The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has been tracking views of press performance since 1985. In September 2011, Pew found that negative opinions about the performance of news organizations now match or surpass all-time highs.
In the poll, 66 percent of those surveyed stated news stories often are inaccurate and 77 percent think that news organizations tend to favor one side over the other. 80 percent of those surveyed said news organizations are often influenced by powerful people and organizations.
This negative opinion of the mass media has increased in recent years. In the Pew Research Center’s first survey on news attitudes in 1985, only 53 percent said that news organizations were often influenced by powerful people and organizations and tended to favor one side.
According to another poll conducted by Gallup in September 2011, Americans perceive a more liberal bias in the media than a conservative bias by a large margin since at least 2002. A significant majority of respondents perceive bias in the media.
Americans were asked how much trust and confidence they have in the mass media and a majority — 55 percent — responded “not very much” or “none at all,” according to Gallup.
Americans are right to distrust the national media. Prominent figures throughout history have offered their take on the press. Mark Twain wrote, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” And Thomas Jefferson said, “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them.” Even Mahatma Gandhi joked “I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.” Americans share this healthy skepticism of the media.
When the media don’t report the facts or report it in a biased manner, Americans can’t make good decisions. And if Americans can’t make good decisions, our democracy is at risk. Media bias is a threat to our democracy.
Over three years ago, I started the Media Fairness Caucus in Congress. This caucus helps encourage a free and fair press, as our founders intended. The purpose of the Media Fairness Caucus is not to censor or condemn but to urge the media to adhere to the highest standards of their profession and to provide the American people with the facts, balanced stories and fair coverage of the news.
Through the Media Fairness Caucus, Members of Congress point out media bias and encourage others to do the same. We use floor statements, op-eds, our weekly newsletter, social networking, and other means of communication to highlight media bias at the national level and encourage the American people to become engaged and educated consumers of the media. I look forward to using this weekly blog as a platform to examine and combat the influences and effects of media bias.
Our national media should be held accountable for their performance, just like any other institution. We need to remind the media of their profound obligation to provide the American people with the facts, rather than tell them what to think.
Through organizations like the Media Research Center, Accuracy in Media, and the Media Fairness Caucus, we can work together to increase awareness of bias in the media and encourage Americans to confront it and demand fair reporting.