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Should NBC’s Brian Williams Stay or Go?

Monday, February 09, 2015

NBC News has the highest rated evening news program, and anchor Brian Williams is a popular fixture on the program. But now that Williams has been caught in a lie, Americans tend to think he hurts NBC’s credibility and needs to go.

Williams has been forced to acknowledge that he didn’t tell the truth for years when he said he was aboard a helicopter during the Iraq invasion that was forced down by enemy fire. Forty percent (40%) of American Adults think Williams should resign because of this, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone poll. Thirty-five percent (35%) disagree, but 25% are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.) 

Forty percent (40%) also say they are less likely to believe the reporting on NBC News because Williams didn’t tell the truth. Eight percent (8%) are more likely to believe NBC’s reporting now, while 45% say the Williams incident has no impact on their confidence in the network’s reporting.

Forty-three percent (43%) of Americans have a favorable opinion of Williams, including 13% with a Very Favorable one. Thirty-three percent (33%) view him unfavorably, with 18% who hold a Very Unfavorable view. Twenty-four percent (24%) don’t know enough about Williams to voice even a soft opinion of him.

Twenty-eight percent (28%) also don’t know what they think of ABC-News anchor George Stephanopolous. Forty-five percent (45%) have a favorable view of the former senior Clinton administration official-turned-newsman, while 27% regard him unfavorably. This includes 13% with a Very Favorable opinion and 11% with a Very Unfavorable one.

Scott Pelley is the evening anchor of the other of the big three traditional networks, CBS. Just 20% have a favorable view of Pelley, including five percent who see him Very Favorably. Eighteen percent (18%) share an unfavorable opinion, with seven percent (7%) who hold a Very Unfavorable one. A whopping 62% have no opinion of Pelley.

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The national survey of 800 Adults was conducted on February 7-8, 2015 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.5 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology

One-in-three Americans (32%) say they rarely or never watch one of the three traditional networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – for news. Forty-nine percent (49%) watch one of those networks at least several times a week, with 26% who watch every day or nearly every day.

Among those who watch one of the traditional networks for news every day or nearly every day, 63% have a favorable opinion of Williams, nearly identical to attitudes about Stephanopolous but well ahead of how they feel about Pelley.

Regular viewers are also the least likely to say the Williams incident makes NBC less credible to them, and most also do not feel Williams should resign as NBC’s evening news anchor.

Williams is more popular with women than men. Men are more likely to think he should resign.

None of the three network anchors are particularly popular with Republicans, but it is interesting to note that they like Stephanopolous more than Williams despite the former’s past as a Democratic operative. Most Democrats like both men, while unaffiliated adults have lukewarm views of the two of them. Pelley’s an unknown to all three groups.

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of Republicans say they are now less likely to believe the reporting on NBC News, a view shared by only 25% of Democrats and 40% of Americans not affiliated with either major political party. By similar margins, Republicans and unaffiliateds think Williams should resign, and Democrats do not.

Voters still turn to TV over the Internet when it comes to political news, but the gap is narrowing. Sixty-nine percent (69%) watch cable news networks for political news at least occasionally, but the traditional news networks are just as popular. However, regardless of the source, voters are skeptical about the political news they are getting.

A year ago, 69% of Americans said the news reported by the media is at least somewhat trustworthy, but that included only 20% who felt it is Very Trustworthy. We’ll release new numbers on the trustworthy question tomorrow.

Forty-eight percent (48%) of voters think media bias is a bigger problem in politics today than big campaign contributions, but nearly as many (44%) see campaign cash as the larger problem.

As recently as September 2013, 58% of Americans said most of their fellow countrymen are basically honest, but 70% felt they are less honest than they used to be.  

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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