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BREAKING NEWS: People Don't Trust the Media

Updated on September 26, 2016

The Cable News Network, the American Broadcasting Company, the National Broadcasting Company, Fox Network, Columbia Broadcasting System, the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today; the list goes on. For decades the American people turned to major news networks like these to learn what was happening and stay informed of the world we live in. But with the rise of the internet, and the continuing division of the nation, the trust Americans have in major media has fallen. This trend represents the struggle that media outlets face, and how little they have adapted to changing consumer tastes.

Primetime Cable News Viewership by Network

Mainstream or Lamestream?

What exactly does the phrase "the media" refer to? The most widely accepted definition of "the media" is the collective communication outlets that a majority of peoples utilize for the deliverance of news and information. With this definition, it could be argued that everything from Google News to Twitter to your local NBC affiliate is "the media."

The media retained its highest level of public trust in 1976, when 76% of the American people believed news sources were impartial. This number gradually dropped until it stabilized at around 50%. Around 2003, the nation began questioning the bias of major media outlets, and this "media approval rating" began to tumble.

But the confidence the American people have in major institutions has fallen across the board. A majority of Americans now also distrust church, healthcare, the Supreme Court, the justice system, and the list goes on. But trust in the media falls near the bottom of this list, with big business and the US Congress being the only organizations trusted less.

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Confidence Lost

In examining why the majority of Americans have little trust in the media, Gallup, the research institute that publish's these statistics, found that it's not a uniform decline when you examine demographics. The largest disparity in trust is between Republicans and Democrats, with less than a quarter of GOPers now believing in the mainstream media, compared to a little over half of Democrats. Independent voters are more in line with Republicans, with just 30% "approving" of the mainstream media.

Last year, according to Gallup, fifty five percent of Democrats approved of the media, while sixty percent of Democrats trusted the media in 2013. The most recent information shows that Democratic voters have only lost a small amount of trust in the media over the past several years. Meanwhile, only 33% of Republicans trusted the media in 2013, with a nominal 14% trusting the media today. This decline among the right wing can be specifically attributed to the election, as Republicans generally believe Hillary Clinton has been given a 'free pass' in the media, whereas Trump has had far more criticism.

But this loss of confidence goes beyond political alignments. Age plays a major factor in this decline in media approval, with younger Americans having less trust than their senior peers. The most recent information shows that just 26% of people under 49 trust what major media has to say, whereas 38% of people 50 and older believe the media. Both statistics however, demonstrate how little people of all ages trust media outlets.

MSNBC Reporter Caught Lying

The Evolution of the News Desk

But trying to determine why America distrusts the media is far more difficult than simply identifying who distrusts the media. A laundry list of reasons exist as to why major media fails to maintain trust in the public including bias, and the influence of new-era internet sources such as the Huffington Post. A 2014 study by Pew Research found that the great majority of Americans, whether left or right leaning, get most of their news from local TV stations. Meanwhile, Facebook dominates the web as the primary online news source.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that Americans were most trusting of British media sources such as BBC, followed by non-profit organizations like PBS and NPR. The only for-profit news outlet that is trusted consistently across the board is the Wall Street Journal, with both hard line conservatives and far-left liberals believing the organization to be more trustworthy than untrustworthy.

At the bottom of the barrel sits BuzzFeed News, who everyone across the spectrum agreed was simply unreliable. Right-leaning news pundits including Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh maintained trust only with conservatives, as Liberals and Independents found these types of outlets to be less reliable.

What may come as a surprise is the major differentiation between Liberals and Conservatives, as the former use a mix of news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC to get their current events, while almost a majority of Conservatives use Fox News. This may be correlative of the lower level of trust Republicans have in major media, as they will typically only trust a very short list of sources, with Fox being at the top of this list.

Restoring Trust

If we continue at this numbers, it's very possible we will soon see less than a third of all American's distrusting the media. This is a disturbing trend as the major media is meant to serve as a public informant; a tool to keep people up to date on the happenings around them. But in 2016, the public simply doesn't see the media as such an informant. They believe the media to be dishonest, and inject bias into nearly everything they touch.

But restoring trust must be a two way street. American's must be able to understand the bias of media, and be able to separate fact from fiction on their own. The viewer, the consumer, can no longer expect 100% unpolluted news. All media is biased, to an extent, in one way or another. On the other hand, the media must make a conscious and sustained effort to present the news in the most unbiased manor possible. If they don't, particularly the large and established outlets, will face a decline in intake, viewership, and ultimately revenue. We we're given the Freedom of the Press by our founding fathers, and it seems we're letting that right be pushed to the wayside.


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