The news media is about as popular as a first-century tax collector. This probably isn’t breaking news if you are a consumer of journalism, or what passes for journalism.
According to a recent Gallup survey, a mere 36 percent of respondents said they had “some level of trust” in the media to report news accurately. That’s the second-lowest level in the history of polling. Just 7 percent of respondents said they had “a great deal of trust” in news reporting.
The real tragedy of this survey is that the news media won’t pay any attention to it, assuming, as it almost always does, that people are either too daft to understand subtlety and nuance or they’re simply wrong on the issues. If these morons don’t like our coverage, who needs them?
I think we understand just fine what this poll reveals and Americans are well aware of what’s going on.
At some point, the national media, and assorted local outlets, decided that their primary responsibility was no longer to merely cover the news, opting instead to serve as members of the resistance, advocates, or activists.
Politicians understand this. In fact, they’ve become used to it. How else would you explain House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments the other day, when she admonished reporters for not giving her party enough of an assist with its lavish spending proposals?
"Well, I think you all could do a better job of selling it, to be very frank with you," Pelosi said.
This is an extraordinary statement when you think about it. The U.S. Speaker of the House, not some Banana Republic militarist, actually thinks promoting her legislative agenda is the media’s job. Where in the world did she ever come up with such an idea? From a media that has been more than happy to promote past agendas. That’s where.
Truth is now subservient to political agendas; not the agendas of politicians, but the agendas of news organizations and individual reporters.
We don’t need to go back very far to understand why just 7 percent of those surveyed have “a great deal of trust” in the news media. From the phony, “Border patrol whip migrants” story, advanced by the national media and the Biden administration; to Katie Couric’s admission in her memoir that she edited out parts of an interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg – who was critical of athletes kneeling during the national anthem – to protect the aging justice; to the New York Times overstating the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. by some 800,000 (the real number is more like 63,000); there’s plenty of evidence. And this was just within the last two weeks.
There are still good reporters and solid news organizations doing good work. I know and worked with some of them and they’re still fighting the good fight. But their work is often overshadowed by pundits and commentators pretending to be journalists, by activist reporters who see nothing wrong with using their platform to advance an ideology, and by a media establishment that values firstness and clicks over correctness.
It’s fair to ask why I spend my days preparing college students to be journalists while, at the same time, decrying the profession. There are days when I ask the same question.
The answer is journalism needs saving and is worth saving. Yes, the so-called Fourth Estate might look more like an ice fishing shed at the moment, at least in the eyes of consumers, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be salvaged.
Sadly, community newspapers, the last bastions of local news coverage, are disappearing. About 1,800 local papers have closed or merged in the U.S. since 2004. Eventually, all local papers will go digital, if they’re still around.
Still, even though the delivery systems change, there will always be a need for honest, truth-seeking, truth-telling journalism.
But if the profession is going to regain the public’s trust, it needs to take some serious inventory and acknowledge its failings. And printing a retraction doesn’t qualify as honest self-reflection. I’m more interested in the reporting that led the retraction.
The Gallup survey would be a good place to start. The news media should look at these numbers, acknowledge its predicament and ask some difficult questions. Or, it can ignore them, at its own peril.
Copyright 2021 Rich Manieri, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at [email protected]