Accuracy in Media

Introduction and Methodology

the polling company ?, inc. is pleased to present to Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, and its client Accuracy in Media (AIM), the data and analysis from two  questions it added to a recent nationwide omnibus survey of 1,000 adults.  A full set of topline data area available at the end of this report.

The survey was fielded from July 14-16, 2005, with computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) technology at a supervised data collection center.   The sample for this survey was drawn utilizing a Random Digit Dialing (RDD) method where phone numbers were generated by a computer to ensure that every household in the nation had an equal chance to be surveyed. 

Once a household was selected for participation, a trained interviewer asked to speak with a person over the age of 18 or older. After determining that the participant was 18 or older, and otherwise eligible to participate, the interviewer began administering the survey. 

Interviewers administered the same survey to all participants; however, rotational patterns were employed to ensure that responses were not influenced by the order of either the answer categories or the questions. Sampling controls were used to ensure that a proportional and representative number of people were interviewed from such demographic groups as age, gender, race and ethnicity and geographic region.

The margin of error is calculated at + 3.0%, at the 95% confidence level, meaning that in 19 out of 20 cases, the results obtained would differ by no more than three percentage points in either direction even if the entire adult population nationwide were to be surveyed.

Key Findings and Analysis

To Tell or Not to Tell.  Much of the media lately has been focused on a story involving one of its own. Judith Miller, a reporter for the New York Times, was incarcerated recently after refusing to divulge to a federal grand jury the name of a source which allegedly “outed” CIA operative Valerie Plame.  Many people have used this instance to discuss the greater issue of “free press” and the special responsibilities of the media in situations that involve national security. 

Not surprisingly, much of the mainstream print and electronic coverage of the matter has been sympathetic to Ms. Miller, who has been lionized as a heroine by those who posit that the ability to promise confidentiality to sources is essential to the survival and effectiveness of journalism itself.  Millions of Americans have been exposed to this side of the story, which has often been accompanied by photos of Ms. Miller and provocative headlines (print) or chyrons (television).

In this national survey, Americans were asked to choose between two competing points of view on the matter. This question was cast differently than most other “survey questions” on the issue, in that it presented fuller information on what is admittedly for some an unfamiliar if not complex matter.

As the nearby text box demonstrates, a slim majority (54%) of those surveyed sided with the reporter’s right of refusal, offering a special exemption to the press in pursuit of “informing the public.”

Notably, only 35% of those surveyed strongly agreed with the reporter’s decision to withhold information about her confidential source(s). This lack of intensity suggests that the public is either not willing to grant an automatic pass to members of the media in these circumstances and/or still seek information to help them form a more solid opinion.

A full three-in-ten (30%) affirm that the law should be equally applied to all, regardless of whether one has press credentials; they support the prosecutor’s demand for the reporter do what any other person would be compelled to do in like circumstances, testify and to “name names.” In fact, one-in-five (19%) “strongly” agree.  Notably, 14% of Americans were unable to declare a position. 

  • Women were much more likely than their male counterparts to side with the female reporter (57% compared to 50%).

  • Demographic groups more likely than most to agree with the reporter include Hispanics (67%), 18-24 year olds (63%), Northeastern residents (58%), and women (57%, particularly those 18-34, 58% and 35-54, 60%).

  • Americans more likely to agree with the prosecutor were 25-34 year olds (37%), men 55 or older (35%), Asians (35%), 55-64 year olds (34%), and White men (34%). 

Should the Press Get a Free Pass?  Recently a bipartisan bill entitled the “Free Flow of Information Act” was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN), with a House version by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN).  Part of the bill includes what is known as the “media shield law,” which would allow the media to decline to testify in court without the possibility of being jailed for such refusal.   

According to this survey, Americans are divided in their support for such a law demonstrating much less decisiveness than in the previous question that contained a specific circumstance. 

In this second question, survey respondents were told “Congress is currently considering a law that would allow journalists to refuse to testify and avoid going to jail when they have information about possible criminal activity in national security cases. This is known as the ‘media shield law’ and would apply to journalists only, not regular individuals.”  They were then asked if Congress should pass this law. 

A majority of Americans declined support of this “privilege.”  Just 45% said they would endorse passage of this proposed law, and 40% would oppose it. The failure of the legislation to capture a majority of the public’s support is further illustrated by the relative intensities with which the support and opposition were held with 24% saying “definitely” and 21% “probably.”  Slightly fewer (40%) do not favor a media shield law, with 15% “probably not” supporting it and a full one-quarter (25%) of respondents strongly replying “definitely not.” 

Again, a notable portion (13%) of the populous was unable to judge the proposed legislation, indicating that they required more information to make a decision.   

  • Not surprisingly, Americans who previously sided with the reporter were more likely to favor passing the broader federal law (54%), while those who agreed with the prosecutor do not support it (53%).

  • Those more likely than most to believe Congress should pass a federal media shield law were Hispanics (67%), African-Americans (54%), and Northeasterners (52%). 

  • Groups more likely to be against Congress becoming involved in this way Asians (60%) and East South Central and East North Central residents (47% and 45%).

As age increased, so, too did one’s resistance to the legislation. The youngest (18-24 year olds) were 20 points more likely to support the law than oppose it, and the only age cohort which showed majority assent.

Seniors and Junior-Seniors (55+) and the middle-aged (45-54) were evenly split in their opinions. This portends negligible, if not negative, political currency for those who are trying to win support for a federal media shield law in cases of national security that may involve criminal activity among vote-rich seniors and baby boomers.

    * * * * *

The inclination of Americans is to side with a reporter who refuses to reveal her confidential sources over a prosecutor who demands that she do so. Apart from this data analysis, the contemporary culture and current news stories should be considered. Millions of Americans rely upon the media to provide news and information daily. This ranges form matters of national security to local weather and traffic.

The relationship between the average citizen and a prosecutor, on the other hand, is far less familiar and regular. Recent allegations of prosecutorial misconduct have also been ubiquitous staples in the media, and include both civil and criminal actions were some prosecutors spent much of their time preening for the cameras. In this way, the public may be much more likely to consider an unnamed “reporter” a vanguard of the public than a generic prosecutor.

Still, this does not translate into blanket immunity for all members of the press.  Rather, survey respondents demonstrated a lack of strong support for a law that would allow all journalists the ability to decline to testify and avoid jail, even when the information they have may be about possible criminal activity in national security cases.

Accuracy in Media (AIM) Topline Data 

Prepared for Shirley & Banister Public Affairs
by the polling company?, inc.
July 2005

Completed Interviews: 1,000 Adults Nationally
Overall Margin of Error: +/-3.0%
Field Dates: July 14-16, 2005

A. Are you 18 years of age or older? 

 100% YES
 
B. Is there someone in the household I could speak with who is 18 or older?

 100% YES 

Questions:

1. Recently, a newspaper reporter refused to testify in a federal court proceeding when asked what she knew about the publication of the name of a secret CIA employee. The judge sent her to jail.   With which of the following do you agree more?  (ROTATE)

The prosecutor says that under the law, anyone would be required to testify about the information and that there should not be a special exception for the media that an average person would not have.

The reporter says that she should not be forced to testify because she is protecting the identity of her sources, and if the press is not able to provide confidentiality to its sources, then the public will be less informed. 

 (AND WOULD THAT BE STRONGLY OR SOMEWHAT AGREE)?

30% AGREE WITH THE PROSECUTOR (NET)
19% STRONGLY AGREE WITH THE PROSECUTOR
11% SOMEWHAT AGREE WITH THE PROSECUTOR

54% AGREE WITH THE REPORTER (NET)
19% SOMEWHAT AGREE WITH THE REPORTER
35% STRONGLY AGREE WITH THE REPORTER

14% DEPENDS/UNSURE/DON’T KNOW (VOLUNTEERED)
  3% REFUSED (VOLUNTEERED)
 
2. Congress is currently considering a law that would allow journalists to refuse to testify and avoid going to jail when they have information about possible criminal activity in national security cases. This is known as the “media shield law” and would apply to journalists only, not regular individuals.

In your opinion, should Congress pass this law?

45% SHOULD PASS LAW (NET)
24% DEFINITELY
21% PROBABLY

40% SHOULD NOT PASS LAW (NET)
15% PROBABLY NOT
25% DEFINITELY NOT

13% DEPENDS/UNSURE/DON’T KNOW (VOLUNTEERED)
  2% REFUSED (VOLUNTEERED)

And now I have just a few questions for statistical purposes?

3.  Which of the following categories best describes your age?

14% 18-24
18% 25-34
21% 35-44
18% 45-54
12% 55-64
16% 65+

  1% REFUSED (VOLUNTEERED)

4.  Which of the following best describes your racial background?
 
72% CAUCASIAN OR WHITE
12% AFRICAN-AMERICAN OR BLACK
  6% HISPANIC OR LATINO
  3% ASIAN OR PACIFIC ISLANDER
  2% NATIVE AMERICAN
  2% MULTI-RACIAL OR OTHER

    * DON’T KNOW (VOLUNTEERED)
  2% REFUSED (VOLUNTEERED)

5.  (ASK ONLY TO RESPONDENTS WHO ANSWERED 1,2, or 6 IN Q 4) Do you consider yourself a Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish-speaking American?
 
95% NO
  5% YES

    * DON’T KNOW (VOLUNTEERED)
    * REFUSED (VOLUNTEERED)

6.  Region

20% NORTHEAST REGION (NET)
  5% NEW ENGLAND
15% MID-ATLANTIC

23% NORTH CENTRAL REGION (NET)
17% EAST NORTH CENTRAL
  6% WEST NORTH CENTRAL

35% SOUTH REGION (NET)
18% SOUTH ATLANTIC
  6% EAST SOUTH CENTRAL
11% WEST SOUTH CENTRAL

21% WEST REGION (NET)
  6% MOUNTAIN
15% PACIFIC

7.  Gender

52% FEMALE
48% MALE




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