Politicians monitor news media outlets carefully, assuming that the focus and slant of the news will heavily influence public sentiment. However, recent polling on the news media's treatment of America's struggle with terrorism suggests that the general public does not blindly accept the media's idea of which news stories are worthy of heavy coverage. Opinion regarding the media has shifted dramatically as the headlines have changed.
Just before Sept. 11, public confidence in the news media had fallen to a dismal level*. Fourteen percent (14%) of the American public reported having no confidence in the news media at all and nearly two-thirds of Americans believed that news organizations' stories and reports are often inaccurate. Only 32% said they believe the media get the facts right, representing the lowest rating of news accuracy since Gallup first asked this question in 1985. Among the year's top news stories before Sept. 11 were the execution of Timothy McVeigh and the disappearance of Chandra Levy, both of which earned the national media accusations of sensationalism.
In the months since Sept. 11, the news media have not enjoyed the same unquestioning support from the public that the president and Congress have regarding their handling of the war on terrorism. In late October/early November, during the height of the anthrax scare, more than one-half of the American public -- 54% -- did not approve of the news media's treatment of the war against terrorism, with three in five saying that the media were overreacting to the threat of anthrax.
Since early December, media coverage of the war on terrorism has shifted away from domestic issues to the military campaign in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. A Gallup poll conducted Dec. 6-9**, concurrent with the change in media concentration, reflects a much more positive assessment of the media, with 59% approval.
*Based on telephone interviews with 1,004 adults, aged 18+, conducted Sept. 7- 10, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.
**Based on telephone interviews with 1,002 adults, aged 18+, conducted Dec. 6-9, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.