Pew: Parties Split on Watchdog Role of Media

No surprise here, but there is a hefty partisan divide over whether the media's "watchdog" role helps keep political leaders from doing things that shouldn't be done, or whether it hinders their ability to get things done they should be doing.

That is according to a new Pew Research Center poll.

Pew found that 82% of Democrats back the "watchdog" function, which Pew defines as "news media criticism," while only 38% of Republicans share that view.

By contrast, 58% of Republicans say such criticism "gets in the way of political leaders doing their job."

The current leader of the Republican party, President Donald Trump, has made it clear he thinks media criticism, at least of his administration, is a politically motivated attack and an attempt to obstruct his policies.

The survey found that most of those polled think the media watchdogs tend to bite one side more than the other.

Two-thirds (68%) say the news media favor one side when covering political (and social) issues, while not even a third say the media deal fairly with both sides. Again there is a political divide, with 86% of Republicans saying the media favors one side, while only about half (52%) of Democrats say that is the case.

Social media, which has been much in the D.C. news over issues like Russian election meddling and fake news, gets low marks for trust. Only 4% say they have a lot of trust in news from that source. Twice as many Democrats trust social media as Republicans, but that is only 6% to 3%, respectively.

There were clearly some troubling signs for media outlets in the poll.

Almost seven in 10, while they expect news stories will be "largely accurate" are not confident news outlets are willing to admit when they are not accurate. More than half (58%) said news outlets don't understand "people like them" and that they don't feel "particularly connected" to their main sources of national news.

Previous Pew surveys have found that local TV news outlets are among the most trusted.

The margin of error for the sample (5,035 respondents, polled Feb. 22- March 4, 2018) is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.