In a way, this is somewhat similar to polling job approval for Congress. Low numbers are the New Normal, and we elect people to that institution. The media, on the other hand, gets plenty of well-deserved criticism for its bias and other failures, and it’s still approaching its apex, according to Gallup:
For the fourth straight year, the majority of Americans say they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 57% now saying this is a record high by one percentage point. …
Trust in the media is now slightly higher than the record-low trust in the legislative branch but lower than trust in the executive and judicial branches of government, even though trust in all three branches is down sharply this year. These findings also further confirm a separate Gallup poll that found little confidence in newspapers and television specifically.
Nearly half of Americans (48%) say the media are too liberal, tying the high end of the narrow 44% to 48% range recorded over the past decade. One-third say the media are just about right while 15% say they are too conservative. Overall, perceptions of bias have remained quite steady over this tumultuous period of change for the media, marked by the growth of cable and Internet news sources. Americans’ views now are in fact identical to those in 2004, despite the many changes in the industry since then.
Actually, though, this is a fairly new phenomenon. The chart shows that the media hit a tipping point on trust at a certain point in time:
Before late 2004, a majority of Americans had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. After that point in late 2004, the dynamic flipped, with a majority since having little or no trust in the media’s ability to report fairly. What happened? The CBS attempt to smear George W. Bush with the phony Texas Air National Guard memos. That episode made clear the political tilt and the situational ethics of the “layers of editors and fact-checkers” at CBS, providing a clear basis for the always-present suspicion that the national news media occasionally cooked a story for their own political purposes.
Andrew Malcolm, tongue firmly in cheek, tries to dispute these findings in his most sarcastic manner:
Apparently, many Americans strongly suspect that a human bias creeps into media coverage, slanting the news in a favorable way toward people or causes that its biased members secretly appreciate.
And, additionally, that these same humanly-biased news media members portray people and causes that they don’t favor in a, well, unfavorable light.
Ridiculous! If that was the case, these evil-doing media types would focus superficially on the hair or clothing styles and costs of one female political candidate without noting the hair plugs and boring blue everyday neckties of her male opponent.
If the media was really biased, it would ask, say, a meaningless trick geography question of one candidate, while interrogating another on how he handles such a busy travel schedule and still manages to look so good and be a great dad.
It would seize on some goofy thing like a “mis-spilled” word or an out-of-context statement about inventing the Internet or seeing Russia from an impossible distance.
And it would repeat the goofy statement again and again and again and again. Until it became an intimate part of national family life, like one of those tired jokes that everyone’s father has told 1,872 times.
Or media outlets would do something like shriek about lobbyist donations to a leader of one political party — without noting that at least eighteen of the other party took much more in the same kind of donations, including the other party’s top two leaders, who took in at least twice as much as the subject of the media outlet’s exposé. The media outlet could also run a front-page, multicolumn story about allegations that a presidential candidate had an inappropriate personal relationship with a female lobbyist based on testimony from two low-level flunkies who described themselves as “disgruntled,” and then later claim that they didn’t mean it to be interpreted as a sexual affair. They could also attempt to extort that same campaign for inside information by threatening them with negative coverage.
You know, if the national media were biased in any way.