It’s nice to know that, in these bitterly divided times, the American public can all come together on at least one important burning issue of the day. And that issue is how much we all mistrust the media. According to a poll commissioned by Axios and conducted by Survey Monkey, nearly three out of four Americans believe that news outlets knowingly run “fake news”:
Note that the prospect that these outlets run “fake news” more than “rarely” gets a majority in every political demographic. There’s no doubt that the topline number is driven by Republicans, 92% of whom believe this, but so do 79% of independents — four out of every five. It even gets a majority among Democrats.
That’s why the headline at Axios might be an example of the phenomenon. Highlighting that “92% of Republicans think media intentionally reports fake news” ignores the broad consensus of the results. Both Jazz Shaw and Instapundit pointed this out earlier this morning, and it’s a valid complaint. Furthermore, it’s leading other news outlets to ignore the broader findings, too, which is another complaint that people have about editorial bias and manipulated news.
The question is, of course, which news outlets they have in mind. Half of the people in this survey say they fight fake news by “stick[ing] to news sources they trust.” That sounds an awful lot like remaining in one’s ideological bubble. For Democrats, Fox News will undoubtedly be their fake news bête noire, and for some independents it might be as well. Republicans probably have more outlets in mind but at least some of them are keying those responses by grounding themselves in Fox News. Around half in all demographics do some fact-checking through Google searches, but fewer in each demo do anything more than that. In other words, the apparent unity on “fake news” is an inch deep, even though it’s a mile wide.
Part of that inch, though, is a broad consensus that fake-news publishing is purposeful:
- More than two-thirds (65%) say fake news is usually reported because “people have an agenda.”
- Roughly one-third (30%) believe such information is shared due to laziness or “poor fact-checking.”
- Hardly anyone (3%) thinks that fake news makes headlines by accident.
Does this “prove” that fake news is a deliberate thing? Not directly, no, but it certainly proves that the news media have a very large credibility and trust issue with their audience. Incompetent media activism, such as the now-infamous Time cover this week and the sudden media hysteria in general over immigration practices that date back years certainly leave the impression that the media likes to shoot first for particular reasons and ask questions much later, if at all.
If media outlets care about viewer trust and credibility, they’d be well advised to take note of these results and look for ways to correct their practices — immediately and comprehensively. If they’re more interested in activism than in journalism, well, they don’t need to do anything at all. You can gauge which is the case by watching to see whether any changes take place at all. In other words … don’t hold your breath.