Americans Don’t Trust the Media

Arnold Ahlert is a former NY Post op-ed columnist currently contributing to JewishWorldReview.com, HumanEvents.com and CanadaFreePress.com. He may be reached at atahlert@comcast.net.


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In a thoroughly unsurprising revelation, a Gallup Poll released on Friday shows that 60 percent of the American public has “little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” Gallup further notes that the 20-point gap between negative and positive views represents an all-time high. And while Americans tend to pay more attention to the news during a presidential election year, only 39 percent are following the news closely this year, compared to 43 percent in 2008.

According to Gallup, most of the decline is driven by Republicans and Independents. Only 26 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of Independents express either a great deal, or fair amount of trust in the Fourth Estate. Both number represent record lows and a significant drop from last year. Independents are also far more negative this year than in 2008, implying they are very dissatisfied in their ability to get accurate and unbiased coverage of the election campaign. Overall, Democrats remain most trusting of the media and Republicans the least. Media trust by Independents fell below 50 percent in 2004, and has declined steadily ever since.

The key number here is the one reached by taking the opposite figure of those paying close attention to the news. If only 39 percent of the public is paying close attention, that means more than three-out-of-five Americans remain largely unaware of what is going on around them. As for mainstream media bias, the numbers are not even close. For the 60 percent of Americans who perceive media bias, 47 percent of them say the media are too liberal, while only 13 percent say they are too conservative.

Who’s right? No doubt the fallback position for many Americans, especially those who work in media, would be that bias is in the eye of the beholder. Certainly that is true to some extent. Americans’ experience with media is anecdotal by nature. No one watches every news show, reads every newspaper, or listens to every radio broadcast disseminated on a daily basis throughout the nation. Furthermore, there is something called the “selective exposure theory,” which is the idea that people tend to interact with media sources that reinforce their pre-existing views, and avoid those that conflict with, or challenge, those views.

Yet a 2005 study conducted by Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist, and co-author Jeffrey Milyo, a University of Missouri economist and public policy scholar, reveals that while coverage by public television and radio is conservative, compared to the rest of the mainstream media, almost all major media outlets tilt to the left. “I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican,” said Groseclose. “But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are.” Milyo was equally adamant. “Overall, the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left,” he said.

The authors used 21 research assistants to examine 10 years of U.S. media coverage. They kept close track of the number of times each media entity referred to various think tanks and/or policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP, or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center. CBS’s “Evening News,” The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranked the second, third and fourth most liberal media sources, respectively. Number one was the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.  The only two sources on the right side of the equation were Fox Newss “Special Report With Brit Hume,” and The Washington Times. The most centrist outlets were “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” CNN‘s “NewsNight With Aaron Brown” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The study focused on news, omitting op-eds and editorials from the equation — which is why The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is decidedly  conservative, got the top slot on the left side of the equation, the authors explain.

Another study conducted in 2010 by University of Chicago economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro looked at the different language used by Democrats and Republicans in Congress to describe various issues as a means of determining which way newspapers lean, and why. They concluded that “consumer demand responds strongly to the fit between a newspaper’s slant and the ideology of potential readers, implying an economic incentive for newspapers to tailor their slant to the ideological predispositions of consumers.” That would seem to support a mutually-reinforced selective exposure theory. Yet unlike Groseclose and Milyo, they came to no conclusions regarding an overall slant of newspaper coverage.

Neither did David D’Alessio, a communications sciences professor at the University of Connecticut at Stamford, who reviewed 99 studies of campaign news coverage over 60 years. He wrote a book, “Media Bias in Presidential Election Coverage 1948-2008: Evaluation via Formal Measurement,” in which he concludes that news reporting is evenly split “because that’s where the people are, and that’s where the [advertising] money is…There’s nuance there, but when you add it all and subtract it down, you end up with nothing.”

Nothing is an interesting word. Or more accurately “omission.” How does one quantify the stories the major media deliberately choose not to run at all? For example, as outlined in a previous column, in order to maintain the fiction that Republicans are a “racist” political party, MSNBC chose to omit from its coverage all the speeches made by minorities at the Republican convention. CBS News spiked a story about its own reporter Lara Logan being sexually assaulted by a mob of Egyptian men in Tahrir Square, because it would have interfered with the “Arab Spring” narrative that the Obama administration desperately wanted to be true. As for the president himself, the same media that more than willing to dug up a 47-year-old story about Republican Mitt Romney cutting a prep school classmate’s hair (implying Romney targeted the classmate because he was supposedly suspected to be gay), remains almost pathologically incurious regarding a president whose past remains a vague, even after nearly four years in office.

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  • Schlomotion

    It's patently clear that Mr. Ahlert is just generating for the readers the belief that they have a need so that later his Frontpage comrades can come to the rescue with the alleged cure: a news organization you can trust. It's an advertising setup. How is the reader supposed to trust a bean counter if he cannot tell different types of beans apart and comes up with corn in the end anyway? Example:

    "If only 39 percent of the public is paying close attention, that means more than three-out-of-five Americans remain largely unaware of what is going on around them."

    Mr. Ahlert wrongly concludes that only 39% of Americans are paying close attention to current events because they don't trust the news. Where is his metric to leap to that conclusion? Most likely, they are like most people who aren't glued to the television but still have a pretty good idea about all the corruption and lying in our government and by media companies. They just aren't taking a front row seat and willfully consuming the lies right off the generator. Most importantly though, Mr. Ahlert is doing advertiser's terrorism, trying to "inform" the reader that most Americans are now ignorant leftists who don't watch their required amount of Ingsoc on TV and must therefore turn to Frontpage if they know what's good for them.

    • Omar

      Schlomotion, I don't get your logic at all. Most of the media outlets mislead the people about the news at times. Yes, there is corruption in this country, but it is generally at the hands of leftist media organizations like Media Matters and MSNBC. Front Page Magazine (FPM) is a trustworthy news website. FPM reports accurate news to the people. That's a fact.

    • PhillipGaley

      A long time back, I slowed way down on watching, listening to, and considering the offerings of Lame Street Media; and, I didn't read all of this article, as I do concur with most of it. However, I do get quite a laugh out of the title: "Americans Don’t Trust the Media", . . . that's quite suggestive of various comical moments, . . . but then to return, may G0D Bless America, . . .

  • Mike

    The liberal news anchors have destroyed the trust of the american people. David Gregory, George Stepo,Ed Shultz, Erin Burnett and a host of others have done alot to discredit the media. All because of their own liberal greed. What a shame!! The movie "2016" is a must watch.

    • Omar

      Don't forget Al Sharpton. The race-baiter who incited two anti-Semitic altercations in New York City was hired to be an anchorman at MSNBC last year. MSNBC and other left-wing media outlets and networks have lost all credibility.

  • Omar

    So-called "liberals" aren't liberal at all. They are leftists. Modern conservatives are the true classical liberals. We all know that the American media has a left-wing bias. MSNBC's bigoted attitude towards the GOP convention is one of many examples of left-wing bigotry directed at conservatives, particularly conservatives who happen to be ethnic minorities, like Herman Cain, who was insulted as an "Uncle Tom", an "Oreo", a "sell-out", a "house slave" and "suffering from Stockholm Syndrome" by the left and their MSM allies. Herman Cain is not the only minority conservative who gets insulted by the left and the MSM for his views. The left has many double standards regarding politics in general, but the left's racism and bigotry directed against minority conservatives is one of the more notable double standards in American politics.

  • http://twitter.com/CharlesHGreen @CharlesHGreen

    I'm curious why my letter of a few hours ago hasn't been posted. Is it because it had a decidedly left-wing bias? Or, hopefully, just because there was an electronic glitch?

  • jose

    Lets just face it, our current 'president' was never vetted. The reason for this: White americans are to weak to confront the issue. They will suffer immensely for it in the comming years.

  • Ghostwriter

    It's a shame that this happened. The media really should do better than what it's been doing up till now.

  • BS77

    The lamestream libtard media is so far in the tank for the Democrat cashocracy….it's so blatant, so obvious….you have to laugh. The state of investigative journalism is so rotten, it's nearly hilarious. George Orwell would be fascinated with our brainwashing, liberal PC indoctrination, our TV commercials and our collective suggestibility…. Good luck in November….we are now in something resembling the Egyptian "democracy" or MOB RULES. Have you checked out the Geico commercials….The black man is a witty Scrabble player. The white man is an obnoxious gay Neanderthal. Or in the other one, The black man is a tough football professional, the white man is a tranvestite cheerleader in a woman's uniform. This is modern subconscious mind altering garbage but it goes on day after day.l…and no one sees it for what it is. Subversion through the subconscious.

  • http://twitter.com/CharlesHGreen @CharlesHGreen

    Mr. Ahert,

    You make a rather astonishing claim, that "An untrustworthy media may be the single greatest threat this nation is currently facing." Allow me to interpret the Gallup data you are supposedly citing.

    Whether you think the trustworthiness of the press has gone up, down, or stayed unchanged over the last 12 years, the data clearly suggest that the propensity to trust has changed. Among Democrats, it's gone down 10% over the years. Among Republicans, who were already at a much lower level, it has declined by 33%.

    At what point does a low propensity to trust cross the line into paranoia, hypochondria, and hysterical conspiracy theorizing? Early indicators that we're near that line might be the birther movement, the tendency to label a centrist president as "socialist" or even "communist," or the vituperative name-calling anyone can see even in this commentary thread.

    Sure, the trustworthiness of a nation's media is important. So is the ability of the population to distinguish truth from fiction, and to make sensible inferences about trust.

    I might suggest an alternative conclusion, this one based on the Gallup data:

    "An untrusting political party may be the single greatest threat this nation is currently facing."

    • Maxie

      ". . . the data clearly suggest that the propensity to trust has changed." You need to explain why that is.

      "An untrusting political party may be the single greatest threat this nation is currently facing."
      Or its' best hope for avoiding totalitarianism.

  • Charles H. Green

    Mr. Ahert

    think you're missing something important here. The Gallup data doesn't say that the press has become less trustworthy; what it does say is that the level of trust has gone down.

    That could be either because the press has gotten less trustworthy, or because people have become less inclined to trust. And the Gallup data shows us one more thing: differing population groups have distinctly different propensities to trust.

    Democrats, who had a fair-to-middling level of trust to begin with, dropped 10% in 12 years. Republicans, who started off quite mistrustful 12 years ago, declined another 33% in their propensity to trust.

    That says, regardless of whether you think the trustworthiness of the media went up, down or sideways, that there was CLEARLY a decrease in the willingness of Republicans to trust.

    There comes a point when a low propensity to trust crosses the line. It moves into what we call paranoia, hypochondria, conspiracy theories and the like. Low trust societies are economic failures, because, as you point out, trust is critical to economic development. Low trust is endemic in places like southern Italy, Russia, and – apparently – the GOP. When you believe you can only trust the small band of people like yourself, we've got problems.

    The Gallup data do NOT say that the media is or isn't trustworthy, or that its trustworthiness has declined; that may or may not be the reason for the decline in people's trust. But one thing IS clear: the propensity to trust of at least one significant segment of the population, Republicans, has declined measurably more than the average.

    You say that "An untrustworthy media may be the single greatest threat this nation is currently facing." I disagree.

    The data instead suggest that, "An untrusting political party may be the single greatest threat this nation is currently facing."

    • BS77

      Possibly one of the greatest threats to our democratic representative Republic is the gullibility and suggestibility of the average voter. The voter does not investigate or contemplate 47 million Americans on food stamps……..We live in a dream media spin cycle….the media can distort, ignore, nuance or misinform as it wishes, and most people do not realize this.

    • Jim_C

      You have it exactly right. Mr. Ahlert would benefit from your post.

  • http://nasenkorrektur-erfahrung.tumblr.com/ look what I found

    With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation? My site has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any ways to help stop content from being stolen? I’d truly appreciate it.

  • Firebird

    I havnt watched to news in years and i quit reading the papers as well their liberal leftists lying birdcage linners and parrots toilets and the talking heads are profesional liars as well

    • charlesgreen

      I note that you are clearly less inclined to trust. I also note you haven't cited a single fact for a decline in the trustworthiness of the media.
      How can you prove it was them, not you, that changed?

  • nopartyaffiliation

    There shouldn't be bias any direction. Whether it be Fox News (partisan Republican) or MSNBC (partisan Democrat). I want facts, not spin.