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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Maybe MSM Journalists Have Lost the Public's Trust Because They Can't Get the Facts Straight?

Public distrust of the MSM continues growing, according to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. And as expected, some in the MSM are determined to demonstrate anew why that disturbing trend is moving against the big dailies and the network news organizations.

There is something of a bi-polar element of the latest Pew data, with distrust growing on the hand, particularly among survey respondents identifying themselves as Republicans, and yet solid majorities of respondents, including the GOPers professing confidence in the role of the media.

Here's how Pew explains it:

"The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 8-12 among 1,464 Americans, shows increasing politicization of attitudes toward the news media.
"Republicans, already more critical than Democrats of the press, have become even more so. Growing numbers of Republicans see the press as too critical of America and hurting democracy. Still, even majorities of Republicans continue to express favorable views of most major news sources.
"This is not the first time a Pew Research Center survey has shown the public to be broadly critical of the press, yet still favorable in its overall view of news organizations themselves. In fact, the public has long been two-minded in its views of the news media ­ faulting the press in a variety of ways, while still valuing the news and appreciating the product of news outlets."

I suggest this dichotemy is easily explained: By and large the public understands and supports the media in its constitutionally sanctioned role as the independent watchdog of those in authority. Journalists are supposed to hold politicians' feet to the fire functioning on behalf of the public, which has better things to do such as getting on with their individual lives.

The public distruct developes because people are not stupid - they recognize misrepresentations of the truth by the media as just as serious as misrepresentations of the truth by politicians. Imposing an ideological filter on the facts, be it from a liberal or conservative perspective results in systematic misrepresentation.

Republicans being more generally conservative are more likely to conclude the MSM is not being truthful when journalists present facts in a liberal context than Democrats who generally are more liberal. A conservatively biased presentation of the news would be more likely to inspire distrust among Democrats.

But some in the MSM just don't get it. There are two illustrations of this obtuseness on grand display today, beginning with an opinion piece by Mark Fitsgerald in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Fitzgerald opines among much else that part of the reason public distrust has grown is the allegedly declining public interest in public policy issues since 9/11 and a parallel increase in coverage by media of vacuous celebrity events and personalities.

But the heart of Fitzgerald's piece is his supposition that public distrust is growing in great part because the media is not sufficiently biased ... against Bush:

"'It is a newspaper's duty to print news, and raise hell,' Wilburt Storey thundered when he ran the Chicago Tribune during the Civil War. A century and a half later, there's another war under another Republican administration, but there hasn't been much hell raised by the press lately -- and Americans are disturbed by it.
"In the Pew survey, 40 percent of the respondents said the news media were "too critical" of America -- but 38 percent also opined that the media were 'too easy' on President Bush. Americans outside the Beltway see how this White House sets a daily news agenda, and how few journalists seem to have the courage or the enterprise to defy it."

Given the increasing ideological polarization seen the survey results, I suspects that 38 percent likely represents primarily folks who voted against Bush. But Fitzgerald's equation of media independence with challenging Bush explains his definition of the media's primary responsibility being "to hold authority accountable."

Accountable to what? The facts or the facts as they appear looking through a liberal lense? Where does Fitsgerald's concept of accountability begin for the 40 percent of Pew's respondents who find the MSM is excessively critical of the Bush White House? Does Fitsgerald equate being critical of the media stance towards Bush the equivalent of being mindless advocates of the Bush administration?

Captain's Quarters has a comprehensive fisking of Fitzgerald and the Pew survey here.

Then there is Star-Trib Reader Representative Kate Perry's version of the events leading to the horrible situation now confronting reporters Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of The New York Times in connection with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's probe of who leaked information about Valerie Plame's employment with the CIA to columnist Robert Novak:

"Fitzgerald's investigation was launched after the Bush administration asked retired diplomat Joseph Wilson to determine whether Saddam Hussein tried to purchase uranium in Africa, as Bush maintained in his 2003 State of the Union address. Wilson traveled to Africa, decided the administration claim was doubtful and wrote an op-ed page piece in The New York Times saying 'some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.'"

Powerline describes the several factual problems with Parry's version of things:

"Reading Parry's account, one might think that Wilson was asked to go to Niger some time after Bush's 2003 State of the Union, that he concluded the Niger story was 'doubtful,' and that he wrote his famous piece for The New York Times directly upon his return. In fact, of course, Wilson went to Africa in early 2002 and wrote his op-ed for the Times in July 2003.
"What Parry omits is what happened in between: Wilson reported to the CIA that Niger's former Prime Minister told him that an Iraqi delegation had, indeed, approached him in 1999 with an overture that the Prime Minister understood to be an attempt to buy uranium. Thus, when President Bush said in January 2003 that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa, Wilson's report to the CIA was one of many items of intelligence that he, and those who vetted the speech, relied on."

Should we be surprised to see public trust in the MSM declining when the Reader Representative of one of the nation's most important dailies can't even get the facts right about a controversy in which two journalists are being unjustly threatened with jail time by an arguably out-of-control Special Prosecutor? Is it mere coincidence that Parry's flawed version happens to cast the Bush administration in the most unfavorable light?

Might we theorize then that when some MSMers talk about their role being to hold government accountable, what they really mean is holding authorities up to the standards of the liberal agenda in American politics?

And that what they really mean when they accuse Bush federal court appointees and other conservatives in government and public policy of being "out of the mainstream" and "extremist" is quite simply not liberal?