Thursday, September 30, 2010

Friday Media Rant: We Don't Trust The Media

Do you trust the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly? Odds are you don’t. A record-high majority of Americans have little or no trust in the media, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday afternoon.

Last year, a record 56% of Americans said they don’t trust mass media; this year, it’s up another percentage point to 57%. On the other side of the question, the 43% of Americans who said they have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the mass media ties a record low.

Here’s a scary note for news managers: the public’s trust in media is now even lower than its trust in the executive and judicial branches of government. And a separate Gallup poll found little confidence in newspapers, too.

Not quite half of those polled said the media are too liberal; about a third say the balance is just about right; and about 15% think the media are too conservative. But no matter how you scramble the egg, more than half – 63% - say there’s bias one way or the other.

And, no real surprise here, the more education and income you have, the less likely you are to trust the mass media.

In the four decades that I worked in broadcast news management, I seldom found overt bias in the work of those I supervised. To be fair, though, most of them were younger people, who tend to be more liberal, and were trained to be careful to attempt to “balance” their stories. I do recall one strident episode back in the mid-90’s, when I left my office to check on things in the newsroom, and overheard a couple young reporters talking about how they were going to write and run certain stories to air during the Rush Limbaugh show “just to piss off all the right-wing freaks”.

I suggested they might do better in their career if they left the news department and applied with the programming department to host a talk show, so they could “balance” Rush with their brilliant insights, and mentioned that it might be important to their future to remember the bright line between “news” and “talk”, a distinction lost on far too many listeners these days.


  1. Generally speaking, Limbaugh dispenses actual news-content during the first hour (or part thereof) of his program.

    And it is, generally speaking, NOT news content which was widely dispersed by the MSM.

    Same as The American Spectator. Before they brought it up, no one ever HEARD of Whitewater Land--or that Clinton's first primary campaign was bailed out by PRChina interests with large cash donations through some obscure "restaurant owner" from Arkansas.

    Think that had something to do with Escalante? Or the rare-earth mineral monopoly enjoyed by PRC?

  2. "And it is, generally speaking, NOT news content which was widely dispersed by the MSM."

    What a crock. So when you see reports on the CBS evening news about jobless numbers or hear reports out of Afghanistan on NPR or read in the New York Times about a Congressional hearing, this isn't, generally speaking, news?

    Might I suggest, Dad29, that you are slurping up Limbaugh's pablum about the "MSM" as eagerly as you think others are doing likewise with more traditional media.

    My guess is that you have never actually attempted to fairly and accurately cover an event in a timely manner. You have no idea what it entails and, truly, how well the "MSM," which you quickly deride here, does so every day.

    It's obvious that there have been some missteps by various media outlets over time leading to the perceptions Tim addresses above. But professional reporters are MUCH more accurate, professional and valuable than yodelers like Limbaugh, who wouldn't have a show without their valuable and undervalued work.

    One of the problems is that the news media don't market themselves well. Just look at the local landscape. Stations and papers here are much more eager to hype sports, weather and features over the very critical role of simply covering what's going on. It's very easy to write off the "MSM," but anyone who actually consumes news with a critical eye, as Tim does, knows the truth: Professional reporters have taken it on the chin from people who have never been trusted to cover so much as a parks commission meeting. Most of these radio talkers -- most notably Limbaugh and Beck -- are former FM disc jockeys, not journalists. Just because they speak using a tone of authority doesn't mean they speak with any actual experience.

  3. Jason,

    Though your rejoinder to Dad29 was written with a satisfying degree of asperity, I have to wonder why you ended such a nice rant with, "Just because they speak using a tone of authority doesn't mean they speak with any actual experience." A bit of a letdown, actually.

    It got me to thinking, however, about how many of our professional pundits came out of the news biz.

    You're right about Limbaugh and Beck having started out as deejays. But O'Reilly has a masters in broadcast journalism and was a news anchor in a number of cities -- at least according to his web site bio.

    Savage has a PhD in "nutritional ethnomedicine". His entire broadcast career has been as a commentator/pundit. Hannity is a college dropout (so is Limbaugh) who pretty much always wanted to be in radio.

    Lets see...Mark Levin is a lawyer who advised several members of Reagan's cabinet. Dennis Miller, comic, Monday Night Football color commentator, and Saturday Night Live alum.

    How 'bout the lefties? Not as many of them...

    Ed Schultz played college football and was a sportscaster. Bill Press was chairman of the California Democratic Party. Alan Colmes was a comedian and started his broadcast career as a deejay. Randi Rhodes was in the Air Force for three years and then became a deejay.

    Not too many Master's degrees or PhD's among the liberal talk show ranks either, for what it's worth...not much in the way of journalist cred either.

    Looks like a wash.

    The Town Crank

  4. Rachel Maddow: Rhodes scholar with a Ph.D. in Political Science.