Press Too Easy on Bush?

Pew Research Center — Bottom-Line Pressures Now Hurting Coverage, Say Journalists

Roughly half of journalists at national media outlets (51%), and about as many from local media (46%), believe that journalism is going in the wrong direction, as significant majorities of journalists have come to believe that increased bottom line pressure is “seriously hurting” the quality of news coverage. This is the view of 66% of national news people and 57% of the local journalists questioned in this survey.


First, there is almost universal agreement among those who worry about growing financial pressure that the media is paying too little attention to complex stories. In addition, the belief that the 24-hour news cycle is weakening journalism is much more prevalent among this group than among news people who do not view financial pressure as a big problem, and a majority says news reports are increasingly full of factual errors and sloppy reporting. And most journalists who worry about declining quality due to bottom-line pressures say that the press is “too timid” these days.

In that regard, the poll finds that many journalists ­ especially those in the national media ­ believe that the press has not been critical enough of President Bush. Majorities of print and broadcast journalists at national news organizations believe the press has been insufficiently critical of the administration. Many local print journalists concur. This is a minority opinion only among local news executives and broadcast journalists. While the press gives itself about the same overall grade for its coverage of George W. Bush as it did nine years ago for its coverage of Bill Clinton (B- among national journalists, C+ from local journalists), the criticism in 1995 was that the press was focusing too much on Clinton’s problems, and too little on his achievements.

There are significant ideological differences among news people in attitudes toward coverage of Bush, with many more self-described liberals than moderates or conservatives faulting the press for being insufficiently critical. In terms of their overall ideological outlook, majorities of national (54%) and local journalists (61%) continue to describe themselves as moderates. The percentage identifying themselves as liberal has increased from 1995: 34% of national journalists describe themselves as liberals, compared with 22% nine years ago. The trend among local journalists has been similar ­ 23% say they are liberals, up from 14% in 1995. More striking is the relatively small minority of journalists who think of themselves as politically conservative (7% national, 12% local). As was the case a decade ago, the journalists as a group are much less conservative than the general public (33% conservative).

Fascinating. The ideological breakdown isn’t surprising but the idea that financial considerations have kept the press from being critical of President Bush is rather odd. One wonders what an unrestrained press would like like.

Editor and Publisher offers an interesting spin on the results:

Pew Survey Finds Moderates, Liberals Dominate News Outlets

Those convinced that liberals make up a disproportionate share of newsroom workers have long relied on Pew Research Center surveys to confirm this view, and they will not be disappointed by the results of Pew’s latest study released today.

While most of the journalists, like many Americans, describe themselves as “moderate,” a far higher number are “liberal” than in the general population.


While it’s important to remember that most journalists in this survey continue to call themselves moderate, the ranks of self-described liberals have grown in recent years, according to Pew. For example, since 1995, Pew found at national outlets that the liberal segment has climbed from 22% to 34% while conservatives have only inched up from 5% to 7%.

The survey also revealed what some are sure to label a “values” gap. According to Pew, about 60% of the general public believes it is necessary to believe in God to be a truly moral person. The new survey finds that less than 15% of those who work at news outlets believe that. About half the general public believes homosexuality should be accepted by society — but about 80% of journalists feel that way.

When the question of which news organizations actually tilted left or right, there was one clear candidate: Fox News. Fully 69% of national journalists, and 42% of those at the local level, called Fox News “especially conservative.” Next up was The New York Times, which about one in five labeled “especially liberal.”

The cultural-religious angle is perhaps key to understanding the divergent perspective of the national media and the people as a whole.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. “One wonders what an unrestrained press would like like.”

    Think: Noam Chomsky.

  2. Bryan says:

    In the words of Eric Alterman: “What Liberal Media?”

  3. Josh Yelon says:

    Note that this study mentions the ideological stances of the journalists, but not the stances of their editors or the pressures placed on them by their employers.

  4. McGehee says:

    Josh has obviuously never actually worked in a newsroom.