Coverage of the coronavirus outbreak has consumed much of the news media’s attention as Americans look for information in a time of high anxiety and uncertainty.
U.S. adults overall hold more positive than negative views of the news media’s coverage of the COVID-19 crisis, while their broader attitudes toward the news media are more evenly divided or more negative, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center. At the same time, Republicans and Democrats continue to stand far apart in their views of the news media.
When asked in the survey to evaluate the news media’s coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak, Americans are more likely than not to think that the news media are fulfilling four key roles. For example, most Americans (59%) say the news media are providing them with the information they need while about a quarter of Americans (24%) say they are not. And about half of U.S. adults (49%) say the media coverage of COVID-19 has largely been accurate, compared with 24% who say it has been mostly inaccurate.
But there are strong partisan divides. For example, while two-thirds of Democrats (66%) say the media’s COVID-19 coverage has been largely accurate, about three-in-ten Republicans (31%) agree, a divide that is even larger between Republicans who identify as conservative and Democrats who identify as liberal.
The survey, conducted April 20-26, 2020, among 10,139 U.S. adults who are part of the center’s American Trends Panel, also finds that Americans are more split or negative in their broader views of journalists than they are toward COVID-19 coverage.
For instance, Americans are about evenly divided when it comes to their overall confidence in journalists: About half (48%) have at least a “fair amount” of confidence in journalists to act in the best interest of the public, while a similar share (52%) say they have not too much or no confidence in journalists. In fact, confidence in journalists has dropped slightly since 2018.
Among the other key findings:
- Of four measures of the news media’s coverage of COVID-19, the news media receive the highest marks for whether they are keeping the public informed. Nearly six-in-ten Americans (59%) say the news media’s coverage of the outbreak is getting them the information they need, compared with far fewer – about a quarter (24%) – who say coverage is not serving that role. The remainder (17%) say that neither phrase reflects their view.
- More Americans see the news media’s coverage of the pandemic as working for the benefit of the public (48%) and helping the country (46%) rather than benefitting the media themselves (36%) or hurting the country (34%).
- Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are between 29 and 38 percentage points less likely than Democrats and Democrat-leaners to hold a positive view of the news media’s coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak across for different measures surveyed. Previous Pew Research Center research finds that Republicans generally express more negative sentiments of the news media than Democrats, particularly since the 2016 presidential election.
- Fully 43% of Americans say the news media coverage of COVID-19 has been more negative than it should be. Far fewer (12%) say the tone of the coverage has been more positive than it should be. Still many Americans (44%) say the coverage had been neither too negative nor too positive.
- More broadly, views of journalists’ overall ethics are somewhat more negative than positive. Roughly four-in-ten Americans (43%) say journalists have “very high” or “high” ethical standards, while a majority (56%) say they have “low” or “very low” standards.
- Similar to views on coronavirus coverage, partisan divides persist over opinions toward journalists generally. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say journalists have high or very high ethical standards (64% vs. 19%), a 45-point divide that is about the same as last year.
- Partisans are more divided in their level of confidence toward journalists than other groups of individuals. For example, the 47-point gap between Democrats and Republicans (including leaners) in the share who express at least a fair amount of confidence in journalists to act in the public interest is at least 10 points larger than the split for nine other groups of individuals asked about, such as business leaders, elected officials and religious leaders
- When it comes to overall ethical standards, Americans are more likely to think medical doctors (92%), police officers (73%) and religious leaders (67%) have very high or high ethical standards, while journalists (43%) are about on par with lawyers (44%).
“The findings show that during the COVID-19 outbreak, Americans are largely evaluating the news media in similar ways to how they evaluated it prior to the pandemic,” said Jeffrey Gottfried, Pew senior researcher. “Even in a time of crisis, there is continued disconnect between the two parties when it comes to attitudes toward journalists and the content they produce.”