It’s not news that Americans’ confidence in the media has been significantly eroded over the past few years. But a new study reveals just how poor people’s perception of the press has become.
According to Gallup and the Knight Foundation, only about one-third of our population has a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of the news media, with 43 percent having an unfavorable opinion. Unsurprisingly, with a majority of mainstream media outlets leaning to the Left, the latter is significantly higher among Republicans at 68 percent.
Similarly, Americans’ trust in the media has considerably declined. A mere 41 percent of people say they trust the media today, down from 54 percent in 2003.
The Catalyst Behind the Shift
So what’s causing this dismal shift? Is it Trump’s repeated attacks on the press? The spread of fake news? The media’s brazen bias?
Well, fake news is certainly part of it (even though our definitions of “fake news” vary from person to person). Seventy-three percent of all Americans think “the spread of inaccurate information on the internet” is a major problem. And 57 percent cited the media’s failure to properly report the facts, even if they’re doing so unintentionally, as a big issue. We’ve certainly seen lots of retractions and corrections in the past few months as journalists prioritize breaking a story (especially if it puts Trump in a bad light) over accuracy.
Here's just one example:
However, the more prevalent issue appears to be partisanship.
Sixty-five percent think there is “too much bias in the reporting of news stories that are supposed to be objective,” and 64 percent think there is “too much bias in the selection of what stories news organizations cover or don’t cover.” This past weekend with the March for Life and Women’s March is a great example.
Correspondingly, 61 percent think more and more outlets are reporting a “specific ideological viewpoint rather than being neutral.”
And it gets worse. When asked about overall bias in the media, a staggering 45 percent of Americans said they see a “great deal” of political bias in news coverage. In 1989, that number was at 25 percent. Today, only two percent of Americans said there is absolutely no bias in the news.
Even more troubling: less than half of U.S. adults could name one objective news source. Unsurprisingly, Republicans overwhelming listed Fox News, while Democrats offered a greater variety of responses including CNN, NPR, and, yes, MSNBC.
So, What Does All This Mean?
Despite Americans' waning confidence in the media, a majority still believe the press plays a “critical,” or at least a “very important,” role in our democracy. They are the unofficial Fourth Estate, after all.
But what happens to our society when the media fail to fulfill their duties, when the "watchdogs" become the ones who need to be watched?
Perhaps the next time the media go to point fingers at Republicans and the Trump administration for undermining our democracy and drawing a wedge between fellow Americans, they should take a look at what they are doing to our nation first.