06/08/2004 - Despite tumultuous events abroad, the public's news habits have been relatively stable over the past two years. Yet modest growth has continued in two important areas online news and cable news. Regarding the latter, the expanding audience for the Fox News Channel stands out. Since 2000, the number of Americans who regularly watch Fox News has increased by nearly half from 17% to 25% while audiences for other cable outlets have been flat at best.
Fox's vitality comes as a consequence of another significant change in the media landscape. Political polarization is increasingly reflected in the public's news viewing habits. Since 2000, the Fox News Channel's gains have been greatest among political conservatives and Republicans. More than half of regular Fox viewers describe themselves as politically conservative (52%), up from 40% four years ago. At the same time, CNN, Fox's principal rival, has a more Democrat-leaning audience than in the past.
The public's evaluations of media credibility also are more divided along ideological and partisan lines. Republicans have become more distrustful of virtually all major media outlets over the past four years, while Democratic evaluations of the news media have been mostly unchanged. As a result, only about half as many Republicans as Democrats rate a variety of well-known news outlets as credible a list that includes ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, NPR, PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, The New York Times, Newsweek, Time and U.S. News and World Report.
CNN's once dominant credibility ratings have slumped in recent years, mostly among Republicans and independents. By comparison, the Fox News Channel's believability ratings have remained steady both overall and within partisan groups. Nonetheless, among those able to rate the networks, more continue to say they can believe all or most of what they hear on CNN than say that about Fox News Channel (32% vs. 25%).