Welcome to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll for May 2017. There will always be muckrakers, they've been around since Adams vs. Jefferson in 1796 and there are plenty at play today. In simpler times, reporters turned a blind eye to things like FDR's polio and JFK's dalliances but that ship has sailed. Today's 24/7 reporting fueled by social media never stops. U.S. citizens need to be more vigilant than ever about what they choose to believe. It is good to remember these words from our esteemed late CBS News colleague Walter Cronkite, "freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy." Looking back over U.S. history, what do you think was the news media's best moment? We look forward to your answers to this and many other questions, and now the results...
By more than a 3-to-1 margin, Americans view the freedom of the press in a democracy as a necessary check on political power. Only one out of five think that it does more harm than good. The famous chronicler of American democracy Alexis de Tocqueville had no love for the freedom of the press in America but preferred it "out of consideration for the evils it prevents much more than the good it does." Thomas Jefferson gets the last word with this succinct summation, "our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost".
58% of Americans think "alternative facts" is another term for falsehoods and 34% think it is an understandable pushback against a dishonest media. When viewed along party lines 75% of Democrats said it means falsehoods and 50% of Republicans said it means "pushback". With so many partisan media outlets it is difficult to keep track of all the dubious reporting. Even major social media outlets are reacting to this by revising some of their algorithms to better detect "fake news." This problem is not new. FDR warned that "editorialists who tell downright lies in order to advance their own agendas do more to discredit the press than all the censors in the world."
A third of Americans think that television news generally provides the most accurate and honest source of news and information followed by newspapers 23%, talk radio 16%, Facebook 8%, your mother 6% and The President 5%. With all the different options available to them, many Americans, especially those over 45, still rely on television for honest and accurate reporting. 60 Minutes must recuse itself from weighing in on this, but as to all the other choices available we say when in doubt, go with Mom, she's usually right.
Alert the media! In 25 years Americans think that the most coveted news assignments for young journalists will be about new technologies 35%, U.S. presidential elections 19%, the start of a big war 16%, weather and climate 15% and Hollywood 9%. Look back 25 years to 1992 and the cutting edge technology of that era seems primitive. Now fast forward 25 years to 2042 and just imagine how we will be interacting with and using technology. To you young aspiring journalists out there, let your imaginations run wild.
A whopping 93% of Americans said when they follow the news, they would rather get all the facts, even if they're boring and only 6% said they would rather be entertained in order to maintain interest. This seems pretty cut and dried but not so fast. Who gets to determine when or if all the salient facts have been presented? It will always be up to the people to make that determination and hold their reporters accountable. File under the responsibilities of an "educated citizenry"...
Nine out of 10 Americans say that it does not matter to them whether the reporters they watch on TV are attractive or not. In the old days they used to tell some good reporters that weren't as good looking that they had "a face for radio". Over the years Americans have become much more accepting of watching talented news professionals that look more like they do.
Looking back over U.S. history, 12% of Americans think the news media's best moment was their reporting on the 9/11 terrorist attacks followed by the first moon landing 8%, World War II and Pearl Harbor 6%, JFK's assassination 5%, the two most recent Presidential elections 5% each, Watergate 4%, Vietnam 3% and MLK/ Civil Rights 3%. It is understandable and fitting that the more recent events especially 9/11, score higher in our memories for great reporting by members of the news media. Not many folks who were there are left to vote for World War II which many people thought was "our finest hour". And no one is left who remembers a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine in 1776 called "The American Crisis". All that little piece of journalism did was to save the American Revolution before it had barely begun. It was one of the first of many examples in America of the term "the power of the press".