I will be speaking today in Colorado on the “Rise and Fall of the American Fourth Estate.” The speech explores the legal and political history of the free press in our democracy — and its rapid decline in the age of advocacy journalism. This week, a poll was released that shows just how much ground has been lost by this generation of journalists. Gallup and the Knight Foundation found that 50% of Americans believe that the news media lies in order to promote an agenda. Only 25% of Americans reject that premise.
The view of bias and untrustworthiness increased across the political spectrum, including among Democrats who usually favor the media given the liberal bent of the coverage.
It is also striking that the media is losing young viewers and readers with its current approach to journalism.
I have written for newspapers as a columnist for over 40 years and I have worked as a legal analyst for NBC, CBS, BBC, and Fox for over 20 years. I have watched the industry change each year as open advocacy moves from opinion pages to news reporting.
This latest poll is consistent with other polls showing that people are rejecting mainstream media in growing numbers. In 2021, a survey by the global communications firm Edelman (via Axios) found only 46 percent of Americans trust traditional media. That mirrors earlier polls by Gallup showing an even lower level of trust. Now this poll shows overwhelming distrust in the media.
I wrote a column a couple years ago asking how the media expects to survive while rejecting half of the country with overwhelmingly liberal coverage. Most news outlets seem to have written off conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans.
We have often discussed the increasing bias and advocacy in major media in the United States. While cable networks have long catered to political audiences on the left or right, mainstream newspapers and networks now openly frame news to fit a political narrative. With the exception of Fox and a couple of other smaller news outlets, that slant is heavily to the left. What is most striking about this universal shift toward advocacy journalism (including at journalism schools) is that there is no evidence that it is a sustainable approach for the media as an industry. While outfits like NPR allow reporters to actually participate in protests and the New York Times sheds conservative opinions, the new poll shows a sharp and worrisome division in trust in the media. Not surprisingly given the heavy slant of American media, Democrats are largely happy with and trusting of the media. Conversely, Republicans and independents are not. The question is whether the mainstream media can survive and flourish by writing off over half of the country.
A 2021 study from the non-partisan Pew Research Center showed a massive decline in trust among Republicans. Five years ago, 70 percent of Republicans said they had at least some trust in national news organizations. In 2021, that trust was down to just 35 percent. Conversely, and not surprisingly, 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents saying they have “a lot” or “some” trust in the media. When you just ask liberal Democrats, it jumps to 83 percent.
This latest poll shows that the problem is only getting more acute for the media. Yet, publishers and editors are still pandering to the mob in calling for more advocacy and less objectivity. For individual media figures, these woke policies protect them personally from backlash or criticism even as they undermine their respective publications or media outlets.
For example, we recently discussed the release of the results of interviews with over 75 media leaders by former executive editor for The Washington Post Leonard Downie Jr. and former CBS News President Andrew Heyward. They concluded that objectivity is now considered reactionary and even harmful. Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, editor-in-chief at the San Francisco Chronicle said it plainly: “Objectivity has got to go.”
Saying that “Objectivity has got to go” is, of course, liberating. You can dispense with the necessities of neutrality and balance. You can cater to your “base” like columnists and opinion writers. Sharing the opposing view is now dismissed as “bothsidesism.” Done. No need to give credence to opposing views. It is a familiar reality for those of us in higher education, which has been increasingly intolerant of opposing or dissenting views.
Downie recounts how news leaders today
“believe that pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading “bothsidesism” in covering stories about race, the treatment of women, LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality, climate change and many other subjects. And, in today’s diversifying newsrooms, they feel it negates many of their own identities, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.”
There was a time when all journalists shared a common “identity” as professionals who were able to separate their own bias and values from the reporting of the news.
Now, objectivity is virtually synonymous with prejudice. Kathleen Carroll, former executive editor at the Associated Press declared “It’s objective by whose standard? … That standard seems to be White, educated, and fairly wealthy.”
This move away from objectivity has gained steam even as Bob Woodward and others have finally admitted that the Russian collusion coverage lacked objectivity and resulted in false reporting. Yet, media figures are pushing even harder against objectivity as a core value in journalism.
This movement has been building for years.
In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Stanford journalism professor, Ted Glasser, insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He rejected the notion that journalism is based on objectivity and said that he views “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about morality.” Thus, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.”
Lauren Wolfe, the fired freelance editor for the New York Times, has not only gone public to defend her pro-Biden tweet but published a piece titled “I’m a Biased Journalist and I’m Okay With That.”
Former New York Times writer (and now Howard University Journalism Professor) Nikole Hannah-Jones is a leading voice for advocacy journalism.
Indeed, Hannah-Jones has declared “all journalism is activism.” Her 1619 Project has been challenged as deeply flawed and she has a long record as a journalist of intolerance, controversial positions on rioting, and fostering conspiracy theories. Hannah-Jones would later help lead the effort at the Times to get rid of an editor and apologize for publishing a column from Sen. Tom Cotton as inaccurate and inflammatory.
Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor Jennifer Rubin has also called for the media to abandon balance and impartiality. Rubin has become notorious due to her screeds against Republicans and even calling for the Republican Party to be burned to the ground. I have previously written about how her work has lacked not just of objectivity but accuracy.
All of these voices show a complete disconnect from readers and viewers who do not want advocacy journalism and no longer trust what they are reading in the media. Yet, these calls remain personally popular for writers and editors alike. It is reminiscent of how executives at companies like Disney have pursued woke policies to the detriment of their shareholders and the alienation of many of their customers. The same is true for the push for censorship on social media despite the clear preference of users for more free speech and fewer speech controls.
That is why the latest poll is unlikely to deter the movement of “new journalism” in abandoning objectivity and impartiality. As Downie explained “objectivity” is
“keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.” So they will do their job even when viewers and readers no longer are interested in their work. Perhaps the new media can find a way to exist not only without conservatives but customers in general. That type of vanity press will require increasing subsidies from billionaires like Jeff Bezos, but they may balk at a media that is increasing writing for itself.
240 thoughts on “Gallup: Fifty Percent of Americans Believe Media Lies to Promote Agenda”
It is more pernicious than just bias. The left wants to supress and criminalize opposing opinions in the name of disinformation and is enlisting federal law agencies and big tech to do this very much like in George Orwells 1984. Only their views are acceptable. The First amendments standing is in question.
If you want to know who the idiots are, easy, its the fools still wearing masks!
Yes! When those morons wake up one morning and find out they have to get the feds approval to piss. Maybe they’ll relize they’ve been duked!
Mr. Turley, perhaps we should stop using the terms “mainstream media”, “advocacy journalists”, and “legacy media”. These posers are neither mainstream, legacy, or even journalists. The best and most descriptive new terms I have been using are “junk journalism” and “junk journalists”, clearly analogous to junk science publications I see as a doctor. Neither are worth time or deserve credibility. You are free to use these terms.
For 8 years I have suspected the MSM is deliberately self destructing. The plan is to drive broadcast new, which is written for everyone, out of existence, driving us online where our social scores will determine what news we can receive. In other words, the MSM is destroying themselves. We can already see the monthly payroll decreasing at CNN and MSNBC as they shed large salaries. I just wonder if the rest of the MSM know this is their fate?
well, isn’t that special. if that’s how you feel, then you make me feel that you deserve to be nuked, so you are only making matters worse for yourselves. if you’re going to talk to me like that, then i have contempt for you, and it would feel me with glee to see your charred body after a nuclear war. just because you would rather not experience a nuclear war does not mean you don’t deserve to,
We have no real media. We have a corporate-supported and supporting propaganda machine that will continue to do whatever it pleases as long as sufficient levels of ad revenue continue to pour in. Nothing more, nothing less.
Some things just have to be learned the hard way. Apparently this is one of them. News and Media outlets will go out of business one after another. The Left cannot exist without the Right. And the inverse is also true. Ignore one over the other at your peril. This is true in the Media as it is in real life. Simply look at the liberal paradises of Chicago, NY, LA, San Fran.