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FLASHBACK: Media’s Crisis of Credibility Got Even Worse in 2023

by | Jan 3, 2024

By Rich Noyes

It’s hardly a secret that large swaths of the public have soured on the news media as reliable communicators of factual information. Big news organizations know this, of course, but whatever their doing to try and fix the situation, it isn’t working. A series of new polls released in 2023 showed the public’s distrust of the media elite has gotten worse, not better:

■ The Media Aren’t Biased by Accident: A February report found that half of the public thinks the news media intentionally skew their coverage in order to “persuade the public to adopt a particular point of view through their reporting.”

The survey, conducted by Gallup for the Knight Foundation, was summarized by Associated Press media writer David Bauder:

Asked whether they agreed with the statement that national news organizations do not intend to mislead, 50% said they disagreed. Only 25% agreed, the study found.

Similarly, 52% disagreed with a statement that disseminators of national news “care about the best interests of their readers, viewers and listeners,” the study found. It said 23% of respondents believed the journalists were acting in the public’s best interests.

“That was pretty striking for us,” said Sarah Fioroni, a consultant for Gallup. The findings showed a depth of distrust and bad feeling that go beyond the foundations and processes of journalism, she said.

■ The Media Are Dividing Us: A poll released May 1 found three-fourths of the public blames the media for the country’s increased political polarization. The poll, conducted by AP/NORC was summarized by the AP’s David Klepper in a May 1 report:

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults say the news media is increasing political polarization in this country, and just under half say they have little to no trust in the media’s ability to report the news fairly and accurately, according to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

Republicans view the news media less favorably than Democrats, with 61% of Republicans saying the news media is hurting democracy, compared with 23% of Democrats and 36% of independents who don’t lean toward either party. Majorities across party lines say the news media fuels political division, but Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say that’s happening a lot.

■ The Public Wishes for Unbiased News: Two weeks later, a HarrisX poll for The Messenger found 80 percent of the public desired “a new news medium dedicated to even-handed treatment of issues without political bias.” Executive Editor Tim Graham zeroed in on the key findings from the poll for a May 15 NewsBusters’ post. From The Messenger:

Two in three voters in the poll, conducted by HarrisX, agreed that journalists mostly practice advocacy rather than unbiased journalism, including 77 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats….

A full half of respondents said that media coverage of Democrats was biased in their favor, whereas only 27 percent said the same of Republicans….

19 percent of Republican respondents said that coverage of the GOP was fair, and 69 percent said that coverage of the GOP was biased against the party….

63 percent of voters said that Biden is getting “easy” questions from the media, while 42 percent said the same of the media’s treatment of Trump.

■ The Media Rank at the Bottom of American Institutions: In July, Gallup once again found that, among American institutions, newspapers and television news rank near the bottom in terms of public confidence.

“The five worst-rated institutions — newspapers, the criminal justice system, television news, big business and Congress — stir confidence in less than 20% of Americans, with Congress, at 8%, the only one in single digits,” Gallup’s Lydia Said explained.

According to the poll, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to express confidence in newspapers, although both parties gave low marks to television news. Gallup found 29% of Democrats said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers, vs. just seven percent of Republicans. For TV news, just 16% of Democrats expressed confidence, vs. a meager eight percent of Republicans.

■ Record High “No Confidence” Ratings: In October, as NewsBusters reported at the time, Gallup recorded the lowest ratings ever for the news media, with only 32% of the public saying they had “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the media, vs. a record high 39% saying they had no confidence at all. As Gallup’s Megan Brenan summarized:

This nearly four in 10 Americans who completely lack confidence in the media is the highest on record by one percentage point. It is 12 points higher than the 2016 reading, which came amid sharp criticism of the media from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump — making the current assessment of the media the grimmest in Gallup’s history.

Democrats’ confidence in the mass media has consistently outpaced Republicans’, but the latest gap of 47 points is the narrowest since 2016. Democrats’ trust in the media has fallen 12 points over the past year, to 58%, and compares with 11% among Republicans and 29% among independents.

■ Media Bias Is Getting Worse, Not Better: Earlier this month, the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard reported on a new Rasmussen survey that found “60% of likely voters believe media bias has gotten worse, up 6 points from the last time Rasmussen asked. Just 6% said bias is getting better, and 30% said it was about the same as in March when the pollster asked about it.”

Bedard also conveyed these important findings:

Asked to rate the media’s coverage of the Biden administration, 65% of likely voters said it is fair to poor. Less than half, 30%, said good to excellent.

When asked if the media have provided too much, not enough, or just the right amount of coverage of Hunter Biden’s scandals, 51% said not enough, 24% said too much, and 19% said just the right amount.

This collapse in public confidence happened as the media took it upon themselves to become more aggressive participants in American politics. If the idea was that journalists would tip the scales in favor of whatever side they endorsed (or against the side they criticized), the result is that the media have only sowed further division and severely damaged their own credibility by joining the partisan fray.

Just in time for the 2024 campaign.

Categories: Media Bias