Friday, January 26, 2018

Trust in the American News Media

The Knight Foundation and Gallup recently released their "American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy" survey and it gives us a very complete viewpoint on the status of trust in the American news media.  In general, it is not overly surprising to find that most Americans believe that, despite the fact that we live in the internet age where information is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it is harder to distinguish between "real news" and "fake news".  This has become an even greater issue as political polarization in America has grown over the past two decades.  Here are some of the highlights of their findings.

The research reported in the study was based on a mail survey of more than 19,000 American adults aged 18 years and older.  Interestingly, while the study received support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it also received funding from the Open Society Foundations, a group founded and funded by multi-billionaire George Soros, the tenth largest donor in the 2016 cycle and a major backer of Hillary Clinton as shown here:

In 2017, the survey showed that 41 percent of Americans trusted the media, down from 54 percent in 2003 with 43 percent stating that they had a "very unfavourable" or "somewhat unfavourable" opinion of the news media compared to 33 percent who stated that they had a "very favourable" or "somewhat favourable" opinion.  To break this down further, let's look at a table that shows the overall opinion of the news media by age, race and political persuasion:

As you can see, political persuasion plays a very significant role in people's skepticism toward the news media; 68 percent of Republicans look on the news media unfavourably compared to only 18 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Democrats look on the news media favourably compared to only 15 percent of Republicans.  

Here is a table showing what people feel are the problems with news coverage by party identification:

It is interesting to see that no matter what the political persuasion, one of the biggest sources of blame for inaccurate news reporting is the "spread of inaccurate information on the internet", something that you would think should not be an issue for major news purveyors.  While the question was not asked, in my mind, part of the problem is that television news organizations now have to fill 24 hours a day with "news" which leads to commentators filling airtime with their own biased running commentary rather than actually reporting the news as was the case when the evening news was the day's main source of reportage.   In that light, in 2017, the study found that only 32 percent of Americans believed that news media are careful to separate fact from opinion, down from 58 percent in 1984. 

With the advent of multiple sources of news coverage, a simple internet search will show how most news websites (mainstream news sources as well as independents) have developed significant political bias.  Here is a graph showing how the percentage of adults who believe that there is a great deal of bias in news coverage has changed since 1989:

Breaking down the data further, 67 percent of Republicans believe that there is a "great deal" of political bias in news coverage compared to 46 percent of independents and 26 percent of Democrats.  

When asked if they could think of an objective news source, 51 percent of all Americans said that they could not.  Here is a table showing the percentage of Americans (by age, race and political persuasion) who believed that the following selection of news sources could be considered as objective:

Note how poorly the New York Times, ABC/ABC News and NBC/NBC News fare when it comes to the perception of objectivity among all Americans, no matter their age, race or political persuasion. 

Let's close with a look at which states have the least and most trust in the news media as measured using a statistical modelling technique that estimated trust scores for all 50 states:

Highest Trust Scores:

Hawaii - 44
Alaska - 43
California - 42
Massachusetts - 42
Maryland/New Jersey - 21

Lowest Trust Scores:

Wyoming - 25
Nebraska - 27
Utah - 27
North Dakota - 28
Idaho - 28

We can see from the results of this study that the traditional purveyors of "real news" are no longer considered trustworthy by the majority of Americans who find themselves generally lacking an accurate source of news coverage.  In this time of growing political polarization, we can also see that there is a significant divide when it comes to trust in what the media is telling us with a very significant proportion of Republicans lacking trust in what passes for news coverage today.  This is not particularly surprising given the coverage that Donald Trump has received from the press since he took over the Oval Office.  

One thing is for certain; this study shows us that the American news media has a long way to go to improve its track record of trustworthiiness. 


  1. The idea of having a press that is free to cover the news is generally linked to the idea they will be fair because such a freedom generally comes with a degree of responsibility. News fed to us under a large degree of bias fails to meet this goal.

    While some people find it clever news heavily skewed to disparage Trump and comprised of an relentless barrage of attacks does little to inform, bring us together or create calm between Nations. More on this subject in the article below.

  2. Surely the surprising figure in all of this is the 60% of Republicans who think Fox News is an objective news source. Note the low score given to it by independents and the low scores given generally by everyone for all the other sources.

    1. Not that surprising - perhaps the adjective I would use is "frightening". They are hardly unbiased; just pandering to a different group.

  3. I'm a heavy media grazer [40 years, w/ media experience] Of the so-called majors, Tucker Carlson and Hannity's doggedness and accuracy on the Awan scandal, FBI collusion w/ HRC's campaign, and most recently the '4-page memo' show journalism at its best. They're bloodhounds on a trail, doing what real journalists do best. Report the facts, wherever they lead. No favor, no bias, except for the truth. A lot of material used by both is originally developed by bloggers and Youtube journalists. As in: Jason Goodman, George Webb, Tracy Benz, Field McConnell, Charles Ortel, James Fetzer, Catherine Austin Fitts and others.

    Ester, Alaska