Editor’s note: Following is the first of a series of monthly
public-opinion surveys conducted by Rasmussen Research/Portrait of
America in partnership with WorldNetDaily.com. This is the first such
partnership between a major polling firm and an independent Internet
© 2000, WorldNetDaily.com, Inc.
The U.S. public is profoundly divided over the proper role of a free
press in a free society, finds the first scientific national public
opinion poll on the subject, conducted by
America for WorldNetDaily.
About 30 percent of 1,000 respondents, all likely voters, said the most vital function of the press is to inform consumers about risks they face in the marketplace. Another 18 percent said they were not sure. About 15 percent said the main job of the press is to chronicle crimes and fires. More than 7 percent believe the main job of the press is to entertain the public, according to the survey conducted last month. More than 4 percent said the most important role of the press is to shape public opinion. Nearly 2 percent said the main role of the press is to “give people something to talk about.”
“Fewer than 20 percent understand that the central role — and traditional role — of a free press in a free society is to serve as a watchdog on government,” said Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of WorldNetDaily. “The public seems quite confused about the proper role of the press.”
Many surveys have been conducted in recent years measuring public views of the performance of the press, Farah said. This survey, the first of a monthly series of WorldNetDaily-Portrait of America polls, is believed to be the first examining public opinions about what the press is supposed to do.
The survey also found that just 5.5 percent of the U.S. public believes the national news media are doing an excellent job. Just over 21 percent rate press performance as good, while nearly 38 percent rate them fair and nearly 34 percent give them poor marks.
Respondents believe television news does the best job of all media outlets, followed by newspapers, “not sure,” radio and the Internet. More than 50 percent said they spend the most time with television news, followed by newspapers (27.6 percent), radio (13.4 percent) and the Internet (5.1 percent).
Farah says the survey illustrates his belief that the U.S. public is losing its understanding of the important role the free press has always played in safeguarding liberty and checking state power.
“That’s why the founding fathers enshrined in the First Amendment specific, inalienable rights for the press,” he said. “They understood the absolutely vital role the press was required to play to maintain liberty in the face of encroaching government.”
When specifically asked to rate the importance of the watchdog role of the press, respondents overwhelmingly said it was “very important” (61.7 percent). Another 28.9 percent rated it “somewhat important.”
Those identifying themselves as Democrats generally give the press much higher marks than do Republicans and independents. Democrats are also slightly less likely to recognize the importance of the government watchdog role. Yet, those leaning toward voting for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader were most likely to cite the watchdog role of the press as vital (40.6 percent) — even over informing consumers of risks (19.2 percent). Pat Buchanan supporters were the next most likely to recognize the traditional watchdog role of the press.
Ironically, those describing themselves as liberal were more likely to cite the watchdog role of the press as the highest calling than those describing themselves as conservative.
“WorldNetDaily decided to commission this survey because our mission statement as a company is to reinvigorate the role of the free press as a guardian of liberty, an exponent of truth and an uncompromising disseminator of news,” said Farah. “We plan to revisit this subject in the future to measure our success in this mission.”
Farah cited another recent poll showing only 45 percent of the American public believes they have the right to assemble and protest peacefully in public as a further illustration that the meaning and purpose of the First Amendment is being lost.
“The press and the schools are clearly not communicating basic civics lessons to the public,” he concluded. “WorldNetDaily’s slogan, ‘A Free Press for a Free People,’ is not a collection of empty words. There is simply no way a free society can remain free without a vigorous, independent, vigilant free press that holds government accountable for its abuses.”
The survey, conducted in August, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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