Well, what do you know? America is dead last among 46 nations in public trust of news media.
Why am I not surprised by this?
For most of my 28 years as a reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent with the Chicago Tribune, America’s news media were generally respected and trusted.
From the time I joined the Tribune right out of college in until I left to teach journalism as a professor and college dean at the University of Illinois, I was proud to be a journalist and to have the opportunity to pass on to students what I had learned by reporting war, revolution, and political intrigue across several continents.
Since then, however, I have watched with sadness and despair as journalism in America—once the envy of the free world—has degenerated into dishonesty and inequity.
News organizations that once prided themselves on their evenhanded “watchdog” role of government and their vital responsibility to report the news with fairness and impartiality are now little more than propaganda wings of political parties and the dogmas they advocate.
The result of the media’s abandonment of their responsibility to provide accurate, honest, and unbiased news to the American public is that now only 29 percent of Americans have any trust at all that the news they get is unfiltered and free from one-sided and misleading reporting.
That’s dead last among 46 countries professing to have a “free press” that were polled by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute Research Center.
Let that sink in.
America’s news media ranks at the bottom of the pile in terms of fairness and trust among 92,000 news consumers surveyed in 46 countries, according to the report released last week.
That’s worse than Poland, worse than the Philippines, worse than Peru.
Who’s at the top? Finland’s media leads the free-world pack with a 65 percent level of trust from its readers and viewers.
To put this into some kind of perspective, not long after I began my career at the Tribune, fully 76 percent of Americans polled trusted America’s news media to be fair and unbiased.
How the mighty have fallen. And for the most part, it’s their own fault.
CNN, owned by AT&T, was once a highly respected news organization replete with great and trustworthy reporters like Peter Arnett, John Holliman, Connie Chung, Bernard Shaw, and Sharyl Attkisson. Today it is a left-wing operation that is home to a battalion of opinionated, dishonest hacks. MSNBC is a far-left radical network of prejudiced and bigoted castoffs and rejects.
The networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—have mostly abandoned their once-prodigious (and expensive) news organizations in favor of nightly newscasts fed by wire services and part-time stringers.
Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., is heavy on conservative commentary and opinion shows while its news division is gaunt and undernourished, to say the least.
America’s newspapers, meanwhile, are shadows of their former selves. Those that remain have shifted to the left of the political spectrum, with only a few like the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and a handful others representing the conservative side of the political continuum.
The Oxford survey suggested that the media’s coverage of the coronavirus may have contributed to some of the declines in trust.
“More than a year after it began, the coronavirus pandemic continues to cast a dark cloud over the health of our communities – as well as that of the news industry,” the report’s executive summary said.
“The crisis – complete with lockdowns and other restrictions – has hastened the demise of printed newspapers, further impacting the bottom line for many once proud and independent media companies,” the summary added. “Our pages this year are full of stories of journalistic lay-offs as advertisers take flight in the face of a global economic downturn. New business models such as subscription and membership have been accelerated by the crisis, as we document in this year’s report. But in most cases, this has still not come anywhere near making up for lost income elsewhere.”
The report also found, “that while many people remain very engaged, we find signs that others are turning away from the news media and in some cases avoiding news altogether. Interest in the news has fallen sharply in the United States following the election of President Biden – especially with conservative groups.”
The use of nontraditional sources of news, such as social media, remains strong in the U.S., “especially with younger people and those with lower levels of education.”
The executive summary noted that “interest in the news in the United States has declined by 11 percentage points in the last year to just 55%. To some extent, this is not surprising as our poll was conducted after the turbulent events on Capitol Hill in January and the departure of [former President] Donald Trump. But our data show signs that many former Trump supporters may be switching away from news altogether.”
Almost all of this fall in interest came from political conservatives, who say a majority of America’s left-leaning news media is acting as a propaganda arm for the Biden administration and is obsessed with putting a positive spin on its activities or refusing to report on things such as the questionable financial dealings of Biden’s son Hunter and the crisis on the southern border where hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are streaming into the country.
“Our findings show that both political partisans and young people feel unfairly represented by the media,” the survey reported. “That will be especially troubling for media companies looking to build engagement both across political divides and with the next generation. Many Americans do not feel that news organizations are covering people like them fairly, and those who say the news media are treating them less fairly are less likely to trust the news. This includes, for example, younger people (young women, in particular), conservatives, Black Americans, and Hispanic Americans.”
As I see it, the problem with the media in the United States is their willful polarization—especially during the four years of the Trump administration.
America’s Trump-hating media were convinced their job was to do whatever it took to remove Trump from the White House. If that meant lying, telling half-truths, or refusing to cover stories that were favorable to Trump, that was okay.
The means justified the ends.
Today, the media are rallying around a president clearly suffering from early-onset dementia, covering up his gaffes, his stumbles (both verbally and physically), and lobbing softball questions at him during his rare and highly orchestrated press conferences.
Is it any wonder then, that America’s news media have lost the trust of those who saw their coverage as dishonest?
The most recent example of that dishonesty was the all-out media press to label anybody suggesting that China was the origin of COVID-19 as a lunatic conspiracy theorist merely because Donald Trump raised it as a possibility.
Now that even the World Health Organization has demanded an investigation into the origins of the pandemic and the evidence seems clear that Wuhan, China was where the virus began—and most likely was manufactured in a lab—the media have backed off their disparagements.
This kind of shoddy, whiplash journalism does not inspire confidence from the right or the left.
But most of all, I fear it spells the end of the kind of professional, fair, and balanced journalism that most news organizations once tried their best to practice.