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.

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

  1. Sharl Atkisson has written on the issue of collapsed trust in media. She wrote *Slanted* about bias in media. I haven’t read it, but it looks interesting.

  2. Who are these people in the 46%? What alternate universe do they live in?
    I would expect single digit trust in the media at best.

    Just look at the prolific use of modifiers like adverbs and the use of adjectives.

    “President Trump baselessly asserted..” reads a lot differently from “President Trump claimed that….. he did not provide any proof of his claim”

  3. I dispute the findings of Axios and Gallup that ‘ trust ‘ in journalism is as low as they say. My experience is that there is great trust on the part of some who gullibly consume and viciously defend whatever their chosen sources tell them

  4. When I was young, the news had an opinion section. It was called editorial. That was the editor’s opinion on the given subject of the day. Now the editorial section is the entirety. I am personally fine with this arrangement, except nobody acknowledges they are giving opinion. This is what all the big media do including those from the right side of the line. Due to economic issues, Journalism has moved into an echo chamber to hold onto dwindling sales. At some point, it will cost them all dearly once the public comes to understand they are not being told unvarnished truth, both “truth” with a slant. Sure Democrats trust the media more, but they are being told what they want to hear right now. What happens when reality no longer matches the reporting?

    I do have hope for the future. Journalism will change with the times and at some point, we will get facts again. I just hope a cynical public will be there to listen.

    1. This is something I’ve noticed as well, particularly with younger folks and the rise of social media – editorialization is becoming synonymous with ‘reporting’ in the minds of many. It doesn’t matter what happened, what matters is how you feeeel about it, and your subsequent analysis of those feelings, facts be damned. Back in the day when the therapy culture was first taking shape, they used to say, ‘Feelings *aren’t* facts.’. That notion has been turned on its head, and the fruits it has borne us are very apparent.

  5. I read Professor Turley’s blogs to get a balanced perspective on the law. It’s a good remedy for my own confirmation bias.

    Then I read the comments of the “spiders from hell” who want Professor Turley cancelled, and my cynicism about humanity is confirmed.

  6. There has been about 20 years of silence, by most press organizations and judges, on the gross abuses of the federal “Espionage Act of 1917” used to silence journalists. Congress and administrations – both Republican and Democrat – have launched an all out assault on the Press and most journalists are silent on this weapon illegally used against the Press.

    Press organizations and judges (real Guardians of the U.S. Constitution), have been silent on legal whistleblowing channels being completely dismantled for about 20 years. The Freedom of Information Act being largely dismantled for 20 years. The FISA Act being dismantled to facilitate surveillance abuses.

    Today in 2021, it’s nearly impossible for any citizen, journalist, member of Congress or even a federal judge to obtain (non-identifying) records – under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – from state-operated “Fusion Centers” for bottom-line statistics so voters can self-govern. These are post-9/11 blacklisting centers – largely deputized and funded by the federal government – where unconstitutional abuses were exposed in the early 2000’s. Instead of providing stricter oversight, Congress and state legislatures exempted these FCs from most FOIA laws.

    Where are most Press organizations?

    1. You can’t even get information or an investigation (journalistic or criminal) to determine if election fraud truly occurred. No wonder people view the entire election as illegitimate.

  7. Fifty years ago the print media survived on subscriptions and sales at magazine stands, with big advertisers boosting their bottom line. Papers were often family-owned, and every city worth its salt had at least two newspapers, two radio stations, and two television channels with opposing points of view. But during the 1990s, subscriptions dried up and newspapers and magazines came to depend on advertisers whom they did their best not to offend.
    Forty years ago, Ben Bagdikian warned that concentration of media would have dire effects on its performance because the editorial line was ‘often no different than the party line.’ When major media had multiple owners embracing a range of ‘ideological’ positions, the editorial line assured diversity of opinion, not unlike a multi-party political system. But with concentration of media in large chains, the number of editorial lines dwindled to a handful and the bottom line took priority and funding for investigative journalism dried up, leaving Seymour Hersh as one of the few investigative reporters still working. Greenwald, Taibbi, Hanson, Carlson, et al. are op.ed. journalists and bloggers, not reporters, with Greenwald’s reporting of the information gathered by Snowden a rare exception. The treatment that The Guardian, the New York Times, and the Washington Post meted out to Assange revealed just how timid and comprised their editors were. Perhaps the New York Post would publish Daniel Ellsberg today, but the New York Times would not. When Asssange went to them with his information, its editor consulted the government to ask what he was allowed to published.
    About thirty years ago, the 24/7 news cycle transformed journalism into entertainment, infomercials erased the line between news and adverstising, and former government officials recast the news as propaganda. Graduallly, the line between opinion and reporting disappeared, and the line separating hard news from soft vanished.
    There are excellent critiques of the media by Herman & Chomsky and others, but they have not prevented the decline of journalism. Nor have journalism schools educated their students to replace Murrow and other journalists who considered integrity more important than a good haricut and a nice smile. Pyle & Hemingway earned their chops in the newsroom and on the beat, not in a classroom and on a television set.
    Given all this, it is actually surprising that confidence in the media is as high as forty percent.

    1. Well done! It seems so-called journalists today seek to enhance their personal profile as if they were a celebrity influencer. John Solomon is an investigative journalist that bucks that trend. He does not report what he cannot prove and he uses original source documents that are available on his website. Yes, he’s conservative. Is there a liberal, investigative journalist that reports in a similar manner? If so, that would be a great source to avoid confirmation bias.

    2. Forty years ago, Ben Bagdikian warned that concentration of media would have dire effects on its performance because the editorial line was ‘often no different than the party line.’ When major media had multiple owners embracing a range of ‘ideological’ positions . . . .

      Since the advent of television, that has never been true. Commercial television immediately became an ethnic monopoly with only one position on what mattered: fostering ever increasing pluralism and pathologizing expressions of self-interest by the white majority.

      1. The history of broadcast media, including television, is long and complicated. Television journalists like Chet Huntley were concerned with fairness and objective reporting, e.g., his contribution to a book on ethics, “A Disturbing Arrogance in the Press,” in John C. Merrill and Ralph D. Barney, Ethics and the Press. Readings in Mass Media Morality (New York: Hastings House, 1976).
        ABC, NBC, and CBS had different slants on the news, as did the major print media. If you have the time and are interested in a contemporary view of how two of the three major television stations and the two most widely read news magazines of the 1970s operated, I would recommend Herbert J. Gans, a sociologist who spent months working in their news rooms — Deciding What’s News. A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time (New York: Pantheon, 1979).
        Journalists were just as arrogant as they are today, and beat journalists got into ruts, but both television news (at least on the national level) and print media had ‘expert’ journalists who wrote informed reports on science, foreign affairs, and other subjects, and all reporters were required to check a story against more than one source. Both editors and journalists did their best not to confuse opinion and reporting, and they corrected, and apologized, for their errors. During the 1980s, broadcast news specifically noted when they were editorializing. No longer.
        It was never Nirvana or the Garden of Journalistic Eden, but the news was more trustworthy. Not so much now. Not only is the 1619 piece little more than propaganda, but we had almost four years of lies, innuendo, and nonsense parading as news, even after Mueller stumbled through his testimony to Congress. As for apologies, the currrent apology consists or electronically erasing a falsehood if one is caught out, or just pretending nothing has happened. Paradoxically, while we have many many more news sources today, we have much less trustworthy news. A pity!

  8. TYPES OF BANDWAGON MENTALITY: I think two issues help with analyzing the current rush to journalistic uniformity. The first is the cost benefit nature of becoming woke. We all know that some people join the “crowd” due to perks of peer acceptance such as being accepted by the majority, being cool, having more friends within an institution, and so on. Others may choose political correctness due to the cost of not doing so, perhaps having people screaming in your face, losing your position, tenure and in some cases, violence. Extreme case: When Europeans were faced with the choice between communism and freedom after WWII, the penalty for not jumping on the totalitarian bandwagon if the communists did indeed take over was very high: persecution, imprisonment, possibly even death. It didn’t matter that there were no benefits. The Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, containment theory, economic help to Italy, Greece,Turkey and West Germany all were efforts to have an alternative to such a painful reluctant support for communism. (A few years later a different bandwagon called McCarthyism, developed where people were afraid to not loudly denounce the left wing fearing being labelled a communist and sometimes losing one’s job.)
    The second issue of analysis could be called “levels of belief” in the bandwagon ideology one joins. When one is avoiding personal harm, of course they may join not really believing the ideology. In the case of socialism, perhaps one hates the ideology one has reluctantly joined. But the issue is more complex due to the nature of “coming to believe”. When I was a college student in 1970 I could see that many students initially joined the counterculture, including the love affair with communism, because it was both cool to do so and one was ostracized for not doing so. At that time, I thought that these students were phonies and perhaps they were for a while, but later on in life I realized that they actually came to believe what they had fallen into. There is always trade-offs in every complex issue that supply rationalizations for whatever side is chosen. The student’s primary reason for acceptance of may have been cynical, but without even consciously weighing the pluses and minuses of the issues, just being involved with the hip milieu caused an inertia that enabled the “coming to believe” the politically correct views. I began to consider them stupid but not phony.
    I mention both issues because it seems that I think a huge percentage of those journalists on the woke side really believe what they say even though the bias toward those views may be originating from the either costs or benefits without any necessary conscious awareness of this “falling” into belief.

  9. I recall when the news was actually news. They brought facts into our homes and then we formed opinions from that. Today, by the time the major networks and cable news programs report news, it’s usually time late. It’s not news, but an opinion of the news.

    I’m conservative, so I prefer to watch opinion news shows that align with my opinion. An opinion by the way, that I’ve formed after vetting the news I’m receiving all day, from multiple sources. Nothing beats facts and evidence. And I always try to get my information from the original source.

    So I trust the media as much as I trust politicians. And I never believe what cannot be independently verified.

    1. I be think you recall an era when the media concealed their opinion.
      Case in point, the greatest military ground battle defeat since the battle of the Bulge was the Tet Offensive yet Kronkite spun it and injected his opinion.
      “Investigative journalism “ has been used to advance political agendas for well over 50 years.

    2. “I recall when the news was actually news.”

      Olly, Walter Duranty’s 1931 Pulitzer Prize writing for the NYT. I can almost certainly say that this was before your time. 🙂

        1. As Old Guy points out competition is the key to honesty in the news. Put two liars on opposing platforms and a third will enter the game with some truth. At the time of the Constitution we were an agrarian society. Today it is high tech where there is tremendous consolidation of ideas.

          I don’t know the answer, but I will suggest that consolidation of ownership of newspapers, radio, TV open for purchase of the consolidated product is dangerous. We need a free press that is separate and apart.

          1. We need a free press that is separate and apart.

            What we need are consumers of the news that can tell the difference. I look at what we’ve been put through for the last 4 years and it’s clear that honest, investigative journalism is not a hot commodity. When we have declassified documents that quote FBI agents that fabricated the Russiagate hoax explaining how and why they did it, that doesn’t even dent the consciousness of those that were led to believe it was all legitimate. When reporters can stand in front of a city under siege, with burning buildings as a backdrop, telling their viewers this is a mostly peaceful protest, and the viewers accept that, they know they are in control of what people think. The media industry is a supply and demand business and consumers will be provided what they willfully demand.

            1. “What we need are consumers of the news that can tell the difference.”

              Olly, That is something that will not change so that is not a solution.

              As I mentioned earlier those erudite and polite essays we might read are not read by the general public. The voices they hear are the loudest and ours are soft and polite. People have a tendency to rally against winners, not losers. Fear is a greater mass force than love. The vast majority of people will not read the FBI reports. The left will not only not read them but they will lie about them and we will be too quiet and polite for many of the working folk to hear anything we say.

              “The media industry is a supply and demand business”. Is it really? Who owns the Washington Post? Jeff Bezos. What does he know about journalistic integrity? That is not his interest. His interest is his business. He made $75 Billion dollars extra this year and a lot of those dollars came from shutting down the country and putting small businesses into bankruptcy while placing families into poverty.

              Is that supply and demand for newspapers or is that a reflection of one who owns a newspaper solely to enhance the earnings of his business? Why would he want more immigration? Cheap labor. Caesar Chavez rallied the farm workers to get better conditions and higher pay. Why did Caesar Chavez use violence at the border to prevent Mexicans from entering the country? He wanted the laborer to maintain the income and benefits he had worked to provide. What does the Washington Post have to say? Open borders means cheap labor. The Faux-resident of the WH, Joe Biden, will work for us.

              Today the MSM to a great extent is a reflection of the needs of the billionaire class.

              Politely,

              S.

  10. Hey there, Jon. Lovely screed. And, as is often the case with you, you’re summing up an issue while blatantly ignoring the factors that cause said issue. Case in point here, the complete lack of addressing the increaising consolidation of media around an ever shrinking group of media powers. Hey, just take a look at what your bosses the Murdochs have been able to do with Fox et al.

    This consolidation literally drives the tabloidism that has increasingly driven media competition as the players become fewer and the resulting shrinking diversity of coverage favors a select few who control the market, proving the inherent weaknesses that come with the capital failing at regulating itself that can be seen in any number of markets.

    Good news is the internet has the capacity to democratize the market. Bad news is the internet has proven not at all immune to the type of distribution power plays engaged in by your bosses…, this is an issue that the Republican party has made hay with dating back multiple administrations back to Reagan’s time in office.

    So, good job ignoring ALL of that, Turley.

    Let’s also speak of one area where the boundaries have just been smashed in “conservative” media…, the couching of purely opinion editorial in the guise of being neutral journalism. You personally do it a couple of times a day on your blog here, even in this case doing it while writing a blog post on the very topic.

    Neutral journalism, in many ways in the time of trump, proved incapable of dealing with a character who absolutely didn’t bargain in good faith. Neutral journalism let trump gain access and grant status to a non serious character, and it’s focus on trying to be neutral held it back from actually laughing at trump outright in a way that, say, the late night comedians weren’t bogged down by. Trump, with his working of the tabloids in NY for decades leading up to his election was beyond adept at navigating that loop hole…, and he proved with his hypnotic seeding of his POV that there are still plenty of gullible people willing to swallow whatever nonsense he put out there. Especially when enabled and encouraged by, oh I don’t know…, maybe a legion of lawyers looking to create space for him by using the Constitution to squash the Constitution with divide and conquer, slash and burn strategy.

    I know, I know…, why speak of that when you’ve no doubt covered that in production meetings with the people who pay you for access to subscribers, right Jon? I mean, duh. We’d just be diving into redundancy there.

    So yeah, good insight into the topic! Hell, if bazooka joe was still owning the bubble gum market, he would’ve loved to put your take on the issue on one of his comics. Awesome.

    Elvis Bug

    1. Hell of a rant.

      As usual you blame everybody else as a way of deflecting the truth.

      The fact is that your favorite media figures are partisan and frequently dishonest.

      Means that they are propagandists and not journalists. End of story.

  11. Mark Twain’s quote applies equally well to TV and Cable news.

    “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do, you’re misinformed.” Mark Twain

  12. We just spent 4 years with a President who attacked the press constantly in service to his own purpose of controlling what his followers believed. and it worked. That included the BS election fraud story – he started selling it months before the 1st vote in an effort to establish his excuse for the likely event that he would lose the election – which Turley helped legitimize. Now Turley acts like this is the presses fault, when those remaining major news sources are better than they have ever been and more accessible. If you don’t know what’s going on, that’s your fault, and judging from this blog, many even with college degrees don’t.

    We have become an electorate of infantilism, where many to most have convinced them selves that they are living in the worst of times, everything is someone else’s fault, and we have no control over events. The opposite is true of course when one considers history. Yes, there are more of us and therefore our vote is 1 out of 150 million, not 50 million – poor us! There must be a conspiracy causing our problems and so we must be under the manipulation of dark forces like Kurrt’s billionaires, the NYTs, or Google. Would they if they could? Probably. Wouldn’t you? They have outsized influence for small groups or individual humans, but when was it not so? Do those most suspicious fight efforts to limit money in politics or gullibly believe self serving BS from hucksters on Fox, talk radio, or in the WH? F…k yeah!

    Grow up. Take responsibility for being a citizen. It’s a privilege but also a job. Read more than one news source and if something sounds real one sided, see who else – if anyone is repeating it. In our storied past, newspapers were often just a mouth pieces for the local party machine or business interests. Nothing new, and it requires intelligence to be a good citizen, nit whining self pity.

    1. Attacked the press? How? By exercising his free speech rights? The press openly lied, libeled and excoriated him as was their right.
      Here’s what he did NOT do to “attack” the press:

      He imprisoned no one as was the case under W.

      He did not intercept anyone’s email or telephone conversations as was the case under Obama.

      He did not attempt to decertify an entire network as was the case under Obama.

      He made no enemies list as did Nixon.

      You have right to be ignorant but there is no need to abuse it.

    2. Unfortunately the press was lying about Trump long before he called them Fake News. They seized on the lie that Hillary and the Democrats were pushing about Trump working with the Russians, and the press thus richly deserved his scorn. Had the press been mildly curious, they would have uncovered the fact that Hillary’s camp was the original source of the story. If you actually looked at a range of sources on the inauguration, you would have had to realize that the press did not tell the whole there either, using non-comparable photos that were designed to deceive unwitting and unquestioning people, many of whom were partisan journalists. The press focused on a local crowd size versus the worldwide audience to deflect from a very excellent speech offering a unifying message to the country. Now we are supposed to buy the Biden “unity” message when he supports impeaching Trump and silencing conservative voices to establish the most fascist regime since Woodrow Wilson. He will out do Wilson in unconstitutional Executive orders, and in mental and physical infirmity as well; which of course the press covered up for Wilson as they will for Biden. At least Wilson did not have a criminal pervert for a son that the press wanted to avoid talking about. Yes we do have responsibilities as citizens to dig deeper and find the uncomfortable truths, and realize that two things can be true at the same time. No one bothers to tell you what the other side is leaving out of the story. Instead they use “fact checking” to prove only half the story. The press deserves the distrust of the public. Anonymous sources who cannot be challenged and vetted for bias or truthfulness. Those are just gossip mongers, not whistleblowers. We are at a truly low ebb in journalism.

  13. I’m non partisan and not American.
    Interesting to note. FOX news’s ‘demise’. Untrusted by most, but not the Right wingers. Plain to see their devotion to the known liar ,Trump. So no doubt then that ‘truth’ was disliked by Fox news devotees, ergo: Republicans?

  14. Why no mention of Fox’s incessant lying about the election fraud of 2020? Perhaps that is a reason that Repos have lower trust.

  15. Why don’t you make some suggestions Professor instead of just lamenting the situation? Why don’t you start with the propagandizing network you work for- Fox News? When your network Fox enables Trump’s Big Lie for months, you have a lot of chutzpah to complain about the state of the news media.

    1. You are making his point for him. Free speech allows for misinformation and disinformation.
      Only people who are too feckless and stupid need their news vetted for them.

      1. Ti317, no one is talking about limiting free speech. We are talking about the trustworthiness of the media. When a network lies, viewers lose trust in it. Turley would NEVER become a contributor for Infowars because it freely indulges in conspiracy theories. Fox is not as bad as Infowars, but it is bad enough.

        1. I could give you a list of “conspiracy theories” that Alex Jones was ahead of and which were verified

          human animal chimeras was one, BPH plastics causing hormonal changes in frogs, were two strange and amusing examples

          of course he has had a few cranks on there who were also proven grossly wrong.

          one charlatan and fraud he’s had on far too much is the obvious disinformation agent “Steve Piecenik” or something like that

          anyhow it’s mostly just for entertainment

    1. Im not sure there ever was “true journalism” except in theory. Papers are always owned by somebody and they always have their own editorial agenda.

      Universities are much the same except they conduct their operations under the guise of being non-profits

      Sal Sar

      1. I don’t know your age, but universities are far from the same. Journalists used to report facts that could be backed up by credible sources, documentation, plus photographic and video evidence. They were held liable if they didn’t. Some names of reliable journalists, whether you like them or not are: Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Edward R. Murrow, Ernest Hemingway, Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, David Brinkley, and Ed Bradley. There were also journalists who embedded themselves in Vietnam and Iraq wars. Today there are investigative reporters like Sara Carter, John Solomon, Peter Schweitzer who are reliable and many more that don’t come to mind at the moment.

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