The good news for US media in this annual Reuters poll of 46 countries? Consistency. Poynter’s Rick Edmonds reports that Finland’s media leads the free-world pack with 65% level of trust from its consumers.
The US media comes in — wait for it — dead last at 29%. But at least that level didn’t get any worse from last year’s similarly appalling level:
The United States ranks last in media trust — at 29% — among 92,000 news consumers surveyed in 46 countries, a report released Wednesday found. That’s worse than Poland, worse than the Philippines, worse than Peru. (Finland leads at 65%.)
The annual digital news report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford also found some improvement in trust in nearly all the countries surveyed — probably thanks to COVID-19 coverage — but not in the U.S. where the low rating was flat year to year.
Well, that’s something, I suppose. But why oh why is media trust so low in the US? Edmonds blames the consumers, especially those on the Right:
One explanation, though not necessarily the only one, is the extreme political polarization in the U.S. This study, like many others, found extremely high levels of distrust — 75% of those who identify as being on the right thought coverage of their views is unfair.
Ahem. Yes, it’s remarkable that the people who get treated the worst by media bias might be more sensitive to it. They see the problem as polarization, too — the polarization of American media, especially over the last four years. Having gone into hyper-partisan mode in the Trump years, it’s no small wonder that the US media has lost the trust of those who saw their coverage as cooked and/or dishonest. The most recent example of this was the all-out media press to label anyone questioning the origin of COVID-19 as a lunatic conspiracy theorist simply because Donald Trump raised it as a possibility, a position the media has only abandoned since Tedros Ghebreyesus demanded more of an investigation into the possibility.
In Edmonds’ haste to cast this poll result as Republicans pouncing®, he overlooks what the pollster actually told him about media mistrust. Readers have to scroll down a bit to see this:
“Many Americans do not feel that news organizations are covering people like them fairly, and those who say the news media are treating them less fairly are less likely to trust the news. This includes, for example, younger people (young women, in particular), Black Americans and Hispanic Americans.”
Oh, those conservatives! The end result is that people don’t care much whether news media have financial problems, since they don’t put much value or trust in their product. This hurts local journalism most, even if the problems arguably are less evident in local journalism rather than national outlets. That’s especially true if they see unfair treatment of their views and values in reporting, and even more true when that unfair treatment results in seriously skewed reporting — such as the origins of COVID-19, for instance.
The bottom line is that the US media gets their rating the old-fashioned way … they earn it.