Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Media Matters and Manners

By Shawn Healy
The beleaguered media industry weathered one more shot in a national survey released by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. In a wide ranging telephone poll of 800 respondents, Americans' trust, media consumption habits, and perceptions of bias were placed under the microscope. Respondents also weighed in on the future of the field. My analysis of the results follow.

Trust in media is waning, with less than a quarter of respondents (24.3%) reporting that they believe all or most media coverage. Over half (54%) believe some of the content, and one-fifth (20.4%) little or none. An astounding 86.6% strongly or somewhat believe that the media has its own political and public policy position and attempts to influence its audiences along these lines.

This overall lack of trust is arguably attributable to Americans' increasing leeriness toward large institutions, the government included. The spring tea parties and the summer town hall shouting matches are also a product of this populist fervor.

When asked what news organizations they trusted most, respondents cited Fox News (30%) most often, followed by CNN (19.5%), NBC (7.5%), and ABC (7.5%). Fox News was also ranked highest by its detractors, as more than a quarter of respondents (26.2%) listed it as the source they trusted least.

The Daily Show/ Colbert Report were identified as the most ideologically liberal, followed by the New York Times, MSNBC, CNN, USA Today, and NPR. Fox News, then the Wall Street Journal, lead the conservative-leaning list.

While the print and electronic media register much more trust for accuracy than blogs (56.1% to 7.8%), the industry's overall positive ranking languished at 35.9%, well below the 80-90% customer service standard sought by most organizations.

Media consumption habits are well documented by Nielson and other organizations, but this survey sheds light on what drives the selection process among competing alternatives. Objective reporting (59%) is far and away the most powerful force, with similar issue positions taking a distant back seat (19%).

The fact that respondents identified prevalent media bias is not news in these circles, but the numbers themselves are staggering. 83.6% of survey participants feel as if national media organizations are somewhat or very biased. Only 14.1% see little or no bias. Most interesting is the 89.3% who suggest that the media palyed a very or somewhat strong role in the election of President Obama, and 69.9% feel that the national news media is intent on promoting his presidential agenda.

Looking toward the future, 38.1% report that they read newspapers less often than they did five years ago, and 45% feel that the Internet has filled the gap (35.6% disagreed). A strong majority (77.9%) oppose government intervention to prop up the struggling industry. More than two-thirds (67.9%) feel that "old-style, traditionally fair and objective journalism is dead," yet a similar number (64.1%) consider journalism vital to a healthy democracy.

Something has to give here, and I'm hopeful for the adaptation and sustenance of the media industry. We should find comfort that survey respondents recognize its importance, and demand a return to the age-old industry values that are arguably eroding before our eyes. Some would argue that the industry is conforming to the demands of a changing market, but the contradictions present in this survey argue otherwise. The problem is multifaceted and involves consumers, too. They must become more media literate and demand the restoration of "traditionally fair and objective journalism" in 21st Century packages.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at