Monday, July 14, 2003

Americans want facts and flags

Americans are pretty conflicted about how they want the war on terror reported, asserts Mark Jurkowitz of the Boston Globe.

The American public may want its coverage of the war on terror straight down the middle, but it wants it delivered by people who share its patriotism.

That's the finding of a new Pew Research Center survey of 1,200 Americans and their media habits and views. It comes amid an ongoing debate within journalism circles about whether embedded reporters, flag logos on TV screens, and the undiscovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq suggest American news organizations were too jingoistic or complacent in their coverage of the war against Saddam Hussein.

The Pew study -- taken from June 19 to July 2 -- found that 70 percent of the respondents thought it was good for news outlets to take a strong pro-American point of view. Yet, 64 percent said news coverage of the war on terrorism should be neutral.

Pew Research Center director Andrew Kohut believes the poll shows citizens want objective news, but want to feel in sync with those gathering and presenting it. ''They don't want propaganda,'' he says, ''but they want the media to be on our side, so to speak, giving you the sense that they have your values, your interests.''

That may be a narrow tightrope to walk. Kohut says the survey contains findings pointing to a ''public still on balance suspicious of the media.'' Nearly half of those polled -- 46 percent -- say some news organizations are becoming too critical of America. The survey also revealed that 43 percent worry that media criticism of the military was weakening the national defense, compared to 45 percent who thought such scrutiny kept the nation prepared. After the Gulf War in 1991, Americans believed that journalistic scrutiny of the Pentagon was good for the country by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
Jurkowitz also relays that the "long-smoldering issue of liberal media bias is alive and kicking, with 51 percent of the public subscribing to that belief, compared to only 26 percent who see the press as conservative."