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Public Attitudes

Public Attitudes

More people are watching cable these days, but how do they rate it?

According to Pew Research data, the signs suggest a positive future for cable news. In general, people tend to think of cable news more highly than they do other forms of television.

When asked in early 2002 “Who has been doing the best job of covering news lately,” 38 percent of respondents said cable, more than twice that of network (16 percent) and nearly three times that of local television (13 percent). That number is also almost four times that of newspapers (10 percent).

Cable is the only medium that saw this confidence index grow in recent years, rising from 31 percent in 1999. Network news, by contrast, declined from 21 percent in 1999 and a full 50 percent in 1996.1

Looking at the particular cable channels, CNN again stands out in the surveys. The Pew Research Center, for instance, asks people to rate each network on a scale of how “believable” they are. Roughly a third (32 percent) of those surveyed gave CNN the highest possible ranking for believability in May of 2002, 13 percentage points higher than Fox News (at 19 percent), and 11 points higher than MSNBC (at 21 percent).2

CNN’s believability score has dropped. That 32 percent is less than the 37 percent who considered the network highly reliable in 1998. Still, it enjoys an advantage over its rivals, which may explain why surveys suggest that somewhat more people sample CNN than its rivals, despite its lower ratings program by program.

Some might suggest that this believability gap is simply due to the fact more people recognize the CNN name as a more established source of news. If that were the case, one might think the broadcast networks, which are much older, should score even higher. Not so. All three broadcast networks scored lower than CNN, receiving the highest rating from about 23 percent of respondents.

Footnotes

1. Pew Research Center, “January 2002 News Interest Index,” Final Topline, Question 9. While confidence in online sources also grew slightly (from 3 to 5 percent), the difference is too small to be sure this represents an actual shift in public attitudes.

2. Pew Research Center, “News media’s improved image proves short lived,” 2002 Believability Survey, Final Topline, Question 9. (Released August 2002; poll conducted May 2002.)