Study : Fewer facts in media coverage


January 28, 2002

News coverage immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks was based on solid sources and "just the facts," but media standards have since slipped, a journalism think tank says.

Researchers for the Project for Excellence in Journalism examined 2,496 television, magazine and newspaper stories from mid-September, mid-November and mid-December.

Every assertion in the stories was categorized as either fact, analysis that could be attributed to reporting or unattributed opinion or speculation.

The researchers analyzed stories from four newspapers -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Fresno Bee -- as well as Time and Newsweek. The survey also covered a variety of national TV programs.

"The news media reacted to the terrorist attacks of September 11 with great care about not getting ahead of the facts," the report said. Three-fourths of the coverage was strictly factual and just 25 percent was involved some level of interpretation.

By December, however, when the war in Afghanistan was well under way, the share of factual coverage overall had fallen to 63 percent -- a level "lower than those seen in the middle of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal," according to the study. Analysis, speculation and outright opinion picked up the slack.

The researchers identified a stark difference between newspaper and magazine stories and television reports : 82 percent of print accounts were factual, compared to 57 percent of what was on TV.

The study said government restrictions imposed on journalists could be a cause for the decline in factual reporting. Researchers also cited newsroom cutbacks and the competitive, 24-hour pace of journalism.

The study also concluded that coverage has heavily favored U.S. positions. About half of the relevant stories contained only viewpoints in line with American or Bush administration policy. Television news was measurably less likely than print stories to include criticism of the administration, the study found.

The report was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Approval of media back down, study finds
Chicago Tribune


January 28, 2002

Sept. 11 ratings boost is declining

The news media mostly stuck to the facts in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 and drew the "first measurable upturn in public approval of the press in 15 years," according to a new study of war on terrorism coverage conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

But three months later, as the war moved overseas, coverage had begun to shift back toward analysis and opinion, and public approval of the press had begun to dwindle, from about 56 percent rating coverage "excellent" in September to 30 percent in mid-November.

"We know from all the other [research] that's been out there that people like information and factualness," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank. "People actually resent the media getting ahead of the facts."

Meanwhile, although coverage has grown more balanced over time, the proportion of stories "dissenting from the administration point of view" never climbed above 10 percent in any of three media snapshots.

"The range of viewpoints being offered is very small," Rosenstiel said.

PEJ analyzed some 2,500 stories, the terrorism crisis and war coverage in a sampling of newspaper, magazine and television programs in three 3-day segments : Sept. 13 to 15, Nov. 13 to 15 and Dec. 10 to 12.

The proportion of what researchers judged to be fact-based coverage dropped from 75 percent in September to 63 percent in November and December, while the level of "analysis" jumped from 14 percent to more than 20 percent and the level of opinion and speculation climbed slightly, to 14 percent in December.

The question this raises in Rosenstiel's mind, especially in times of shrinking budgets, is: "Do the news organizations have the resources and wherewithal and confidence to sort of let the news be the news for a long period of time, or do they begin to have to rely on commentary and other things to either keep the interest up or just fill all the time they have to fill?"

Within the study, Rosenstiel and his researchers also did some head-to-head comparisons of rival news organizations.

Most striking were two findings : that, despite popular perceptions, the flagship evening newscasts of Fox News Channel and CNN showed "no appreciable difference" in their stories' levels of administration support; and that, between the two dominant newsweeklies, Time was far more meat-and-potatoes, with its level of "factual" coverage above 60 percent in the three issues and Newsweek's level of opinion and analysis always above 60 percent.

"Our focus is on breaking and analyzing news, not rehashing news," said Mark Whitaker, Newsweek editor.

The significance of PEJ's methodology, especially in small samples, comes into question when you realize that one of the Newsweek issues being criticized for lack of facts contained one of the most significant facts to emerge from Afghanistan : the weekly's exclusive revelation of the existence of the so-called American Taliban.

Rosenstiel acknowledges such a snapshot-based study is "not definitive," noting also that the sample in the CNN comparison above was small. But its broader conclusions, he says, hold up against anecdotal observations of terrorism coverage.

Who Controls the Media?

Parent Company General Electric

$100.5 billion
1998 revenues

Time Warner

$26.8 billion
1998 revenues

The Walt Disney Co.

$23 billion
1998 revenues


$18.9 billion
1998 revenues

News Corporation

$13 billion
1998 revenues

BackgroundGE/NBC's ranks No. 1 on the Forbes 500. Prior to its merger with NBC and an alliance with Microsoft, GE specialized in electronics. The peacock owns many New York sports team. It also owns or has equity stakes in many popular websites, including and iVillage.The largest media corporation in the world, Time Warner owns film and music production companies, theme parks, sports teams, magazines, websites and book publishers as well as Turner BroadcastingWith its 1995 merger with Capital Cities/ABC, Disney has become a fully-integrated media giant. In addition to its theme parks, the company profits from retail outlets, magazines, book publishers, websites, motion pictures, sports teams, TV, cable, radio, music and newspapers.Viacom's purchase of Paramount, CBS and Blockbuster Video enables them to use cable, television, movies, comic books, theme parks, music publishing and book publishing to cross-market their products. Broadcasting alone brings in over $6 billion in revenues.CEO Rupert Murdoch's style has inspired respect and fear and, it has also made his multinational ventures in publishing, television and satellite services very successful. The company owns 20th Century Fox, the New York Post, the London Times, TV Guide, many stadiums,the LA Dodgers and five New York sports teams.
Networks OwnedNBC

includes programming, news and more than 13 TV and radio stations


includes sports teams, programming, production, retail, book publishing and multimedia


Television Network


includes ABC Radio, ABC Video and ABC Network News


includes stations , CBS Radio, CBS Telenoticias and CBS Network News


includes programming and TV stations (50%)


includes programming and stations

Cable InterestsOwns 25-50% of the following:
  • A & E (with Disney and Hearst)
  • American Movie Classics (25%)
  • Biography Channel (with Disney and Hearst)
  • Bravo (50%)
  • Bravo International
  • CNBC
  • Court TV (with Time Warner)
  • Fox Sports Net
  • History Channel (with Disney and Hearst)
  • Independent Film Channel
  • MSG Network
  • MSNBC (50%)
  • National Geographic Worldwide
  • News Sport
  • Prime
  • Prism (with Rainbow, a subsidiary of Cablevision and Liberty Media, a subsidiary of TCI)
  • Romance Classics
  • Sports Channel Cincinnati, Chicago, Florida, New England, Pacific, Ohio, Philadelphia
  • HBO (75%)
  • Cinemax
  • HBO Direct Broadcast
  • Court TV (33% with GE)
  • TBS Superstation
  • Turner Classic Movies
  • TNT
  • Cartoon Network
  • Comedy Central (37.5% with Viacom)
  • Sega Channel
  • OVATION (50%)
  • Women's Information Television (WIN) (partial)
  • TVKO (75%)
  • 4 regional all-news channels
  • CNN
  • CNN/SI (with Sports Illustrated)
  • CNNfn (financial network)
  • CNNRadio
  • Headline News
  • Sportsouth
  • CNN International
  • CNN Airport Network
  • Disney Channel
  • Disney Television (58 hours/week syndicated programming)
  • Toon Disney
  • Touchstone Television
  • A&E (37.5% with Hearst and GE)
  • Lifetime Network (50%)
  • ESPN (80% with Hearst)
  • ESPN2 (80% with Hearst)
  • ESPN Classic (80% with Hearst)
  • ESPN West (80% with Hearst)
  • ESPNews (80% with Hearst)
  • Buena Vista Television
  • Biography Channel (with GE and Hearst)
  • History Channel (37.5% with Hearst and GE)
  • Classic Sports Network
  • E! (35%)
  • Nickelodeon
  • MTV
  • M2: Music Television
  • VH1
  • Showtime
  • Nick at Nite's TVLand
  • Paramount Networks Comedy Central (50% with Time Warner)
  • TNN: The Nashville Network
  • Movie Channel
  • FLIX
  • All News Channel (50%)
  • Sundance Channel (45%)
  • Midwest Sports Channel
  • CBS Telenoticias (30%)
  • Home Team Sports (66% with News Corporation)
  • Fox Family Channel (50%)
  • Fox News Channel
  • fx (50% with TCI's Liberty Media)
  • fxM (50% with TCI's Liberty Media)
  • Fox Sports Net (25% with TCI, GE and Cablevision)
  • The National Geographic Channel (50%)
  • FIT TV Partnership
  • Regional networks, including TV Guide Channel and Fox Sports New York

  • Other Major Players :

    AT&T (TCI) - Recently acquired by AT&T, TCI's hold on cable, internet and local phone services contributed to $7.6 billion in 1997 revenues. TCI is the second-largest US cable television system provider and it has 10% ownership of Time-Warner/Turner. The company owns all or part of USA Network, Sci-Fi Network, E!, Court TV, Starz! and Starz! 2, Black Entertainment Television, BET on Jazz, BET Movies/Starz! 3, CNN, TNT, Headline News, Prime Sports Channel, The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel, QVC, Q2, Fox Sports Net, The Travel Channel, Prevue Channel, Animal Planet, The Box, Telemundo, International Channel, Encore, MSG Network, Action Pay-per-view and the Home Shopping Network.

    Sony - Sony's main media interests, earning $9 billion in 1997 sales, are in film and television production, movie theaters and music.

    Universal (Seagram) - In addition to Universal Studios, with its production facilities and theme parks, the company owns the USA and Sci-Fi cable networks.

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