Partisan Pied Pipers Part Republicans From Reporters

A new Harris Poll was released that purports to identify the most and least favorite news personalities. Harris’ definition of both “news” and “personalities” stretches credulity just by including names like Tucker Carlson. Nonetheless, there are still some interesting results.

Far and away, the consensus loser is Rush Limbaugh who was voted least favorite by 42% of respondents. He was first amongst the least of both Democrats and Independents. Plus, he was even the #3 choice for worst amongst Republicans.

Bill O’Reilly was the favorite choice of 23%. But he was also the least favorite of 23%. His place atop the favorites list was fueled by a block 42% of Republicans who prefer him. That’s about twice the number of any other choice on the list for Democrats or Independents.

This poll, however, tells us something more than the obvious popularity contest drivel. It tells us something about the perception gap between the right and the left with regard to what constitutes news.

The top three choices amongst Republicans are Bill O’Reilly (42%), Rush Limbaugh (28%), and Sean Hannity (27%), none of whom would be described as journalists by neutral observers. They are partisan commentators with well known biases. The top three choices amongst Democrats are Anderson Cooper (22%), Brian Williams (20%), and Charles Gibson (19%), all of whom are bona fide news professionals. They may have biases of their own, but they are also practicing journalists who at least attempt to keep their reporting opinion-free.

Keith Olbermann barely registered in the poll. What’s notable about that is not his standing. He is neither loved nor hated by the poll’s respondents, although there are predictable up/down ticks by party. What’s interesting is the conspicuous absence of anyone else like him on the list. He is the only subject in the study that is remotely progressive. Every other name is either a nonpartisan journalist or a right-winger. This comports with the ideological makeup of the television news community overall. Olbermann stands alone as voice for left-leaning viewers.

In the end, it’s the perception gap that is the most significant insight provided by this poll. When Republicans favor their ideological Pied Pipers over the more reputable Town Criers, you are left with villagers that are less informed, even misinformed, and unable to distinguish fact from fiction (see The Cult of Foxonality). While much in the mediasphere requires reform, it appears that there is an important flank that has been neglected. More work needs to be done to educate news consumers as to what really constitutes news. That does not mean that Republicans need to be re-educated into Democrats (although it wouldn’t…no, never mind). It means that they need to learn to differentiate commentary from journalism. Bill O’Reilly, whether you agree with him or not, is not a journalist. Anderson Cooper, whether you agree with him or not, is not a blathering, egomaniacal, browbeating purveyor of distortions and lies.


4 thoughts on “Partisan Pied Pipers Part Republicans From Reporters

  1. Good points.

    I have two thoughts regarding Olbermann and why he doesn’t have that many ‘high’ marks as well as not that many ‘low’ marks.

    The first thought is that if he was less outraged (or less bombastic) if he’d possibly garner more positives from Independents and even Democrats.

    [Of course a big portion of the Olberman message is that he IS outraged, and he thinks others should be too. The fact that he explains WHY he is outraged doesn’t help keep him being cast as a “political” commentator as opposed to a “news” commentator. I think in some serious ways this diminishes his accessibility.]

    My second thought is that possibly some conservatives have chosen to disregard him, as it’s easier to ignore him than to argue with him.

    • Another reason that Olbermann doesn’t register is the methodology of the poll.

      They asked respondents to pick 3 in each category. So if someone is not in the respondent’s top 3, they don’t make the results at all. If the people who would be Olbermann fans (Dems and Indies) are choosing newscasters like Brain Williams, it ‘s that much harder for Keith to get a mention. Repubs went whole hog for commentators.

  2. Good article, I particularly thought your point about listeners to “commentators” verses journalists have a difficult time distinguishing fact from fiction. I’ve noted that there is no governmental watchdog for accuracy within the US media — or at least I am not aware of one, is this correct? Well there is FAIR and Media Matters, but they have very low budgets and are not necessarily associated with the government — also do have published left leaning commentary on their websites so right wing groups can use that to say they are biased. Do you think the situation would be improved if commentators were required to “footnote” their claims and/or were fined for making unverifiable claims by a central watchdog? (difficult to administer of course)

    Another thought that comes to mind is disclosure required by the “commentators” and “pied pipers” that they are conservative — it seems to me a high percentage of listeners to the “pied pipers” don’t realize that they are being given opinion instead of fact — and very right wing opinion at that. It reminds me of retirees who put their life savings into Internet stocks that the analysts believed behind the scenes were “junk” — there was no understanding by the retirees that the investments could lose value as the reports came from “respected” banks. Similarly, if the opinion and commentary comes from a respectable looking person like O’Reilly or Hannity on television then many people probably believe it must be true as well – due to the fact that the person looks impressive and talks authoritatively.

    • I would not feel comfortable with a “governmental watchdog for accuracy” monitoring the media. The burden is on what’s left of responsible media and independent groups (i.e FAIR, Media Matters) to educate the public so that they can make informed decisions.

      If there is a role for government it is mainly in regulating monopolistic media corporations so that they cannot impose an undue influence over news consumers.

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