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TERENCE SMITH: Fred Rooney is starting his day, and another news cycle. He’s a self-confessed news junkie. Essential parts of his daily diet: A cup of tea, and the Internet.
Rooney, a Democrat, starts his morning by skimming the New York Times online from his apartment in Flushing, Queens.
He spends part of his week directing the Community Legal Resource Network at the City University of New York School of Law.
FRED ROONEY: It’s really dramatically important for me to be as on top of world events, international and domestic, so that I can be in a better position to do what I feel I need to do in order to further my goals or to express my political opinion.
TERENCE SMITH: Judd Newman, a Knoxville, Tennessee, Republican who sells group health insurance, is also a dedicated news consumer.
Radio helps get him a jump on the news, but he finds objectivity hard to come by.
Radio: George Bush, John Kerry…
JUDD NEWMAN: I think we’ve got media that is blatantly partisan right now.
That’s okay as long as you get both sides of the news. To get only one side is really not that good.
TERENCE SMITH: Rooney and Newman represent the nearly even split among the nation’s electorate.
And a new survey has found that many people-43 percent of conservatives and a third of liberals and moderates — choose their news sources based on their politics.
ANDREW KOHUT: News audiences are more politicized than they’ve been in the past.
TERENCE SMITH: Andrew Kohut is director of the Pew Research Center.
ANDREW KOHUT: It’s part and parcel of the more intense political views and partisan views that the American public has this year. Republicans and Democrats really think differently about a broad range of issues.
TERENCE SMITH: Political watchers have dubbed the states where voters such as Judd Newman cast majority Republican ballots “red states,” and those where Democratic voters like Fred Rooney prevail as “blue states.”
Blue state Democrat Fred Rooney, like red state Republican Judd Newman, has very specific views about which news sources inform him best and conform to his preferences.
FRED ROONEY: I think in many ways ideology drives the media that I seek.
TERENCE SMITH: After the New York Times, he reads the Morning Call, a paper based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he practices community law when he’s not in New York.
SPOKESMAN: Here’s what’s happening in your neighborhood.
TERENCE SMITH: A little bit of local and network morning television is part of his daily ritual.
But he does not value TV news enough to get a cable hookup to improve the static-filled reception. Fred Rooney often listens to National Public Radio in the car. He makes a stop at the local Chinese bakery in this most ethnically diverse county in the United States.
He glances at some New York newspaper headlines en route to his law school office. Here, he logs on to the Associated Press, some foreign newspapers, and any number of independent Web sites.
He often clicks on the Web site of the Qatari Satellite Television Network al Jazeera to sample its coverage of Iraq and the Middle East in general.
Radio: We got to take a break for news at 8:00.
TERENCE SMITH: Judd Newman was off to jury duty orientation on this day, and listening to local radio on the way to downtown Knoxville with his son.
He felt that they do slant the news towards the left.
TERENCE SMITH: After his juror briefing, Newman returned home, and settled into his office.
Radio by his side, he began scanning Web sites to get updated on the national and international headlines.
JUDD NEWMAN: I’ve customized my Yahoo! page to have the content that’s of interest to me, so that I can go there and see the top stories.
From there, I expand out and have some secondary spots that I go to.
TERENCE SMITH: President Bush was visiting this day at the nearby Oakridge National Laboratory, so Newman’s local radio broadcaster carried the president’s remarks live.
Radio: President George W. Bush speaking…
TERENCE SMITH: That preempted a conservative talk radio favorite of his: Neal Boortz.
After the speech, Newman caught up on local news in the Knoxville News Sentinel, and tuned in to Rush Limbaugh.
JUDD NEWMAN: There’s my guy.
RADIO: You’re tuned to the most- listened-to radio talk show in America.
ANDREW KOHUT: I think the risk here is that people will go into their separate corners and begin to look at news and information from their own point of view.
TERENCE SMITH: This growing correlation between partisanship and news choices is a surprising one, and an important development.
One of the poll’s major findings is that many Republicans tend to prefer the Fox News Channel, while many Democrats prefer CNN.
And Republicans, as a group, are unhappy with their options.
ANDREW KOHUT: One of the things that we saw very interestingly is that Republican anger at the media is not only extending to electronic, but also to newspapers.
And so Republicans are testy and angry with the media, no matter what the format.
TERENCE SMITH: Judd Newman and Fred Rooney both share some of that disappointment. Judd Newman has tuned out CNN.
JUDD NEWMAN: I think Fox News on cable has supplanted CNN.
I think they’re trying to be objective and they’re trying to report on good things as well factual things such as death and bombings and destruction.
TERENCE SMITH: Fred Rooney.
FRED ROONEY: I won’t watch Fox because I don’t think I need to watch Fox.
I know pretty much the editorial slant they have, and I just find it distasteful to have to sit there. And I think I’m intelligent enough to form my own opinions.
TERENCE SMITH: Fred Rooney questions whether most American media are truly independent.
FRED ROONEY: The American media is controlled in many ways by the economic forces that fund it, and that oftentimes stories don’t make their way into the media.
I also think there is tremendous government control, maybe more so now than ever on the media.
TERENCE SMITH: Despite their divergent political views, both men agree that it’s important to know what others think.
JUDD NEWMAN: I like to know what other side is up to. I was listening to some liberal radio, actually, this morning.
I think it’s important to not have either side drowned out. We live in a democracy, and all voices should be heard.
FRED ROONEY: While I may read the New York Times and go on Web sites like Truthout, I spend a lot of time listening to opposition radio.
I listen to Rush Limbaugh. I listen to Sean Hannity and the Savage Nation, and I do that only because I really need to know what’s going on.
I need to know what other people are thinking.
TERENCE SMITH: On this day Rooney is listening to conservative talk show host Laura Ingram on the Kerry/Edwards team versus the Bush/Cheney ticket.
TELEVISION: Again, you’re a terrorist; you’re hoping to wreak havoc on the United States and U.S. interests abroad; what team are you going to be more afraid of here?
TERENCE SMITH: Andy Kohut.
ANDREW KOHUT: Some media are stoking the fires. The shout show format on cable news shows, with people taking highly partisan views, puts in the minds of news audiences that news channels and news networks now take a political view.
And it’s not Fox, it’s not just CNN, it’s not just MSNBC; it’s all of them.
TERENCE SMITH: Kohut says that’s why his research shows that 58 percent of people polled today say there’s political bias in news media coverage compared to 36 percent in 1987.
That split may now be most pronounced in the perceptions of the coverage of the war in Iraq, which has caused an up tick in television news watching, and renewed interest in international coverage, according to the poll.
FRED ROONEY: The whole issue of the war in Iraq has been troubling because many times when you watch the network news programs, especially the local ones, there tends to be much more of an attempt to solidify support for the war.
JUDD NEWMAN: We’ve got the best young men on earth that are over there fighting right now.
I would love to see the news report some positive things, and instead it’s who can be the most dramatic and the most sensational. Nobody wants to watch the car race, they want to watch the wreck.
TERENCE SMITH: Kohut worries that the line between straight news and opinion is becoming more and more blurred.
ANDREW KOHUT: The danger is that the news business will see this as good business and we will get to a marketing and a positioning of news where we are getting away from the model of objective nonpartisan news to these little cliques, these little niches of Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative news.
TERENCE SMITH: And so while both men have reservations about their choices of news and information, they continue to read, listen, and watch a great deal.