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May 8, 2020, 2 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   May 8, 2020

If working from home, being bombarded with coronavirus updates, lacking a boundary between work time and leisure time, and having to feed yourself and/or occupy your kids hasn’t exhausted every bone in your body yet, I’ve got something that will.

Democrats and Republicans in the United States have long been divided on everything there is to be divided on and the news media is no exception. A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that not even a global pandemic can change that.

Between April 20 and April 26, 2020, Pew surveyed 10,139 U.S. adults about four key functions of coronavirus news coverage: “Whether the coverage is giving them the information they need, or not; whether it is largely accurate or inaccurate; whether it is benefiting the public or the media themselves; and whether it is helping or hurting the country.”

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said that the coverage is “getting me the information I need. Forty-eight percent have at least a “fair amount” of confidence that journalists will act in the public’s best interests, while 52 percent have “not too much” or “no confidence at all.” (In 2018, 55 percent of Americans said they had a “fair amount” of confidence in journalists.)

The differences became more stark when Pew analyzed the data based on political affiliation. “Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are far less likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to think that the news media are fulfilling each of the four functions measured in the survey,” the study found.

While 67 percent of self-identified liberals believe the news media’s coverage of the pandemic is helping the country, 60 percent of self-identified conservatives believe it’s hurting. Seventy percent of Democrats “say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in journalists to serve the public interests,” compared to 23 percent of Republicans who said the same thing. According to senior researcher Jeffrey Gottfried, the divide is similar to the divide that existed prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Even in this crisis, the public is not evaluating or using different types of evaluations in their language about the news media,” Gottfried said. “They’re using the same evaluations that they were before the pandemic, right now, and leading up to the election.”

Pew also studied the public’s perception of COVID-19 coverage. About 43 percent of Americans overall said the pandemic coverage has been more negative than it should be, compared to 12 percent who said the tone of the coverage has been too positive.

However, 66 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents found the coverage too negative, compared to 24 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners. Democrats (60 percent) were more likely to say the coverage struck the right tone than Republicans (25 percent).

“The partisan divide plays into the general sense that Republicans overall, especially since the 2016 presidential election, have had more negative sentiments of the news media,” Gottfried said. “So for them to be less likely to say the news media has struck the right tone is in line with their general sentiment of feeling more negatively toward the news media overall.”

When respondents were asked about their confidence in different groups to serve the public interest, journalists ranked near the bottom (48 percent) — on par with business leaders (48 percent) but ahead of, uh, elected officials (37 percent). A large majority of the general public put its confidence in medical scientists (89 percent).

This question highlighted the largest gap (47 points) between Republicans and Democrats. While 70 percent of Democrats felt that journalists act in the best interest of the public, only 23 percent of Republicans said the same. The smallest gap of 0 points was about elected officials. About 37 percent of respondents of both parties were confident that elected officials act in the best interest of the public.

“It’s clear that the public sees tensions between the news media and President Trump. We saw that in 2017 when we asked people whether they think that the relationship between President Trump and the news media is healthy or unhealthy,” Gottfried said. “Most Americans told us at that point in 2017, that the relationship is unhealthy. At the same time, they also told us that they thought the tensions between the president and the media were getting in the way of them getting important information.”

Read the full report here.

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