Rodney Dangerfield Gets More Respect Than Journalists
There’s practically nobody left in the United States that still trusts the news media.
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This just in: There’s practically nobody left in the United States that still trusts the news media. And if that’s an exaggeration, it’s not by much.
A new Gallup poll found that, “Americans' confidence in two facets of the news media -- newspapers and television news -- has fallen to all-time low points.”
Only 16 percent of us now say we have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers — and even fewer Americans —11 percent — have that kind of confidence in television news. Of 16 institutions Gallup tracks, only Congress ranks lower than TV news.
If that doesn’t bother journalists there’s a good chance that nothing will.
When I left CBS News, where I was a correspondent for 28 years, I wrote a book called “Bias,” about liberal bias in the news. It came out in 2001. Back then, journalists at least tried to hide their biases. Not anymore. On cable TV news shows, you’d have to be in a coma not to know where the talking heads stand politically — and that’s not only the opinion talking heads. The line separating straight news from opinion used to be a bright one; it’s a lot fuzzier these days — because (and here’s the dirty little secret) … bias is good for business.
Back to the poll: When it comes to partisan breakdowns, more Democrats trust the media than do Republicans. No surprise there. Journalists by and large are liberal — no one would seriously dispute that — so they tend to slant the news in a liberal direction, which pleases Democrats more than it does Republicans. But even Democrats have lost confidence in the media — only 35 percent of them have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers, according to Gallup, and only 20 percent have confidence in television news.
Rodney Dangerfield got more respect.
But there’s something we too often leave out of the discussion of bias in the news — and that’s the bias of the news consumer.
People complain about bias, but a lot of them actually want biased news, no matter what they say. What they’re really against is the other side’s bias. People who watch Fox News typically have no problem with conservative bias, which they don’t even see as bias — and people who watch the liberal channels such as CNN or MSNBC, or read liberal newspapers, don’t complain about liberal bias, which they often see as reasonable, moderate, down-the-middle news.
And there’s even research that concluded that the more partisan the news consumer, the more likely he is to believe the news he’s getting is biased.
In a 2018 piece, the New York Times reported that, “The bias consumers bring with them distorts their rating of news content, new research shows, and those who are most distrustful of the news media tend to be the most biased readers. … Not surprisingly, those with more extreme political views tend to provide more biased ratings of news.”
The study by Gallup and the Knight Foundation also found that people identifying with the Republican Party were more likely to see bias in a story published in the New York Times — when they knew the source of the story. But when they didn’t know the source, they found the news less biased. “Similarly, those identifying with the Democratic Party who read media perceived as right-leaning like Fox News rated it [less biased] when they did not know the source,” the Times reported.
So if you’re a liberal, you think just about everything on Fox News is biased; and if you’re a conservative you think just about everything on CNN, MSNBC and the New York Times is biased. And if that doesn’t bring you down, you’re not paying close enough attention.
Here’s the bottom line from Gallup: “Multiple Gallup measures of Americans' views of the news media show a growing distrust. Last fall, Gallup found near record low trust in the media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly, and few Americans rated newspapers and television reporters as highly ethical in Gallup's annual honesty and ethics of professions poll in December. Although trust in the media in the U.S. has been scarce for many years, confidence ratings for newspapers and TV news have never been as low as they are now. Taken together, these data suggest that the media has a long way to go to win back the public's confidence.”
Good luck with that. If history is any guide, journalists won’t care what the public thinks of them. There are more guys working the overnight shift at 7-Eleven selling cigarettes and beef jerky to insomniacs who have more introspection than a lot of journalists, who reflexively circle the wagons when they hear the word “bias.”
We all know that a democratic country like ours needs a free press to survive. Russia may not need the kind of journalism that garners the confidence of its people. China may not. But we do. And for the long run, it’s not only a free press that we need to survive. We also need a fair press, news the public trusts.
That’s something else, I suspect, a lot of elite journalists won’t take seriously.