May 10, 2017 Last Updated 4:49 pm

Americans now sharply divided as to media’s role as watchdog

The report from the Pew Research Center also found that the trend away from desktop and laptop news consumption, towards mobile, continues to accelerate, with 65 percent of respondents now saying they use their mobile device to access news content

This morning the Pew Research Center released another important report on American attitudes towards the media. Its survey shows a sharp divide regarding the media’s role as a government watchdog, with those who say they are Republicans far less likely to believe the media is playing fair with politicians.

“Democrats and Republicans, who already tend to place their trust in different news sources and rely on different outlets for political news, now disagree more than ever on a fundamental issue of the news media’s role in society: whether news organizations’ criticism of political leaders primarily keeps them from doing things they shouldn’t – or keeps them from doing their job,” wrote the report’s authors, Michael Barthel, journalism researcher, and Amy Mitchell, Director, Journalism Research at the Pew Research Center.

Attitudes towards the media’s role, and its behavior, varies by political loyalties based on which power may be in the White House. But the gap in attitudes has never been higher, according to Pew.

“Pew Research Center has asked this question since 1985,” said the report’s authors. “While Republicans have been more likely to support a watchdog role during Democratic presidencies and vice versa, the distance between the parties has never approached the 47-point gap that exists today. The widest gap up to now occurred during the George W. Bush administration, when Democrats were 28 points more likely than Republicans to support a watchdog role.”

Both Democrats and Republicans appear to believe that news organizations favor one side over the other, but the gap has grown over the last year, with 87 percent of Republicans believing the media is biased in this way, while 53 percent of Democrats feel this is true.

If the reason for the large divide on the issue of the media’s role is that Republicans feel more strongly than ever that the media favors one side, the question has to be what has changed? Has the media changed, or has the way the media is described by Republicans led to a change in attitudes. Donald Trump has consistently attacked the media as unfair and purveyors of ‘fake news’ while many media organizations have become more aggressive in their fact-checking of what politicians say.

The survey also asked some basic questions regarding how Americans get their news. For instance, just a year ago 42 percent of respondents said they get news via a desktop or a lap computer. Now, that number has fallen to 34 percent. Mobile news consumption has risen from 56 percent to 65 percent over the same time period (about 13 months).

Americans still believe that their local news media keeps them fairly well or very well informed about their local communities (78 percent), slightly better than the job national media is doing about national news (75 percent), according to the survey.

Photo: Reading by Matthias Uhlig used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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