Survey: Fox most uncivil, PBS most civil news organization

Civility in America (PDF)
An online survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted in April found that 62 percent consider the media uncivil.

While this is considerably lower than last year’s incivility rating of 74%, it ranks among the top five most uncivil aspects of American life. A contributing reason to that perception may be that the vast majority of Americans agree that the media is more interested in controversy than facts (82%).

Cable channels were viewed as more uncivil than broadcast networks, and PBS was considered most civil.

“Americans tend to rate the civility levels of similar TV outlets alike — cable news channels such as Fox News, MSNBC and CNN are perceived similarly as are broadcast news networks such as NBC News, ABC News and CBS News,” says the report.

These perceptions are affecting whether people consume news, according to the survey.

Slightly less than one-half are avoiding op-eds and editorials (49%) and news coverage and reporting (45%) this year. Interestingly, the tune out rate this year is significantly lower than it was last year for politics (58% vs. 67%, respectively), government (55% vs. 62%) and news coverage and reporting (45% vs. 55%).

More than one-third of adults surveyed say they are tuning out of Twitter because of incivility.

There is some good news for at least two news organizations — Fewer adults believe Fox News and MSNBC are very or somewhat uncivil than did last year.

Fox News and MSNBC are perceived as more civil this year than they were last year.

The research was conducted by Weber Shandwick, Powell Tate and KRC Research.

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  • John McClelland

    This is good, relatively meaningless and — if not taken too seriously — harmless fun.

    One wishes that we could expect readers, at least the supposedly savvy followers of media blogs and such, to know instantly that an online survey is inherently, impossibly, nonscientific. Not so; folks believe big numbers that might be highly unrepresentative. It’s a cyber version of the old “man on the street” with an illusion of breadth because it somehow got 1,000 (not 977 or 1,040?) responses. The otherwise welcome PDF of the report is no help in that regard; the highest professional survey reporting standards should always include an offering of the actual questions so one can see whether/how loaded they are. That would be easy with digital transmission, eh?

    This also is a highly worthy subtopic of the concerns the study mentions.

    The National Conference of Editorial Writers (Association of Opinion Journalists since January 2012) was one of the organizations that embarked on civility projects in the last couple of years. Its project became Civilitas in part because people in the business of expressing strong opinions publicly were wary of the implication that doing so might need to become needlessly nice-nice.

    U.S. politics has almost always had its purveyors of venom, even before the rumors about George Washington’s teeth. What some of us see and fear now is a world in which the nastiness can run rampant, viral, uncheckable — and with little social-political-economic-(or even, gasp, legal) pressure toward accountability. Some AOJ members have been trying to call out the worst offenders against civic (civi_C_) discourse. Strong opinions, stated vigorously, are part of the strength of our culture; those based on lies (including half-truths and illogic) are not.

    John McClelland, associate professor emeritus
    (retired, still active in pro-bono work)
    Roosevelt University, Chicago
    editing The Masthead for AOJ

  • Lon Tegels

    does this really surprise anyone?  i would only ad that viewer won’t watch JUST for the facts.  The viewer gravitates natually to controversy.  no point in doing a story filled with facts if nobody is watching.  Add a little conflict or controversy to a story and the numbers swell.   i think it’s just human nature.  The task for executives is to figure our which brand does their media outlet want to be associated?

  • Poynter

    On the last page of the report, there are email addresses for about a dozen people involved in the research; I’m sure they could answer your questions about who responded. I expect that they made every effort to get equal representation, but I did not ask. –Julie

  • F. Douglas

     Thank you for responding. I did read through the report before I wrote my previous comment, and it is one reason I wrote what I did. Unless I’m really dense, I don’t see any breakdown on the percentage of Democrats or Republicans who were polled. There’s only a rundown on percentages within each of those groups. It could be that the survey was only comprised of 25 percent Republicans, 40 percent Democrats, and the rest are independents. We just don’t know from the numbers they give. The overall gist of the survey suggests they over-sampled Democrats.

    As a former editor, if I were assigning a reporter to this story, I’d ask them to get the internal data on this survey to be sure it isn’t a propaganda exercise disguised as legitimate research. Especially since it involves online research, which is pretty questionable in the first place. To add to my skepticism: I’ve never heard of this group before.

  • Poynter

    F. Douglas, Thanks for the feedback. The survey does break down the different responses of Democrats and Republicans but not to the media questions, which is all we reported. For more detail, you can read the entire report here:

    –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • F. Douglas

    Why does Poynter run this “survey” out as news? As an online survey, it apparently is a self-selected group of people who are answering the questions. Even if the respondents aren’t self-selected, an online survey would be filled with pitfalls.

    The report doesn’t tell the breakdown of Democrats, Republicans and independents who were surveyed. How do we know it reflects the population at large? Or the world of likely voters?

    Could this be like the exit polls in Wisconsin, which showed things to be in a dead heat? And then when the votes were counted, we learned Scott Walker had won by a margin of 7 percent. This has happened repeatedly with exit polls, which are oversampling Democrats. Did this “Civility” survey oversample Democrats?

    Aren’t Poynter reporters supposed to be skeptical questions about these surveys, or are they too eager to run out items that put Fox News in a bad light?