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.