Public Trust in the News Media is Sinking: What’s Going On?
Texas Insider Report: WASHINGTON, D.C. — “For 40-plus years the public, especially conservatives, have been primed to distrust the mainstream media,” says Rutgers University historian David Greenberg, author of the book ‘Republic of Spin.’ Add to the mix the recent advent of the Internet, especially social media where it’s easy to spread and share these ideas, and it’s not surprising that a substantial portion of the American Electorate subscribes to that view, Greenberg says.
Now supporters of President Trump say a recent poll vindicates Greenberg’s analysis. It’s no longer that big a leap from perceived bias to claims of outright fabrication of news stories.
When a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that nearly half of American voters – 46% – think the news media are fabricating stories about President Trump, alarm bells went off.
For Trump supporters, the Politico/Morning Consult Poll seemed to be vindication. The media have been unfair to Trump, they say, running with any unflattering gossip they can find, or just making stuff up out of whole cloth. People are starting to understand that.
“There are arguments going back to [President Richard] Nixon that the objective media are actually biased in a liberal way, and hostile to Republicans,” says Greenberg.
Public trust in mass media has been sinking for decades, as Gallup polling shows – long before Trump burst onto the political stage. And while many press experts say it’s impossible to draw a direct correlation between Trump’s statements and any growth in distrust, the president is clearly taking advantage of this fertile ground.
Voters have long been prepared to believe the worst about news outlets, and President Trump is using it to call the media’s bluff.
For Trump, the “Fake News” charge is often the default reaction to media reports he doesn’t like, particularly those that portray the White House — or even Trump personally — in an unflattering way.
But the reality is, Trump seems to love reporters as much as he hates them.
The media, after all, fueled his rise to the presidency, covering one eye-popping Trump event after another during the campaign, and leaving the other candidates starving for oxygen. Now as president, Trump is treated to round-the-clock coverage, chronicling his every public performance and giving him a ready platform for attention.
In fact, Trump seeks out the company of reporters more than many of his predecessors. When traveling on Air Force One, he comes to the back of the plane to schmooze with the small traveling press corps on about every third trip, say reporters who travel with him regularly. That is far more than President Obama ever did.
Trump also, of late, has held impromptu press conferences that are unprecedented in the modern era. With little advance warning, Trump recently took to the Rose Garden to answer questions for 45 minutes. He’s often stopped for 15 minutes on the South Lawn before boarding the presidential helicopter and fielded questions from reporters.
When asked if he should be more civil, he came back with an extraordinary answer that spoke to his grievances with media coverage – but also revealed much about his self-image.
“Well, I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am,” Trump said.
“You know, people don’t understand – I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person.
“You know, the fact is, I think, I really believe, I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.”
Then there’s Trump’s free-wheeling way of expressing himself.
“One of the problems with Trump is, if one wanted to correct everything that he said that was misleading, there would be no time to cover the news,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and co-founder of Factcheck.org.
That leads Trump supporters to complain that journalists spend all their time attacking Trump, instead of reporting his accomplishments.
“That critique actually has some legitimacy,” says Ms. Jamieson.
Low unemployment, a booming stock market, sweeping deregulation across many government agencies, and the seating of a conservative justice on the Supreme Court are all part of the Trump record that the president and his supporters feel are getting short shrift in the media.
Jamieson advises that the media refine how it fact-checks Trump. Don’t restate the false information in the process of trying to correct it, she says, because that actually reinforces the incorrect information. And it’s best to avoid repeating the phrase “fake news.”
“Call it viral deception,” says Jamieson. “ ‘Fake news’ means anything Donald Trump doesn’t like. You don’t want to delegitimize the word ‘news’ by calling it ‘fake.’ ”
Whom Do You Trust?
A June poll by Gallup found that American’s confidence in newspapers is still low but rising. The same poll found that confidence in TV news is also up – albeit from a record low of 18% three years ago.
A Quinnipiac poll released Oct. 12 also had some good news for the media, along with some bad:
- While American voters disapprove, 60% to 35%, of the way the media cover Trump,
- They also disapprove 59% to 39% of the way Trump talks about the media.
Ultimately, for many voters, Trump’s cries of “Fake News” have become such a constant refrain that a lot of Americans are just tuning them out, says Karlyn Bowman, an expert on public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute.
“People have made up their minds about Trump, about the media, about so many things,” Ms. Bowman says. “Washington just seems like a sideshow to most people.”
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Source: Texas Politics