After a brief rebound, America’s confidence in the Fourth Estate again matched an all-time low in 2014, according to Gallup’s annual survey on public trust in the media. Only 40 percent of Americans believe that the press can “fully, accurately, and fairly” report the news.
In 2012, trust in the media reached an all-time low but increased to 44 percent in 2013. The general trajectory of public faith in the press to report on events should be troubling for anyone who works as a member of that institution. In the 1990s, a majority of the public regularly reported that they had faith in the press to perform their role to the best of their ability. In the last decade, only a plurality consistently said the same.
“Prior to 2004, Americans placed more trust in mass media than they do now, with slim majorities saying they had a ‘great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of trust,” Gallup reported. “But over the course of former President George W. Bush’s re-election season, the level of trust fell significantly, from 54% in 2003 to 44% in 2004. Although trust levels rebounded to 50% in 2005, they have failed to reach a full majority since.”
While Republicans and conservatives generally insist that it is important to regard what is reported in the media with skepticism, Democrats are increasingly coming to agree with them. Gallup found that Democrats, 70 percent of whom expressed trust in the mass media in 2005, have lost a significant amount of trust in the press. Today, only 54 percent of Democrats say they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of faith in the media. They are joined by 38 percent of independents and just 27 percent of self-described Republicans.
While the number of Democrats losing confidence in the press may surprise, the ultimate reason they express for their dissatisfaction won’t. Coinciding with an uptick in Democratic dissatisfaction with the press is a corresponding increase in the number of Americans who think the media has a conservative bias.
Nearly one in five Americans (19%) say the media are too conservative, which is still relatively low, but the highest such percentage since 2006. This is up six points from 2013 — the sharpest increase in the percentage of Americans who feel the news skews too far right since Gallup began asking the question in 2001.
In related news, it is becoming increasingly difficult to perform a nightly news cast that is not dominated by bad news for the world, the nation, and, by extension, the President of the United States. This is what happens when the cocoon is pierced.
In June, Gallup found that the mass media does not fare much better when trust in the press is broken down by medium. Only 22 percent of the public expressed faith in reporting in newspapers, 19 percent had faith in television networks, and only 18 percent had faith in reporting on the web.
The general collapse of faith in the news media is not a healthy condition for any republic. A free people need a free press, and it looks increasingly likely that the public does not regard the institution of journalism as enterprise worth preserving.
The members of the media, by and large, seem indignant about this condition. They believe that the general impression that their work is colored by bias to be itself a biased accusation, baseless and undeserving of acknowledgement. Some criticisms of the press is, no doubt, inspired by partisanship. Much of the criticism the Fourth Estate gets is rooted in genuine concern that accuracy is being sacrificed.
This is, however, such a widespread problem that it cannot possibly be attributed to anything other than a significant problem in the media. The nation’s producers, reporters, editors, and all other members of the press would be well-served to put their pride away and took a critical and introspective look at the work they so and the criticism it is receiving.