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Posted: 5/28/2003 10:53:15 AM EDT
[url]http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20030528/5193211s.htm[/url] Trust in media keeps on slipping By Peter Johnson USA TODAY Public confidence in the media, already low, continues to slip. Only 36%, among the lowest in years, believe news organizations get the facts straight, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows. Trust in the media has dropped from 54% in mid-1989 -- about the time of the fall of communism -- to a low of 32% in December 2000, during the post-election confusion over George W. Bush and Al Gore. Low marks for the media reflect a larger societal trend today, says Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University journalism professor: ''I think you'll find almost all institutions declining in popular repute.'' A fairly steady flow of journalism scandals from the early '80s to today -- from Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke making up a story about a young heroin addict to New York Times reporter Jayson Blair's resignation May 1 after it was found that he plagiarized and fabricated stories -- probably adds to the erosion of faith in the media. ''This is a cynical time,'' Gitlin says. ''People don't need a lot of reason to become disabused of institutions.'' That lack of confidence, however, may not be tied directly to Blair, the poll suggests. The public seems generally uninterested in his saga, which tarnished the reputation of one of the world's pre-eminent publications and prompted a painful re-examination of the newspaper's practices. About two out of three people polled said they are not following the story. Nonetheless, coverage has been so intense that it could easily damage broader opinions of the media, says Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. ''You don't have to follow this story a lot to be troubled by it a lot,'' Felling says. ''The media can be knocked down a peg during a 10-second exchange between a bartender and a customer.'' That lack of confidence is at odds with the opinions of people who actually have been in the news. Of 262 adults who said they had been part of a story covered by the media, the perception was far more favorable: 78% found the coverage had been accurate. ''It's easier to hate a category than an individual,'' says Felling, who compares the lack of confidence to people saying they basically distrust politicians, ''but then say their representative is doing a great job.'' The poll also gives the press higher marks for correcting mistakes once discovered: 63% said newspapers are willing to print corrections when their stories contain errors. The Times published a four-page dissection of Blair's stories on May 11, detailing errors in 36 of his stories. The survey of 1,014 adults May 19-21 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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