Americans to media outlets: Just the facts, man?

Several billions of dollars in prime-time revenue to the contrary, it seems. This latest survey from the Associated Press and the American Media Institute looks at first glance like a warning to media outlets about a lack of trust in their product. And it is, but it also looks like a conceit on the part of media consumers:

The study defines five core principles or beliefs that drive most journalists: keep watch on public officials and the powerful; amplify voices that often go unheard; society works better with information out in the open; the more facts people have the closer they will get to the truth; and it’s necessary to spotlight a community’s problems to solve them.

Yet the survey, which asked non-journalists a series of questions designed to measure support for each of those ideas, found unqualified majority support for only one of them. Two-thirds of those surveyed fully supported the fact-finding mission.

Half of the public embraced the principle that it’s important for the media to give a voice to the less powerful, according to the survey, and slightly less than half fully supported the roles of oversight and promoting transparency.

Less than a third of the respondents agreed completely with the idea that it’s important to aggressively point out problems. Only 11% of the public, most of them liberals, offered full support to all five ideas.

The AP charted the results and published it on Twitter:

The lesson here is clear — people don’t want journalists to cook their stories … or so they say. And at least this should show the proper priorities for media coverage — get the facts first. Everything else should be secondary to that goal, if that. Giving voice to the less powerful is the job of activists, not journalists, who should instead pursue stories of public interest without fear or favor in any direction. “Monitor the powerful” works if the effort is applied equally to all, but the experience of media consumers is that such “monitoring” is a lot more enthusiastic when applied to Republicans and conservatives. The relative lack of robust fact-checking on Joe Biden’s nonsense statements speaks directly to this “monitoring” differential.

Let’s look at this in another way. If consumers don’t trust reporters and media outlets with that first task, why would they care about the media’s efforts on their other goals? At its core, the value of journalism is to give people the facts so that they can reach their own conclusions. Decades of narrative journalism have reversed that equation so that media outlets now force conclusions onto consumers by limiting the facts they will reveal. The latest example of this is the atrociously cooked 60 Minutes hit piece on Ron DeSantis, in which CBS News manufactured an allegation of corruption without a shred of evidence — and despite repeated debunkings. CBS is standing by that smear, and in doing so has faced nearly no repercussions from their colleagues and competitors in the journalism business.

Is it so surprising, then, that consumers really just want media outlets to report the facts rather than support the rest of these crusading initiatives? They’ve seen what this priority set produces.

But to get back to my first point, this survey really feels like a conceit on the part of media consumers. They may value a facts-only approach, but they reward narrative journalism. How many viewers would a facts-only cable news channel draw? No commentary, no perspective, no agenda? Some, perhaps, mainly out of novelty, but the lack of drama and team-feeding would only hold the most addicted of news junkies. And media outlets know this all too well, which is why surveys like this will produce momentary navel-gazing and nothing else.

That’s also why efforts like these from Project Veritas are both revealing, and ultimately irrelevant. CNN has identified an audience for its narratives and are busily feeding it. So are Fox News and MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC, CBS, NBC, and so on. Some of their fact-based work is valuable, but don’t kid yourself as to where they make their money.