Rebel journalist Sharyl Attkisson engaged pollster Scott Rasmussen to measure public attitudes about the political news media. His results, which he discussed on her show, “Full Measure”:
- 78% of voters say that journalists use their media platforms to promote their own agendas.
- 14% think that journalists fairly report what the news.
- Focusing only on national news reporters, 57% of those polled said reporters slant their output to advance their own political agendas,
- Only 26% of those polled believe that national reporters restrict themselves to the facts.
- 52% believe the problem has become worse compared to five years ago.
- 42% of Americans believe national political news coverage is inaccurate and unreliable, while less— 38%—believe it’s accurate and reliable.
- 36% of voters believe that a journalist would fairly report facts that would hurt their favorite candidate.
- The specific numbers in the poll results can be challenged, for many reasons. If journalists are untrustworthy and biased, pollsters are more so. Rasmussen has the reputation as being a conservative-leaning pollster. Polls in general have been discredited, after the results of the 2016 election.
Furthermore, polls like this one mix apples and kumquats to reach a misleading conclusion. Conservatives many trust Fox News journalists, but fall into the 78% that believe that journalists are generally biased and slant the news for their own purposes. Progressives may be thinking of Fox News when they vote with the 78%.
- Unfortunately, this gives journalists an opening to shrug off the general and undeniable message of the results, which is that the public no longer trusts journalists to be fair and ethical, as it once did to an overwhelming extent. The implication of that message is that the United States and its unique democratic system are now without what the Founders regarded as an essential bulwark of freedom: a trustworthy, competent, independent press.
This is a calamity, but journalists refuse to recognize it for what it is. They have stubbornly refused to acknowledge their profession’s drift from independence to partisan advocacy. They have settled on the cover story, which many or even most of them may believe, that it isn’t their abdication of journalism ethics that has reduced public trust, but the relentless attacks of those who their diligent reporting has threatened and exposed. It is a comforting delusion, and a tragic one, because it prevents the profession from changing course before it has so damaged its credibility that recovery is impossible.
- In particular, the mainstream news media is committed to the narrative that its plight is entirely the result of concerted efforts by President Trump to discredit the news media for his own purposes. The President would not have been successful in his framing of current reporting as “fake news” if journalists had not allowed their craft to be swallowed and dominated by “fake news” techniques that are obvious to anyone paying attention.
These include using anonymous sources to justify stories based on speculation and rumors rather than hard facts; publicizing half-truths and stories omitting or burying crucial details that undermined the intended “narrative;” headlines that “poison the well” by spinning the facts of a story in a desired direction even before it is read;” the use of cherry-picked experts and academics for quotes to support a reporter’s opinion, avoiding balance rather than seeking it; “future news,” in which a theoretical occurrence that has not happened and may never happen is used to attack a political figure and to raise public anxiety; the misuse and misrepresentation of statistics; slanted tone, in which the words used to describe an event subtly or blatantly characterize it, the repeated assertion of “Big Lies” as established facts, and more.
- If we do not have a trustworthy news media, it is best that we know it. In that regard, the poll is good news. As we head into a crucial election, the mainstream news media, as well as social media platforms and the big tech companies, are openly preparing to use their power and influence to decide America’s political direction. Their influence would be far greater if they were still operating under the naive assumptions of 50 years ago, when the vast majority of the public believed that journalists were fair, ethical, and reported facts. Now we know they lie, manipulate facts, bury stories, and bolster their favorites while sabotaging those they oppose.
The fascinating aspect of Rasmussen’s results is that 38% of the public say they trust the national news media. How blind, gullible, unread and ignorant does someone have to be to still say that? The number ought to be near zero. As it is, it gives us a numerical measure of those people Abe Lincoln talked about, who could be fooled all of the time.
- The poll’s results were nicely supported by yesterday’s story about the leaked New York Times staff meeting, in which the Times’ editor announced an intentional framing of the news to come in order to convey the message that the Trump Administration, and by extension those who supported it, was motivated by racism.
I don’t understand how anyone of any political persuasion could read that transcript and avoid concluding that the New York Times has abandoned basic fairness and journalism ethics. I don’t understand how serious journalists, of any political preference, could read that transcript and not treat it as ice water in the face. The entire profession is in crisis, losing its soul, its purpose, its mission, its influence and its power, and that threatens the stability and viability of the United States.
The poll is just one more piece of evidence that proves a thesis that should need no more proof. The fact that the bias and narcissism of journalists prevent them from seeing this and acting on it suggests just how incompetent they are.