Over past 20 years support for press' watchdog roll strong while views of press accuracy decline

The press is coming under considerable fire these days. News organizations are facing a crippling financial crisis and public views of the accuracy of news stories have fallen to their lowest level in more than two decades, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Nonetheless, most Americans continue to support the so-called "watchdog role" for the press. In fact, the percentage of Americans saying that press criticism of political leaders keeps them "from doing things that should not be done" is nearly as high now -- at 62% -- as it was in Pew Research's first poll in 1985 (67%) when views of the news media were far less negative than they are today.

In 15 surveys since that initial poll, majorities have said that press criticism of political leaders keeps them from doing things that should not be done. Support for the press's watchdog role has continued even as positive views of press performance have plummeted. In Pew Research's most recent survey of press attitudes, released Sept. 13, just 29% said that news organizations get the facts straight; in 1985, nearly double that percentage (55%) said news stories were accurate.

Partisan opinions about press criticism of political leaders have shifted, depending on which party controls the White House. In the most recent survey, 65% of Republicans said press criticism of political leaders does more good than harm; in four surveys during the Bush administration, far fewer Republicans expressed this view (51% in 2001; 43% in 2003; 44% each in 2005 and 2007)....

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