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Poll: 9 in 10 rate news media coverage good or excellent after attacks

By The Associated Press


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NEW YORK — Journalists, who have been steadily slipping in public prestige, are receiving wide praise for their handling of the terrorist attacks story.

Nine in 10 people responding to a Pew Research Center poll said the news media's coverage of the attacks had been good or excellent. The majority — 56% — said coverage was excellent.

"It was news that was unvarnished — not analysis, not punditry," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. "It was not news that had a sense of being self-serving. A lot of the criticism of the press has revolved around these things."

Pew's own studies over the past 16 years have documented the sagging reputation of the press. For example, only 35% of respondents to a poll this summer said news organizations generally get the facts straight, down from 55% in 1985.

If journalists can build on the respect given for their performance this month, it could lead to a turnaround in their reputation similar to when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate sleuthing inspired young reporters in the 1970s.

"I think the press has risen to the occasion in an extraordinary fashion and people understand that," said Tom Goldstein, dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism. "I would hope it has a long-term effect on how the press is viewed."

Goldstein said he's already sensed a greater seriousness of purpose among his graduate students in journalism.

For one thing, many of his students are busy working. They've been signed up by faraway newspapers as correspondents to cover the story, particularly the international students, he said.

Television networks received criticism for some unconfirmed reports that turned out to be false a few days after the attack. The most praise came for careful, calming reporting the day the news was breaking.

"This could be an important moment for journalists by helping us regain a sense of seriousness and the vital importance of our mission," CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson said.

Dean Mills, dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, said the worst in the world often brings out the best in journalists.

"The U.S. media are trained and geared up to do exactly this kind of thing and do it well," Mills said. "It was not the kind of event that requires a lot of reflection and interpretation, which is where we get ourselves into trouble."

He said he has been struck by how the event has caused many of his students to reflect on how their roles as journalists and citizens can, or should, be separated.

Kohut noted the potential for conflict soon: If the news media chafe at restrictions placed on them while covering a U.S. response to the attacks, the public may resent it.

Asked which television network did the best job covering the story, CNN was first at 24%, followed by ABC at 14%, Fox News Channel at 12% and NBC at 11%, Pew's study said.

The survey of 1,200 adults conducted from Sept. 13-17 has an error margin of 3.5 percentage points.


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