At least we beat out Congress
SO YOU thought you’d have a break from poll-watching for a few months? No such luck. This isn’t a presidential election year, though, so the pollsters decided to focus their questions this past month away from the Biden-Trump-Pelosi-et al. whirlwind. But the results of the last couple of polls, we must say, may be more important in the long run than any ephemeral political question. America, we have a problem. Gallup and the Reuters Institute have recently released polling about the media. The polls suggest—actually, they scream—that the citizenry in this country doesn’t trust the media. The lack of trust is consistent. Overwhelming. Dangerous.
This month, 21 percent of those answering Gallup questions said they had a lot of confidence in newspapers. Only 16 percent say the same thing of TV news. Congress comes in at 12 percent. (It’s been a long time since American revolutionaries took to the streets of Boston yelling before the redcoats: “God Save Congress!”)
The annual report from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism was even worse. The researchers at Oxford surveyed 92,000 people across the globe, including some 46 countries. The pollsters asked about many things, including national media in those countries.
Finland citizens were confident enough. They lead the world in trust in their media with 65 percent. The lastplace finisher worldwide was none other than the United States of America. Only 29 percent of “news consumers” in this country said they trusted the media. Finishing last means the U.S.A. trailed countries like Turkey, Colombia and Peru.
A few journalists, in a few stories we read, tried to explain it away, saying there was an overwhelming political divide in the United States. Therefore, nobody around here trusts anybody about anything. That might have something to do with it.
But why not put the blame where it’s deserved? How about starting with the media?
It gets more and more difficult to turn on national cable shows anymore. And it can be enraging to pick up a national newspaper. Even many local newspapers (the ones owned by national chains) repeat the stories the home offices send to them. And it appears that the best opinion in some of these newspapers can be found in their news columns, instead of their opinion columns.
For the cable networks, it’s a good business model. Actually, it’s an excellent business model. They’re making money hand over fist, finding stories guaranteed to outrage, even if the story is hyper-local and might affect six people on the other side of the continent. Fox News excels at this. The problem comes when an actual news story is centerstage, and the network must be taken seriously. Same can be said for CNN. Great business models don’t necesssarily translate into trust in the news.
Could it be that the media deserves all this distrust? For the answer, see the media.
IT SEEMS the best way to correct this ongoing problem is to change the way the media—TV, cable, newspapers, radio, Internet, some combo of the mix— handles its business. The news stories should present the news. Just the facts, ma’am. (“Credibility is the greatest asset of any news medium, and impartiality is the greatest source of credibility.”)
And instead of framing news stories to fit the opinion of the person providing them, the media rep at the time should present the news, and let the reader/ watcher/consumer make up his-or-her own mind. (“To provide the most complete report, a news organization must not just cover the news, but uncover it. It must follow the story wherever it leads, regardless of any preconceived ideas on what might be most newsworthy.”)
And heaven knows we’re not opposed to good opinion writing. But opinion should be labeled as such, and separate from the news. (“When a newspaper delivers both news and opinions, the impartiality and credibility of the news organization can be questioned. To minimize this as much as possible there needs to be a sharp and clear distinction between news and opinion, both to those providing and consuming news.”)
All of the quotes immediately above can be found in this newspaper’s Statement of Core Values on page 2A every day. That is, we try.
Until the media tries to present a fair picture to the American people, it is going to have a confidence problem. And on those occasions when the news demands the media be trusted (pandemics, terrorism attacks, national security concerns) this will prove an exceptional problem. Not just for the media, but for the country.