Dr. Tudor Vlad, associate director of Cox International Center, attending MAPOR session.

U.S. Public Sees Media More As Lapdog Than As Watchdog

The U.S. public sees the mass media as more like a lapdog than a watchdog, researchers at the University of Georgia told a group of public opinion scholars meeting in late November in Chicago.

“At least in the eyes of the public, the media are part of the overall governmental and institutional fabric of society,” the researchers said. “The public seems to evaluate the media as part of that overall structure, much as they would if they were evaluating the lapdog pets of the powerful forces in society.”

The research team, made up of Cynthia English from Gallup and Drs. Lee B. Becker, Tudor Vlad and Jeong-Yeob Han from the University of Georgia, drew on two historical survey sets from Gallup to reach their conclusion about the public perceptions of the media.

They examined the relationship between public assessments of the media and assessments of government across time, going back to 1972.

Overall, the data provide little support for the idea that the media are evaluated as oppositional institutions in society, as the watchdog or even attack dog metaphors would suggest should be the case, they reported.

Dr. Becker is director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Vlad is associate director of the Cox International Center. Dr. Han is a faculty member in the Department of Telecommunications at the Grady College.

The team has worked with Gallup researcher English for more than five years on a variety of projects focusing on public perceptions of the media, both in the U.S. and in other countries.

About 200 researchers attended the annual conference of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research at the Avenue Hotel in downtown Chicago.

The conference was held on Nov. 22 and Nov. 23.

For a copy of the paper presented by the research team, click here.