Go figure: Democrats' trust in mass media soars to highest level in 20 years

We’ll be told that this result is due to nothing as meager as rank partisanship but rather high-minded respect for crackerjack investigative reporting being done by America’s major papers. The Times, the Post, the Journal, CNN — they’re all dug in on Russiagate, holding Trump’s deputies to account for their malfeasance, just like a good watchdog press should. The fact that the media’s whacking away, day after day, at a president whom Democrats despise to an historic degree in his first year in office is just a happy coincidence.

Alternate theory per Steve Bannon, addressing a Times reporter in January: “You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.” If that’s true, go figure that members of the nominal opposition party would find much to admire lately about the actual opposition party.

That’s some spike at the end. Not only are Democrats at a 20-year high in trusting mass media while Republicans are at a 20-year low (tied with their mark from last year) but the polarization on that subject over the last two years is like nothing Gallup has seen in modern times. Previously the sharpest divergence between D’s and R’s was in 2005 when the war in Iraq began to go south and the media’s reporting of it turned much more critical. Even then, though, Democratic opinion increased just 11 points from the year before while Republican opinion declined by 13. Going back to 2015, Republican trust in the media — always low to begin with — has been cut by more than half, dropping 16-17 points, while Democrats are up 21 in just the past year alone. Most or all of that, obviously, is a reaction to Trump on both sides. The media’s been relentlessly critical of him since he emerged as the presumptive nominee last spring and partisans have reacted accordingly. It’s mind-boggling that reaction to one man’s candidacy and election could produce more volatility in terms of trust in media than the Iraq war but here we are. Insert your own boilerplate about the rise of new media and the boom in overtly ideological “news” sites exacerbating the divergence.

Media grandstanding in the age of Trump has gotten worse too, I think. That’s hard to quantify and say definitively that it’s worse now than it was under Bush but it’s the sort of thing that would also obviously play on partisanship among the audience. If you hate Trump, you’re going to enjoy negative coverage of him but you’re *really* going to enjoy gratuitous self-congratulatory antagonism towards the White House. Right, Jim Acosta?

From CNN’s vantage point, Acosta is standing up to a bully—both for a network that has been under attack by Trump and those who feel disenfranchised in the president’s America. But there is also a view inside the network’s newsroom that Acosta has been given the latitude, perhaps even the implicit assignment, to turn the briefing room into a personal editorial page because it is good television and reaffirms CNN’s integral role in the ongoing drama. “There’s some grumbling in the rank-and-file that this isn’t straight news,” said a senior person in the network’s newsroom. “But the higher up you go, the more people like what Jim’s doing or he wouldn’t be doing it.”…

Of the many current and former White House reporters I spoke to about Acosta, all expressed some form of solidarity, as they, too, wrestle with the almost impossible challenge to report objectively and ask tough questions while dealing with unprecedented attacks from Trump and his surrogates. They praised Acosta as a news gatherer and a genial colleague—“He’s a guy you like to have a beer with,” one said—but also wondered what he had accomplished with his aggressive posturing. “You can just see Trump and Steve Bannon reveling in watching Jim snap back to Miller,” said Jim Warren, the Poynter Institute’s chief media critic and a former White House reporter for the New York Daily News. “And you can bet Jeff Zucker did, too.” For the record, I asked Bannon whether Acosta was playing into the administration’s hands, he texted one word: “Yes!!!!!!!”

Fair point in that last paragraph about unprecedented attacks by the White House. It’s not just the media’s anti-Trumpism that’s attracting Democratic respect, it’s Trump’s anti-media-ism. If you hate POTUS and POTUS spends an undue amount of time screeching about the “fake news media,” the “enemy of my enemy” effect will reinforce your faith in the press and mayyyybe even help convince you that the press’s coverage is more accurate than it really is. Gallup conducted a separate poll earlier this year, similar to this one but distinct, in which it asked people whether they believe that news organizations generally “get the facts straight.” Surprise — Democrats were at a 20-year high and Republicans at a 20-year low in that survey too. There’s probably no way to fully disentangle having a partisan rooting interest in the press’s work from perceptions that the press’s work is accurate. If you’re a Democrat who loathes Trump and the Times drops a Russiagate bombshell on him, you’ll want to believe that story is true so badly that you’ll give it every reasonable benefit of the doubt and some unreasonable ones too. That’s how you gain 20 points in trust in mass media in less than 12 months.

Jazz Shaw Aug 07, 2022 2:31 PM ET