Gee, I wonder why. Another recent Gallup report, this time on consumer trust in media, is “sobering,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday. The new survey shows that attitudes about bias and lack of credibility are hardening among the people the media serve … at least ostensibly. “That’s a bad thing for democracy,” says Gallup’s partner at the Knight Foundation, John Sands, but perhaps that concern should be directed at the media outlets and practices creating the credibility problem in the first place:
Who is to blame for the nation’s political divide? Well, 48% of those questioned says the media bears a great deal of the responsibility.
The study found 73% of Americans feel that too much bias in news reports is a major problem, up from 65% two years ago.
Those surveyed also didn’t believe much in honest mistakes. When there were inaccuracies in articles, 54% of Americans said they believed reporters misrepresented facts, while 28% said reporters were making things up in their entirety.
The picture isn’t much prettier when you take a step back. Knight and Gallup said 41% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the media to report the news fairly, down from 55% in a similar survey in 1999.
Interestingly, the Gallup survey took place months ago — between November 2019 and February of this year. It missed all of the COVID-19 coverage, which itself has stoked lots of complaints over bias. It’s very likely that this “sobering” look at media credibility is already outdated. For instance, it doesn’t take into account the Cuomo Brothers Mutual Admiration Society Series at CNN, which has gone on for a full season despite Andrew Cuomo’s mishandling of nursing homes, leading to thousands of potentially avoidable fatal outcomes.
The good news for the news industry is that most Americans think it’s still important:
More than eight in 10 Americans say that, in general, the news media is “critical” (49%) or “very important” (35%) to democracy. Similar high percentages say the same is true of the media providing accurate and fair news reports (92%), ensuring Americans are informed about public affairs (91%) and holding leaders accountable for their actions (85%).
The bad news is that this finding is rapidly aging out:
Beyond partisanship, age has an independent effect on media attitudes. Older Americans are generally more favorable toward the news media than are their younger counterparts. Whereas 44% of Americans aged 65 and older have favorable views of the media, 19% of those under age 30 say the same.
This is the bed that American media outlets have made for themselves. If it’s “sobering” to have to lie in it, then they should reflect on their own shortcomings. I suspect, however, that the reaction from this will consist of picking the motes out of the eyes of their consumers while overlooking the beams in their own eyes.
In other words, to the extent this gets any coverage at all, expect the narrative to be “the rubes are ruining America” rather than “we must take a different approach to journalism.” That won’t be the universal reaction — the open letter from now-former MSNBC journalist Ariana Pekary points out the problem pretty well — but it will almost certainly be the main narrative. And if so, that will be a pretty good demonstration of why people distrust the media in the first place — and are correct to do so.