Commentary

Americans Believe Institutions Of 'Power' Act Unethically Much Of The Time

Contrary to proclamations about "fake news," more Americans believe the government, tech industry leaders and even religious leaders act unethically most or some of the time more than journalists do. That's the latest finding from Pew Research Center's ongoing tracking of Americans' sentiment about a variety of civics matters.

The study did not ask Americans about the ethics of the executive or judicial branches of government, but members of Congress ranked as the least ethical players with a (net most/some of the time) response of 81%, followed by tech leaders (77%) and religious leaders (61%).

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Journalists tied with local elected officials (66%), while police officers (61%), public school principals (52%) and military leaders (50%) fared the best.

The study also finds that most Americans feel these institutions of power often act unethically, because there are no "serious consequences" for their actions and that they rarely take responsibility for them.

6 comments about "Americans Believe Institutions Of 'Power' Act Unethically Much Of The Time".
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  1. Phillip Nones from Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc., September 19, 2019 at 11:45 a.m.

    Yes, those journalism percentages look so impressive.

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, September 19, 2019 at 11:54 a.m.

    @Phillip Nones: It's relative. All the institutions of power score poorly, even public school principals. The point, from a Red, White & Blog POV, is that journalists are often labeled as "fake news" by elected officials, who are actually seen as acting more unethically, and less accountably. As a representative of an agency that prides itself as being "focused on solving marketing challenges," I would think you'd appreciate margins of difference. Hmmm?

  3. Phillip Nones from Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc. replied, September 19, 2019 at 12:12 p.m.

    With the exception of the U.S. Congress, the percentage differences between perceptions of journalists compared to religious leaders and local politicians are very marginal -- clearly within the margin of error of the survey results.  You would think that I'd appreciate that margin of difference, and I do.  

  4. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, September 19, 2019 at 12:46 p.m.

    @Phillip Nones: Well, if you read the Pew study, you'd know the margin of error is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points, which would put journalists in the same range of other institutions of power with the exception of Congress and tech industry leaders.

    If you read my column, you'd know it was about a comparision with Congress explicitly. (Red, White & Blog is about media and politics.)

    As we noted, the study did not ask Americans about the White House, but the point is that Americans don't consider the news media any faker than most other institutions of power.

  5. Phillip Nones from Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc. replied, September 20, 2019 at 7:44 a.m.

    The “fake news” narrative has been with us for a few years, but massive disapproval of Congress goes back much further than that.  This article about Gallup’s surveys points out that approval of Congress hasn’t hit 30% in 10 years.  https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/01/politics/poll-of-the-week-congress-approval-rating/index.html

     

    More to the point, it’s a 50/50 nation (or 48/52 if you like).  Because of polarization, massive amounts of people on either side of that divide disapprove of the other side.  Likewise, Congressional chamber control is split 50/50.  Massive percentages of people dislike one chamber or the other, so when you lump it all together and ask a question about Congress overall, what’s not to hate?

     

    In a split country when Congressional control is likewise split, approval figures below 20% are what you’re going to get.  When Congressional control isn’t split between parties, the percentages don’t look the same – like Pew’s survey in 2015 where Congressional favorability was still low, but at 27% significantly higher than now.  https://www.people-press.org/2015/11/23/4-ratings-of-federal-agencies-congress-and-the-supreme-court/

     

    Fake news or no fake news, after the 2020 election, approval of Congress will go up if one party control both chambers.  It it’s split again, we’ll see these same under-20 favorability ratings far into the future.

     

    As for journalists, it would be nice to see favorability ratings that are at least a little higher than the Pew results show.  The percentages aren’t impressive by any measure, and if we’re comparing against Congress to make ourselves feel better, that’s like the pot calling the kettle black.

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 20, 2019 at 9:14 a.m.

    The detailed findings are far more interesting---and revealing---than the overall results. Where there are relatively small differences in the evaluations of the various "positions of power" by age and education, there are huge differences when it comes to political orientation. Those who are Republicans or "lean" in that direction are far more antagonistic toward "journalists" than those who are at the opposite side of the political spectrum---meaning that many with a Republican bent have bought into the "fake news" characterization pinned on the news media by Trump and his dedicated fans----and this shows up when asked about "journalists".

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