Here's a statistic from a Politico poll that will warm the hearts of many Donald Trump supporters -- and trouble just about everybody else: Nearly half the American people -- 46 percent -- believe journalists flat out make up phony stories to hurt the president and his administration.
When you count only Republicans in the poll, 76 percent think the media invent stories about the president. And when you dig even deeper and count only voters who strongly approve of the president's job performance, it's up to 85 percent who believe the media concoct stories about the president and his administration.
Only 37 percent of those polled believe that journalists do not fabricate stories.
Given the near daily pounding the media take from this president -- who has called journalists the "enemy of the American people" -- it shouldn't surprise us that so many Americans don't trust them. Here's a tweet from the president at 6:32 in the morning on July 12: "Remember, when you hear the words 'sources say' from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist."
As with so many things, this president is just plain wrong. Journalists have biases; they make mistakes; sometimes they're sloppy; and worst of all, sometimes they have a political agenda. But fabricating stories that they know are not true, inventing fake news sources: that is so rare as to be virtually nonexistent.
According to a Monmouth University poll, 6 in 10 Trump supporters say they will never abandon the president -- ever! So when the president says the press is "disgusting," or that reporters are "tremendously dishonest," or that "they make up the stories" -- why wouldn't his acolytes believe him? They believe just about everything else he tells them.
I was trying to think of who else so many Americans would support, no matter what; who they would never abandon under any circumstances; who they have so much faith in. And all I could come up with was God.
Of course, the media are not innocent victims in all of this. Newsrooms are populated overwhelmingly by liberals whose coverage often reflects their liberal sensibilities and values. So the president's attacks on the media wouldn't resonate as much if reporters didn't live in a liberal bubble and weren't so openly hostile to him.
"Some may take pleasure in the discomfort of the media," Ken Stern, a former CEO of National Public Radio wrote in the New York Post, "but it is not a good situation for the country to have the media in disrepute and under constant attack. Virtually every significant leader of this nation, from Jefferson on down, has recognized the critical role of an independent press to the orderly functioning of democracy. We should all be worried that (so many) voters think there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media and that our major media institutions are seen as creating, not combating, our growing partisan divide."
In a way -- not a good way -- both sides get something out of this turmoil: Donald Trump gets to give his base the red meat they crave, which draws them even closer to their savior. And journalists get to unload on a man many of them believe is unfit for office -- and at the same time, make money. Bashing Donald Trump is very good for business. Ask Stephen Colbert or the folks at "Saturday Night Live" or the commentators at MSNBC if you don't believe me.
Journalists, of course, should admit to their own shortcomings -- but it's something too many of them are unwilling to do. They should acknowledge that their liberal sensibilities too often infect their coverage of the news -- and that their hatred -- yes, that's the word I want to use -- of this president, has colored their coverage of him and his administration. They should be introspective enough to at least consider the possibility that it's their own failings that have led so many voters into the arms of Donald Trump.
But somebody needs to give Trump a message, too. Someone needs to tell him that he's the president of the United States now -- and that calling reporters names is beneath him and the office he holds.
Both sides may get something out of this no-stop feud, but only for a while -- because we're all losers in the long run. You can't have a free country -- not for the long haul -- without a mainstream press that the American people trust. And if people don't trust the mainstream media, they'll go to the dark corners of the web for their "news," a place where crazy rumors flourish in the muck and where genuine fake news thrives.
Both the president and his adversaries in the press should consider that.