Imagine Me and Pew, and Pew and Me

When the Pew Research Center released the results Sunday of its survey of more than 500 journalists, partisans looking to kickstart the debate over “media bias” had reason to rejoice. Among the study’s many findings was the fact that 34 percent of national journalists surveyed self-identified as liberal, as opposed to just 7 percent who said they were conservative. It was evidence, said those on the right, that the press tilted decidedly leftward.

We’re not going to get into that particular claim; there’s already been a hail of rhetoric from both sides of this tiresome debate, and we’re content to let the ideologues battle it out in their various books. But we couldn’t help but notice that the study yielded some interesting journalism.

For example, Bill O’Reilly suggested that “There’s no question President Bush will not get a fair shake from most of the media. A new Pew Research Study shows news reporters are far more liberal than conservative, and the networks, as well as most major urban newspapers, fairly rarely treat the president fairly.” This statement is pretty misleading, considering the fact that the study didn’t really say that the networks or newspapers don’t treat the president fairly. What it did say is that 55 percent of national reporters feel the press has been too easy on the president. When O’Reilly cites the study to argue Bush isn’t getting a fair shake, then, he’s either lying or — perhaps more interesting — calling on the press to give the president a harder time.

The study also confused a few other members of the press corps. The Hindu ran a story mentioning how “nearly half [of journalists surveyed] said reporting is increasingly sloppy and filled with errors.” That story’s lede? “Journalists have a very low self-esteem, this surprising result was produced by a survey conducted by the US-based Pew Research Centre …”

Finally, Christian news service Agape Press published a story claiming the study showed journalists are “blind” to their own bias. What caught our eye was the mystifying subhead: “Pew Research Casts Doubt on Media Objectivity Myth.” We leave the reader to puzzle that one out.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.