007, 53 percent of the people expressed that doubt about accuracy. Poll: News media's credibility plunges to new low

I think when people are asked about "news media" they do not include bloggers.

I once saw a talk by an engineer who had devised a way to track public opinion without surveying people. He showed a lot of graphs where his results closely paralleled the findings of the major polling organizations. What he did was collect news text and feed it into a content analysis program. So if the word "scandal" was near a politician's name, for instance, the program would count the distance -- the number of words separating them -- and add up a score. If a positive word appeared near the politician's name he would add up the positive side, again weighting for proximity. In the end he would take all the news sources and add them up together, and he could predict very accurately what public opinion polls would find.

This was maybe ten years ago, and I remember disagreeing with his explanation for his results. He saw the media as a filter, inputting public opinion and reflecting it in the content of news stories. I see it the other way, the output of the news media influences public opinion. Can you imagine what the 2004 Presidential race would have been like if the news media had not played and re-played Howard Dean's famous yell? The guy was exuberant, he yelled, that happens every day. The media focused on it, creating the news, playing "the yell" over and over again as if it were an important event. This sort of thing happens every day. I have marched in anti-war demonstrations hundreds of thousands of people strong, the parade stretching all the way around the center of the city, and receiving at best a mention in the newspaper somewhere after the jaywalking immigrant pedestrian hit by a car. But when "tens of thousands" of conservatives show up on the mall the newspaper gets a photograph that makes the crowd look big and editors put the story at the top of page A1. People at home pick up the paper in their front yard, they sit on the toilet and look at it for a few minutes, they didn't bother going to any demonstration, but their impression is that the antipatriots really are picking up steam, this Glenn Beck character really has a lot of influence, that President seems to be some kind of socialist or something, see, it says right there on that sign that person is holding on the front page of the paper.

Oh, this is rich.
Newspaper ad sales plunged by 29 percent, or nearly $5.5 billion, during the first half of this year, according to the Newspaper Association of America. TV ad revenue on broadcast stations dropped by 12 percent, or nearly $3 billion, during the same period, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising. Radio advertising fell by 23 percent, or $2.3 billion, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau.

The budget squeeze "means facts don't get checked as carefully as they should," according to Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times.

But he still believes many media outlets still go to great lengths to get the facts right and own up to their mistakes when the information is wrong.

"The great flood that goes under the heading `news media' has been poisoned by junk blogs, gossip sheets, shout radio and cable-TV partisans that don't deserve to be trusted," Keller told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

Sure, it's the bloggers who are bringing down the quality of journalism, says the guy from the newspaper that was foremost in warning Americans day after day about the immediate danger that Saddam Hussein was going to attack the US with weapons of mass destruction. Good, blame bloggers and talk TV. Well, at least he admits they aren't checking their facts any more.

Skipping ...
The most recent poll found just 29 percent believed news reports had the facts straight. (Eight percent said they didn't know.)

Similarly, only 26 percent of the respondents said the press is careful to avoid bias. The figure was 36 percent in 1985.

As has been the case for years, television remains the most popular news source. The poll found 71 percent of people depend on TV for national and international news. Some 42 percent said they relied on the Internet, 33 percent turned to newspapers and 21 percent tuned into the radio. (The figures don't add to up 100 percent because some people cited more than one medium.)

There is one interesting bone to chew on here, right at the end of the story, a nice cognitive salience bias.
Even as more people than ever don't believe everything in the news, Pew found that the public still seems to value the media. When asked how they would feel about a news outlet closing, 82 percent said it would be an important loss if there were no local TV news and 74 percent said it would be a major blow to lose their local newspaper.

Keller suspects many people cherish the newspaper they read or TV news program that they watch.

"Just as polls routinely show that people hold Congress in low esteem but tend to like their own congressman, I think the public is suspicious of the media in general but tends to trust the particular news organization they turn to for news," Keller wrote.

I saw a picture of someone holding at sign at this weekend's teabagger rally that said something like "God bless FOX News for keeping us informed." See? They like the one they watch but think the others are biased. I heard once of someone who thought FOX was biased, probably a blog reader.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Lately we have seen the Washington Post, for instance, lose its objectivity in a sharp swing to the right, as liberal writers are fired and stories glorifying conservatives get more and more prominent placement."

Their paper is more balanced than the liberal rag it once was.

Don't whine, you still have the NY Times.

the Post hits the nail on the head in yesterday's column about Obama's health care math:

"WHEN POLITICIANS start talking about paying for programs by cutting "waste and abuse," you should get nervous. When they don't provide specifics -- and when the amounts under discussion are in the hundreds of billions of dollars -- you should get even more nervous.

Beyond the insurance tax, Mr. Obama is vague about where the money to pay for his health plan would come from, and administration officials have declined to provide specifics. Previously, the administration outlined $635 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings, but it is not clear what it now envisions beyond cutting payments to Medicare Advantage plans that receive higher payments than regular Medicare providers and reducing subsidies to hospitals for treating the uninsured as that population diminishes. Squishy talk about cutting "hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud" isn't enough."

September 14, 2009 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama's appeasement strategy doesn't appear to be working:

"CAIRO -Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden described President Barack Obama as "powerless" to stop the war in Afghanistan and threatened to step up guerrilla warfare there in a new audiotape released to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

In the 11-minute tape, addressed to the American people, bin Laden said Obama is warlike and urged Americans to "liberate" themselves from the influence of "neo-conservatives and the Israeli lobby."

The tape was posted on Islamic militant Web sites two days after the eighth anniversary of the 2001 suicide plane hijackings. The terror leader usually addresses Americans in a message timed around the date of the attacks, which sparked the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan the same year, and then in Iraq two years later.

Bin Laden said Americans had failed to understand that al-Qaida carried out the attacks in retaliation for U.S. support for Israel.

If America reconsiders its alliance with the Jewish state, al-Qaida will respond on "sound and just bases.""

September 14, 2009 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't believe a word of it!

September 14, 2009 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Ukrainian orphan Elton John wants to adopt will not go home with the singer and his longtime partner David Furnish, due to a national law that prohibits unmarried couples from adopting, The AP reports.

The singer toured a hospital for HIV-infected children in Ukraine on Saturday as part of a charity project and said that he and his partner wanted to adopt a 14-month-old, HIV-infected boy named Lev.

But the country's Family, Youth and Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko said Ukraine does not recognize homosexual unions as marriage.

"Foreign citizens who are single have no right to adopt children." Pavlenko said. "The law is the same for everybody: for a president, for a minister, for Elton John."

John and Furnish, his longtime partner, tied the knot in 2005 in one of the first legalized civil unions in the United Kingdom."

Meanwhile, in other gay celebruty news, Americans continue to regurgitate at the thought of Ellen Degeneres taking over for Paula Abdul on American Idol.

If only Barry was supportive of the gay agenda.....

September 14, 2009 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since FOX was brought up in the main thread of this post...did anyone see the latest video from ACORN this morning on FOX? This one comes to us from the Bronx, New York. Two ACORN employees were telling the undercover journalists to put their money in a tin can and bury it in their backyard! The journalists were posing as a pimp and prostitute, if you'll recall.

I guess that's better than the employees at the Baltimore ACORN office, who told the journalists not to claim the 13 minors from Afghanistan who were coming to work as prostitutes as dependents.

The Bronx ACORN people seem like they have more scruples, eh?

Boy, the Census Bureau dropped ACORN like a hot potato....

September 14, 2009 2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Isn't that where Barry Obama learned all about politics?

September 14, 2009 2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that ACORN! ACORN no longer trusts the media....

September 14, 2009 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous"...conversations back and forth with oneself are generally considered to be symptomatic of a psychotic condition. Get your own blog site, where you and your alter-egos can revel in your propensity to babble on and on and on.

September 15, 2009 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

September 15, 2009 10:59 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, you are getting on my nerves, you have to do better than this.


September 15, 2009 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I merely pointed out that the previous commenter was wrong.

The subject of this post is trust.

The biggest current credibility problem in America is in the White House.

As George Will writes today, Obama's adventures in deceit has given CPR to a dead Republican Party. Americans may agree that Joe Wilson was rude but Obama is not Taylor Swift and the lingering impression of the incident will be solidification of the perception that Obama is a liar:

"On the 233rd day of his presidency, Barack Obama grabbed the country's lapels for the 263rd time—that was, as of last Wednesday, the count of his speeches, press conferences, town halls, interviews, and other public remarks. His speech to Congress was the 122nd time he had publicly discussed health care. Just 14 hours would pass before the 123rd, on Thursday morning. His incessant talking cannot combat what it has caused: An increasing number of Americans do not believe that he believes what he says.

He says America's health-care system is going to wrack and ruin and requires root-and-branch reform—but that if you like your health care (as a large majority of Americans do), nothing will change for you. His slippery new formulation is that nothing in his plan will "require" anyone to change coverage. He used to say, "If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period." He had to stop saying that because various disinterested analysts agree that his plan will give many employers incentives to stop providing coverage for employees.

He deplores "scare tactics" but says that unless he gets his way, people will die. He praises temperate discourse but says many of his opponents are liars. He says Medicare is an exemplary program that validates government's prowess at running health systems. But he also says Medicare is unsustainable and going broke, and that he will pay for much of his reforms by eliminating the hundreds of billions of dollars of waste and fraud in this paragon of a program, and in Medicaid. He says Congress will cut Medicare (it will not) by $500 billion—without affecting benefits.

He says the nation's economic health depends on controlling health-care costs. Yet so important is the trial bar in financing the Democratic Party, he says not a syllable in significant and specific support of tort reforms that could save hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing "defensive medicine" intended to protect not patients from illnesses but doctors from lawyers. He has said he will not add a dime to the deficit when bringing 47 million people into government-guaranteed health care. But Wednesday night, 17 million went missing: "There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage." Almost 10 million of the uninsured are not citizens, and most of them are illegal immigrants. Presumably the other 7 million could get insurance but chose not to. Democrats propose fines to eliminate that choice. He suggests health-insurance companies are making excessive profits. But since 1996, profits of the six such companies in the S&P 500 have been below the 500's average. He says a "public option"—a government insurance program—would not be subsidized to enable it to compete unfairly with private insurers. (The post office and the government's transportation -"public option," Amtrak, devour subsidies.) He says the public option is vital for keeping health insurers "honest"—but that it is only a wee "sliver" of reform."


September 15, 2009 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

in the latest sign that Obama doesn't know when to shut up, he yesterday told John Harwood that Kayne West is a "jackass"

I'm sure few would disagree but does this seem like a Presidential remark?

Obama needs to allow himself the luxury of an occassional unexpressed thought

he's acting stupidly

September 15, 2009 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The House has voted to rebuke Joe Wilson 240-179.

September 15, 2009 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to extend thanks to all the Democrats in Congress from the the Committee to Re-elect Joe Wilson.

We appreciate your help!

September 15, 2009 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's interesting how TTFers declare "sir, how dare you!" at Joe Wilson

and, yet, not long ago, they were shouting huzzahs at someone who threw shoes at Bush during a press conference

hypocrisy, never ceases to come into play

September 15, 2009 11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

interesting that the Congress has time to waste a couple of hours to "rebuke" someone who had the temerity to insult Sir Barry O

when are we going to rebuke Obama for calling his opponents liars?

btw, was Barry lying?

oh, it's, um, complicated say the Dems

in other words, yes

September 16, 2009 8:22 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

You think there's a comparison to be made between the Iraqi citizen shoe thrower at the man who invaded and occupied his homeland and a Senator's outburst during a speech by the President to Congress?

The Iraqi citizen did jail time and was tortured, and was finally released from prison this week. Are you suggesting the same punishment would be appropriate for Joe?

September 16, 2009 8:24 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

when are we going to rebuke Obama for calling his opponents liars?

Anon, I know this is a difficult concept for you, but Obama was giving a speech to the assembled houses of Congress, he had the floor. Wilson interrupted the speech, that's the problem. The issue isn't who called who a liar, it is the disrespect that was shown to the establishment of Congress. It is not all right to treat a speech in Congress like a baseball game where you yell at the refs every time you disagree with a call. If, after the speech, Wilson had told a TV reporter that Obama lied about illegal immigrants, nobody would have cared or said a word.


September 16, 2009 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama called his opponents liars while he had the floor, while they sat there, before anyone watching on TV (although I realize fewer people were probably watching at home than were present at the capitol).

This has actually become a regular part of our national discourse, calling everyone you disagree with a "liar". It's a technique that was pioneered by the groups that got Obama elected. Maybe Congress should rebuke those groups.

It's also inappropriate for Obama to be calling out individual citizens for reprimand. Officer Crowley acted "stupidly", Kayne West is a "jackass".

Obama disrespects his office with hyper-loquacity. Next Sunday, he'll appear on five morning talk shows (although he's boycotting Fox's). Then Monday, he'll become the first sitting President to appear on the David Letterman show.

Since he's out and about, why not schedule a debate with Joe Wilson?

September 16, 2009 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It appears that you are on the verge of a massive nervous breakdown. You are unbelievably obsessed with Obama, health-care issues, Democrats in general, GLBT rights, and just about anthing else that tips your world of exclusivity. Your screaming, moaning, hair-tearing, and attacks launched against anybody and everybody are troublesome.

You are making a very poor adjustment to a world that is changing, despite your earnest desire to want to revert to the "Good Old Days" when minorities were kept in their place and everyone as wealthy as you never worried about people who were less fortunate then them. You need to see a licensed mental health professional to address your colossal Cassandra syndrome.

September 16, 2009 10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jimmy Carter is demonstrating again why he was a one-termer:

"ATLANTA (Sept. 16) - U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's oldest son defended his father against a claim by former President Jimmy Carter that the congressman's outburst during a speech by President Barack Obama was "based on racism."

Responding to an audience question at a town hall at his presidential center in Atlanta, Carter said Tuesday that Wilson's outburst was also rooted in fears of a black president.

"I think it's based on racism," Carter said. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."

But Wilson's son disputed that.
"There is not a racist bone in my dad's body," said Alan Wilson, an Iraq veteran who is running for state attorney general in South Carolina. "He doesn't even laugh at distasteful jokes. I won't comment on former President Carter, because I don't know President Carter. But I know my dad, and it's just not in him.
It's unfortunate people make that jump. People can disagree — and appropriately disagree — on issues of substance, but when they make the jump to race it's absolutely ludicrous. My brothers and I were raised by our parents to respect everyone regardless of background or race."

Carter made similar remarks in an interview with NBC News, saying, "Racism ... still exists and I think it has bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country."

Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, was formally rebuked Tuesday in a House vote for shouting "You lie!" during Obama's speech to Congress last Wednesday.

The shout came after the president commented that illegal aliens would be ineligible for federal subsidies to buy health insurance. Republicans expressed their disbelief with sounds of disapproval, punctuated by Wilson's outburst.

South Carolina's former Democratic Party chairman also said he doesn't believe Wilson was motivated by racism.

"I think Joe's conduct was asinine, but I think it would be asinine no matter what the color of the president," said Dick Harpootlian, who has known Wilson for decades. "I don't think Joe's outburst was caused by President Obama being African-American."

Carter called Wilson's comment "dastardly" and an aftershock of racist views that have permeated American politics for decades."

Thanks, Jimmy. I'm sure Barry will be happy to join your club. Those club meetings with just you and HW get a little boring.

September 16, 2009 10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You are making a very poor adjustment to a world that is changing,"

What change is that you think I haven't kept up with?

"despite your earnest desire to want to revert to the "Good Old Days" when minorities were kept in their place"

Bizarre comment. Why do you think I like keeping minorities in their place, whatever that means?

"and everyone as wealthy as you never worried about people who were less fortunate then them."

Didn't know I was wealthy. Thanks for telling me.

September 16, 2009 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He, he, he

September 17, 2009 9:39 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

"...Flashback to mid-December 2003, when Essie Mae Washington-Williams came forward with the bombshell that she was the illegitimate daughter of the recently-deceased patriarch of South Carolina politics, Sen. Strom Thurmond.

Rep. Wilson, a former page of Thurmond's, immediately told The State newspaper that he didn't believe Williams. He deemed the revelation "unseemly." And he added that even if she was telling the truth, she should have kept the inconvenient facts to herself:

"It's a smear on the image that [Thurmond] has as a person of high integrity who has been so loyal to the people of South Carolina," Wilson said.

Of course, Williams' story was entirely true -- and never really in doubt. Thurmond was 22 and Williams' mother, a black maid working in his family home, was 16 when Williams was born in 1925. Thurmond supported Williams financially for decades.

The State story continued with Wilson wondering aloud how anyone could dare "diminish" one of his personal heroes.

Wilson said it is unfair to debate rumors about Thurmond when he can no longer defend himself.
The same goes for discussion of an affair Thomas Jefferson is said to have had with a slave.

"Sometimes these things just go on," Wilson said. "These are heroes of mine. I really hope these would be heroes to future generations of Americans. (The stories) are ... a way to diminish their contributions to our country's existence."

Six days and several furious letters to the editor later, Wilson was forced to apologize. But, amazingly, he maintained that Williams should not have gone public.

Last week Wilson told reporters he called the White House to apologize at the urging of senior Republicans.

Now why would Joe think it's a "smear" on Thurmond's image for his daughter to come forward or on Jefferson's image to know he had a second family, and why does Joe Wilson have to be "forced" or "urged" to apologize for these outbursts of his?

September 17, 2009 11:03 AM  

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