May 31, 2005 -- -- Despite the recent Newsweek controversy, six in 10 Americans generally trust the media to report the news accurately, and more approve than disapprove of the use of anonymous sources by journalists.
Fifty-eight percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll trust the media to report the news fully, fairly and accurately. That's up from 44 percent in a similar question in a Gallup poll last September, in the midst of the CBS "60 Minutes" scandal, and just above where it was in the late 1990s through 2003.
Trust and Confidence
Still, confidence is not as high as it once was -- close to seven in 10 in the post-Watergate 1970's. And just 11 percent express a "great deal" of trust in the news media.
Media vs. Government
There's more of a change in whom people trust more when government officials dispute the accuracy of a news report. Americans by a 20-point margin say they're more inclined to believe the media, 46 percent-26 percent, but a sizable 22 percent say it depends on the situation. The media have slipped quite a bit on this score; it's back near what it was in 1983 (during a controversy over media access to the invasion of Grenada), but well down from polls in 1997, when 66 percent trusted the media over the government, and 1994, when 56 percent did.
Anonymous Sources and Confidence Broken Down
Fifty-three percent generally approve of journalists using unidentified sources in their reports, and that rises to about two-thirds if it's the only way a reporter can get an important story. Moreover, while one-third say anonymous sources are used too often, six in 10 say they're used about the right amount, or not often enough.
Newsweek last week said it would strictly limit its use of anonymous sources after it retracted a report that the Koran had been desecrated at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Older Americans are far less trusting of the media. Fewer than half of senior citizens, 48 percent, have confidence in news reporting, compared with 67 percent of those under age 35. Senior citizens are by far the least likely to side with the media in disputes with the government -- just 29 percent do, compared with 58 percent of people under 35. And seniors are least likely to approve of using anonymous sources.
Republicans -- whose party holds the presidency and Congress -- are more likely to side with the government in clashes with media; independents, and especially Democrats, are more apt to believe the news media.
More generally, Democrats express more confidence in the media (64 percent), than either Republicans (55 percent) or independents (51 percent). And nearly six in 10 independents and seven in 10 Democrats support the use of unidentified sources, while most Republicans oppose it.
There's a gender gap regarding the use of anonymous sources. Women are 17 points more likely than men to approve, 61 percent to 44 percent. Support for the use of anonymous sources also is higher among better-educated Americans.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone May 18-22, 2005, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.