Commentary

Disagreement About Political Attacks On Media Shows Healthy Skepticism

U.S. elections are seven weeks away, and political tensions are rising as the Trump administration prepares to nominate a Supreme Court justice to replace the recently deceased Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Amid the divisive climate, Americans also disagree on whether political attacks on the press are justified — a healthy sign of public skepticism.

Some 80% of U.S. adults tend to agree that the news media are under attack, according to a Gallup/Knight Foundation study on what people think about the press. That's a surprisingly high number, considering the U.S. Census Bureau determined only 56% of the voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 election.

While Gallup/Knight's study indicates that many people are aware of criticisms of the press, it also found political views affected their perceptions. Eighty-six percent of Democrats said the news media are under attack, compared with 74% of Republicans and 77% of independents, according to its survey of 20,000 Americans.

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Political affiliation also affected people's perceptions of whether criticism of the press had any merit.

Forty-four percent of people who said the press is under attack also said the attacks weren't justified. That group included 70% of Democrats, 41% of independents and only 13% of Republicans.

The political difference also was seen among the 36% of Americans who said attacks on the media were justified, including 61% of Republicans, 36% of independents and 16% of Democrats. Republicans also expressed greater concern about the lack of political diversity in the news media than Democrats and independents did, Gallup/Knight found.

Those differences are unlikely to disappear, given that the digital media universe grows increasingly fragmented among niche audiences who have more content choices than ever before. Their awareness about political attacks on the media isn't necessarily worrisome, unless press freedoms are somehow impaired.

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