One of the most disheartening things I’ve witnessed since I began this career path more than five years ago is the steady decline in support for media. The beginning of the distrust predates former President Donald Trump started calling anyone who was critical of him “fake news,” though that certainly contributed to its recent trajectory.
According to a Gallup poll published Sept. 30, 2020, four in 10 American adults say they have a “great ideal” (9 percent) or a “fair amount” (31 percent) of trust and confidence in the media to report the news “fully, accurately, and fairly.” Six in 10 people have “not very much” (27 percent) trust in the media, or none at all” (33 percent).
“Gallup first asked this question in 1972 and has continued to do so nearly every year since 1997. Trust ranged between 68 percent and 72 percent in the 1970s, and though it had declined by the late 1990s, it remained at the majority level until 2004, when it dipped to 44 percent. After hitting 50 percent in 2005, it has not risen above 47 percent,” Megan Brenan wrote in a Gallup article about the survey.
Unsurprisingly, Gallup noted a steep decline in 2016 in the Republicans’ trust in the media — which has yet to recover. However, “Democrats’ trust over the past four years has been the highest Gallup has measured for any party in the past two decades,” Brenan wrote. Gallup began measuring the public’s perception of media in 1972 and has been repeating the process annually since 1997.
“Over the decades for which such data has been available, we have seen that people tend to think of journalism in a more favorable light than, say, the White House or Congress, but as less trustworthy than medicine, education, the military, organized religion, or major corporations,” Michael Schudson wrote in an article for the Columbia Journalism Review in winter 2019.
According to CRJ, “the media” as an all-encompassing term for what is now referred to as “the mainstream media” wasn’t common until the mid-to-late-1960s. As I said before, Trump was not the first person to disparage the press when they printed news that reflected poorly upon him.
Another former (and disgraced) U.S. President — Richard Nixon (1969-1974) — disliked the news reporting about him so much he was instrumental in including the press into the very broadly defined umbrella that is “the media.”
“To refer to journalists as ‘the press’ ceded them an emotional upper hand, an aura of rectitude and First Amendment privilege,” Schudson wrote. “That advantage — unacceptable to Nixon, whose aides sensed that reporters held a bias against him — could be removed by calling journalists ‘the media.’”
One of Nixon’s speechwriters, William Safire, explained in his memoir, “Before the Fall,” that Nixon judged journalists as his opponents and told his staff “the press is the enemy.”
“I must have heard Richard Nixon say ‘the press is the enemy’ a dozen times; and there was no doubt that his instincts were to do battle with what he was certain was an ideological bias against non-liberals combined with a personal bias against him,” Safire wrote.
The forefathers of this nation believed in the power of the press and protected it within the very First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Many decades of events have led the press to its lowest point in recorded history — former presidents don’t deserve all of the blame. With the advent of the internet — and in some more obscure forms prior — people are able to publish their thoughts, opinions, propaganda and more in a method that can be viewed by anyone with web access.
These days, it’s difficult for even seasoned web surfers to distinguish the real news websites from the ones propagating falsehoods. Last year, the spread of misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic was nearly as insidious as the virus itself and the fabrications continue to proliferate.
Please note, the bulk of misinformation is not coming from reputable sources or journalists. The saturation of non-factual articles masquerading as news is modern propaganda meant to scare, scam and be divisive — often politically.
Global communications firm Edelman has studied the public’s trust in the institutions of business, government, NGOs and media. On Jan. 20, it released its 2021 Trust Barometer findings which showed, unsurprisingly, trust in all information sources is at a record low. Traditional media is down eight percentage points from 2020 with a rating of only 41 percent. Fifty-six percent of Americans cited distrust in the press, believing journalists and reporters are trying to mislead people by knowingly spreading false information or utilizing gross exaggerations, according to Felix Salmon in the Axios article “Media trust hits a new low.”
The reason I chose journalism as my college major was not for fame or fortune, but because of passion. Passion to learn something new every day and passion to share what I learn with others. I can’t help but think the majority of people who enter the field of professional journalism feels the same way.
“Journalists in the mainstream media almost all feel strongly that (1) they should seek truth; (2) they should hold government publicly accountable; and (3) government officials, elected and appointed, are public servants and should not be in government to line their own pockets,” Schudson wrote.
Our vow to you, our friends and neighbors, is to keep reporting accurately and fairly on local topics that matter to local residents. We hope you continue to trust in us to keep performing this job, informing the community and doing what we so love to do. Thank you for helping us keep the community informed, with your letters, guest columns, subscriptions and advertising.
And if anyone is looking for suggestions on where to get the most accurate and real news on a national and global level, you cannot go wrong with Associated Press, www.apnews.com, and Reuters. I highly recommend — 10/10.
Find out more information about the Gallup poll at https://news.gallup.com/poll/321116/americans-remain-distrustful-mass-media.aspx. To view the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, visit https://www.edelman.com/trust/2021-trust-barometer.
Editor’s note: A slightly differently edited version of this article ran in the printed paper dated Feb. 2, 2020, but the content remains the same.