Confidence In Military News Wanes

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The U.S. public's confidence that the military and the media keep them informed about national security issues has eroded significantly over the past six years, according to a new poll that shows 60 percent of Americans believe they do not get enough information about military matters to make educated decisions.

According to a McCormick Tribune Foundation/Gallup poll scheduled for release today, Americans are more interested in national security than they were in the past. But only 54 percent of Americans say they feel the military keeps them well informed, down from 77 percent in 1999 -- before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Similarly, the public grew increasingly skeptical of the news media's efforts, with 61 percent of Americans saying that the media keep them well informed on military and national security issues, down from 79 percent in 1999. More than three-quarters of Americans also believe that the military occasionally provides false or inaccurate information to the media, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,016 adults during the first two weeks of June.

Media and military experts said the data are troubling at a time when Americans are becoming more savvy about the information they receive and are seeking their news from an increasing number of sources.

Retired Maj. Gen. David L. Grange, executive vice president of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, said he believes the round-the-clock news cycle and perceived biases within media organizations have hurt public confidence in their information.

"The mass media gets negative points from the people because they think that the big media is taking a position and shaping stories to fit their agenda," said Grange, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division. "The military gets negative points because they come across sometimes as being deceptive or using [operational security] as an excuse."

Cori Dauber, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said, "One of the most important findings here is how interested the public is and that both the military and the media underestimate how many national security topics the public cares about."

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