September 12, 2010

Americans Spending More Time Following the News

Section 5: News Media Credibility

The public continues to take a skeptical view of reporting from the major news outlets. No more than a third says they can believe all or most of the reporting by 14 major news organizations.

There has been little change in public views of media credibility since 2008. Since the late 1990’s, however, there has been significant erosion in the believability ratings of several news organizations.

For example, since 1998 ABC News, CBS News and NBC News have all seen substantial declines in the percentages saying they believe all or most of what they say (among those who say they can rate those organizations). Currently, about two-in-ten say they believe all or most information from ABC News (21%), CBS News (21%) and NBC News (20%) – down from about three-in-ten in 1998.

The longer-term declines can be seen across different media groups as well. Since 1998, CNN and the Wall Street Journal, for example, have experienced double-digit declines in the percentages saying they can believe all or most of their reporting (a rating of four on a scale of one to four). Currently, 29% say they can believe all or most of the reporting of CNN and 25% say the same about the Wall Street Journal.

The credibility ratings for Fox News (27% today) and 60 Minutes (33%) have shown less change over the past decade. And NPR is the only news organization whose credibility rating has improved since 1998 – 28% now give it the top rating compared with 19% a dozen years ago.

National newspapers fare relatively poorly when it comes to public perceptions of media credibility. Just two-in-ten (20%) of those who offer a rating for the New York Times say they can believe all or most of what it says and just 17% say the same about USA Today. Those numbers have fluctuated only slightly since 2004. Local daily news newspapers are seen in largely the same way (21% get the highest credibility rating).

Majorities give each of the news organizations included on the survey a credibility rating of three or four on the four-point scale. Relatively small percentages give the organizations a one – meaning they can believe “almost nothing” of what the news organization reports.

Partisan Gaps in Credibility Ratings

Republicans have long viewed the overall media more skeptically than Democrats and this continues to be reflected in credibility ratings for individual news outlets. Republicans express far less confidence than Democrats in most major outlets. The Fox News Channel stands out as the only news organization that more Republicans than Democrats view as highly credible.

Democrats are at least twice as likely as Republicans to give the highest believability ratings to CNN, NPR, MSNBC and the New York Times.

About four-in-ten (41%) Republicans say they believe all or most of what the Fox News Channel says, by far the highest believability rating offered by Republicans. By contrast, 21% of Democrats give a believability rating of four to Fox News, among the lowest rating given by Democrats to any outlet.

Local TV news, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today receive about the same ratings from Republicans and Democrats. For example, 28% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats say they believe all or most of what the Wall Street Journal says.

Widening Gaps in Credibility Ratings of Cable News Channels

In recent years, the divides between Democrats and Republicans have grown in judging the credibility of the cable news outlets. In 2000, about equal percentages of each said they could believe all or most of what Fox News said (26% Republicans, 27% Democrats). Since then time, Fox News’ credibility rating among Republicans has increased (now 41%). As a result, there is now a 20-point partisan gap in Fox News’ credibility ratings.


Republican credibility ratings for MSNBC have fallen over the past decade, from 24% in 2000 to 13% today. Democrats’ ratings have changed little over this period (now 34%). As a result, partisan differences over MSNBC’s credibility (21 points) are as large as those over Fox News.

Similarly, there is sizable partisan divide in perceptions of CNN’s credibility; 19% of Republicans say they believe all or most of what they see or hear on CNN, compared with 40% of Democrats.