Trust In The Media Hits An All-Time Low In New Polling

We have previously discussed how American journalism has been destroyed by years of openly partisan coverage in an age of echo journalism. Not surprisingly, the public has lost faith in what was once the leading nation in terms of journalistic practices and ethics. A new survey by the global communications firm Edelman (via Axios) found only 46 percent of Americans trust traditional media.  That mirrors polls by Gallup showing an even lower level of trust.  We are living in a new age of yellow journalism at a time when real journalism has never been more needed.

The loss of trust is greatest among Republicans, who view the media as openly aligned with the Democratic party and most recently the Biden campaign. Gallup’s 2020 results found that 73 percent of Democrats trusted the media, while only 10 percent of Republicans held such trust.

The plunging level of trust reflects the loss of the premier news organizations to a type of woke journalism. We have have been discussing how writerseditorscommentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisers. Even journalists are leading attacks on free speech and the free press.  This includes academics rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy. Columbia Journalism Dean and New Yorker writer Steve Coll has denounced how the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being “weaponized” to protect disinformation.

One of the lowest moments came with the New York Times’ mea culpa for publishing an opinion column by a conservative senator.  The New York Times was denounced by many of us for its  cringing apology after publishing a column by Sen. Tom Cotton (R, Ark.). and promising not to publish future such columns. It will not publish a column from a Republican senator on protests in the United States but it will publish columns from one of the Chinese leaders crushing protests for freedom in Hong Kong. Cotton was arguing that the use of national guard troops may be necessary to quell violent riots, noting the historical use of this option in past protests. This option was used most recently after the Capitol riot.

There is no evidence that American journalism will return to its prior position of independent reporting. Reporters continue to offer openly partisan takes on stories (including clearly false stories) while burying other stories entirely. No editor or journalist wants to find themselves subject to same the treatment of the Times’ editor or others forced out for running unpopular positions or reports.  The result is that audiences and readers are now left with siloed media sources that keep them within a comfort zone of reporting — maintaining narratives that neither challenge them nor educate them. That is why a majority of citizens do not trust the media as a source for information.  In one generation, contemporary editors and journalists have utterly destroyed their profession — tossing aside generations of struggle by journalists to maintain strict principles of neutrality and integrity.  The sad fact is that you can have the greatest protections for the media in the world in the First Amendment but our journalism will be no better than the journalists themselves. The Constitution can stop the government from government coercion but not media duplicity.

The great tragedy is that we need a legitimate media now more than ever. Citizens are facing deep and violent divisions without trust in what is being reported in our newspapers, television programs, and Internet sites.

133 thoughts on “Trust In The Media Hits An All-Time Low In New Polling”

  1. All due respect to Mr. Turley… I’m not one to say that our media gatekeepers are unimpeachable, and I for one hope Biden is not treated with kid gloves, but this column glosses over many significant factors that have lead to the distrust and overall degradation of the news media, and it’s not as simple as “the media is too liberal and woke.”

    The repeal of the fairness doctrine in the Reagan years opened the floodgates to Rush Limbaugh and his ilk propagating radicalizing commentary on talk radio that packaged opinion as news without guardrails or standards.

    Cable news transmuted the nightly news from fact-based information geared to the mainstream to the siloed echo chambers and round the clock entertainment that needed talking heads to fill time with idle chatter (see Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”).

    Social media has eviscerated our attention span and serves users algorithmically targeted content that drives emotions and tempers high with little regard to the quality or veracity of the source.

    Curious why there isn’t mention of Trump, who fanned the flames of this distrust. Trump was a media gadfly for decades and was notorious for his thin skin when it came to critical coverage, and when he offered cable news a ratings bonanza as a presidential candidate he was allowed to lie without interruption and took the opportunity to demonize the media so extensively that he turned a large swath of the country against any form of traditional media. He praised a congressional candidate who violently assaulted a journalist, without pushback from his party.

    Now we’re at an inflection point where local newsrooms are being hollowed out by bad faith corporate actors who are winnowing away at resources for local news and empowerment of the citizenry. This is not “biased” or “woke” journalists, these are beat reporters and community members who are expected to do more with less, who lack the tools to keep tabs on local and state-level corruption and malfeasence.

    With respect to the Cotton column, that’s definitely complicated! There was an outcry against Cotton’s NYT column in part because journalists were harmed for covering the civil unrest over the summer of 2020, often at the hands of police. There is, in my opinion, a valid argument that the NYT put their employees at risk when they ran it. I think we should consider the notion that a journalist who brings their lived experience (as a woman, as a Black person, as an immigrant, etc.) doesn’t mean they lack objectivity, it’s that their perspective is one we can learn from because the American experience contains multitudes.

    In the US, there is all this talk of “liberal bias” when in reality its more of a centrist bias. Progressive candidates pitch policies that are wildly popular across demographics and yet you watch CNN and the political horse race is the top story, or they perpetuate a feedback loop of “Is Sanders [or Warren] too liberal for mainstream America?” and in effect frame the conversation in those limiting terms without consideration or political imagination of what beneficial changes could come about for the folks most in need. And before we get into a socialism/communism food fight… the American public are so ignorant on what that precisely means that the terms have little meaning beyond the scare mongering that the rich corporatists infer in their use.

    And it must be said that the Republican party has drifted so far to the extreme right that on a global scale they are far outside the norm of what is considered “conservative” ideology. When “both sides” also means catering to climate change denialists regurgitating misinformation bankrolled by oil companies; or giving lip service to QAnnon conspiracy theorists to maintain their viewership and ad revenue, we have a VERY serious problem! When the news is completely unmoored from reality in the interest of giving a talk space to any ideology that demands it, we’re through the looking glass in a very, very disturbing and unsettling way.

    All of this is why I regard the media with skepticism, and why I am taking this column with the smallest grain of salt.

  2. When was the last time Joe Biden sat for a lenghty interview where he was asked tough questions, with followup questions, and expected to answer without a teleprompter in his ear?

    Where are all the Fact Checkers on False Statements made by President Biden?

    1. NEVER!! The media tosses Nerf balls at Biden’s staff when allowed and Biden is rushed from the stage without comment after speaking!! If media DOES get the chance to toss a quick question Biden IMMEDIATELY gets angry and defensive with his infamous ” Come on man!! I am Not playing THAT game with you and routers off stage.

  3. Thanks JT…. been following your commentary for many years – how does this generation of ‘journalists’ – sleep at night? I hope and trust there will be a re-set? Where is the Woodward&Bernstein curiosity and zeal for finding the story behind the story?

  4. Professor Turley,

    I’ve been generally following your columns since the Kavanaugh hearings, and found your voice both rational and calming. Thank you.

    This might be the most disturbing (perhaps second to your “banned” article about the Biden laptop) that I’ve read, but with far more dire implications. Loss of trust in the basic institutions of society is a very dangerous threat to our survival as a union. I cannot perceive some near future event that defuses the extreme polarization of political beliefs, which will result in a ratcheting effect that seems to have only one of two outcomes. Will it be Moscow, March 1917 or December 1860?

    1. Will it be Moscow, March 1917 or December 1860?

      Americans in 1860 were fit, lean and had a can-do attitude. The South supplied men who were poor, uneducated, out of work and joined the military for sustenance. And they fought with inferior weaponry but Mano a Mano combat prevailed. The North has better armed, fed and clothed men but also fought Mano a Mano.

      Americans today are incapable of any of the above activities. police officers can barely run down a block, and we have seen on police cams how they handle themselves with weapons

      America’s demise is already here (see COVID-19 victims). It’s just a matter of time when the slightest physical stressor will provoke MI. Deprive them of the top 20 pharmacological prescribed agents and they would die in 30 days. Americans are in no condition for war.

      1. Life expectancy (from birth) in the United States, from 1860 to 2020*

        1860 39.41 years

        2020 78.81 years

        Life expectancy in the United States, 1860-2020
        Published by Aaron O’Neill, Aug 17, 2020
        Over the past 160 years, life expectancy (from birth) in the United States has risen from 39.4 years in 1860, to 78.9 years in 2020. One of the major reasons for the overall increase of life expectancy in the last two centuries is the fact that the infant and child mortality rates have decreased by so much during this time. Medical advancements, fewer wars and improved living standards also mean that people are living longer than they did in previous centuries.
        Despite this overall increase, the life expectancy dropped three times since 1860; from 1865 to 1870 during the American Civil War, from 1915 to 1920 during the First World War and following Spanish Flu epidemic, and it has dropped again between 2015 and now. The reason for the most recent drop in life expectancy is not a result of any specific event, but has been attributed to negative societal trends, such as unbalanced diets and sedentary lifestyles, high medical costs, and increasing rates of suicide and drug use.

      2. What do you base your statement on regarding my ancestors who fought for the Union and the Confederacy that they were uneducated, out of work, and joined the military for sustenance? Life in the military’s of ether side, in the war in question, was replete with bad or no food, disease, and more ways to die than by the enemy’s weapons. What makes you believe that my ancestors were not gainfully employed family men who worked hard to eek out a living from the city’s or farms where they lived prior to the war? As the father-in-law of a police officer I also take offense at your characterization of all police offices as being out of shape and incapable of physical exertions. You are painting with a rather broad brush.

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