Photo from Wikimedia.
By Abhishek Rana and Sydney Stumpf
In the twenty-first century, when phones are nearly attached to our hands, when the daily news is available at the glance of an eye, the trust in the media has fluctuated significantly, according to recent polls. With President Trump’s latest comments of “Fake News”, the distrust in the media is even more fluid. Has Trump sparked a newfound sense of distrust, or did he just add to the chaos? Is the distrust in the media even justifiable? Here, Sydney Stumpf and Abhishek Rana argue that no it is not justified, and yes it is justified, respectively. Let us know your opinion on the subject at maldenblueandgold.com
Americans’ trust in the media reached an all time low in 2016. A Gallup poll from that year showed that only 32% of Americans trust the media “a great deal/fair amount.” That number has dropped from 55% in 1999. Furthermore, distrust in the media is also divided along age and partisan lines. Of those who are 18 to 49 years old, only 26% trust the media “ a great deal/fair amount,” compared to 38% of those who are 50 or older. In addition, only 14% of people who identify as Republicans trust the media “a great deal/fair amount,” while the number was 30% for those who identified as Independent and 51% for those that identified as Democrats.
President Trump’s relentless attacks on the press may have contributed to the level of distrust Republicans have towards the media. However, President Trump’s rhetoric is not the cause of this distrust, he has merely intensified the distrust that existed long before he launched his 2016 Presidential campaign.
There is a sense among many, particularly Republicans, that many news outlets generate a headline around a narrative, and not a narrative around the headline or story. There is not anything wrong about being an opinion journalist, but what is wrong is claiming to be an objective journalist or outlet while in actuality disguising activism under the umbrella of journalism. Many journalists and so called “objective” news outlets are guilty of doing exactly that on numerous occasions.
A particularly egregious example of this came over the summer with how many in the press covered the allegations that Pope Francis may have known and covered up accusations of sexual abuse against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The original headline form the New York Times was “Vatican Power Struggle Bursts Into Open as Conservatives Pounce.” Got it. The “objective” New York Times, wants us to believe that the story is “conservatives pouncing,” not the fact that there there were credible allegations that Pope Francis knew and covered up sexual abuse by one of the Catholic Church’s Cardinals.
This is just one example of “objective” news outlets like the New York Times or the Washington Post doing redirecting the focus of a story. All of this would not be a problem if CNN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post admitted to their bias because there is nothing particularly wrong being biased. It is part of the reason why my criticism is not directed towards outlets like MSNBC or even the Huffington Post, who are at least upfront as to what perspective their commentary is slanted towards. Instead the aforementioned outlets cling to an obviously false claim to objectivity while having little to no representation of at least 36% of the U.S voting population in their editorial board.
The bias of news outlets are also revealed by what they choose not to cover as much as what and how they choose to cover. For example, did any of these outlets cover the annual March For Life that occured on January this year as extensively as they did this year’s Women’s March, even though light estimates put the number of attendees at this year’s March for Life at well over 200,000.
Furthermore, it is not just those on the Right, who have been alienated by the press. Although less so than Republicans, those who identify as Democrats have also gradually lost their trust in the media. The same Gallup poll shows that the percent of Americans who identify as Democrats and trust the media a “great deal/fair amount” has decreased from 71% in 2005 to 51% in 2016.
None of this is any excuse for the often polarizing rhetoric directed towards the media by President Trump, nor is it an excuse for calling the press the “enemy of the people.” However, their deceptive practices and bias is justification for why so many Americans have rightly lost their trust in the media.
Ultimately, if the media wants to gain back the trust of Americans, they need to do less activism and more journalism.
The social media phenomena “Fake News” sprouted by President Donald Trump, has caused a disruption in the public’s trust in news and media platforms. Polarized political personas on either side of the spectrum are calling out major news outlets for their “Fake News.” According to Gallup, 2016 signaled a new low for trust in the media. In October of 2018, Gallup reported that the trust in the media is being regained, up to 45% as opposed to 2016’s 32%. Republicans, all in all, have had less trust in the media overall than Democrats, although both parties’ are on an incline of trust. Is all of this distrust in the media justified? Here, is why I argue no.
From the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of the press, the role of the media and news outlets are of utmost importance. In 2019, as a society, we get the bulk of our information from social media platforms and online news sources, like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Huffington Post. Most every news platform has come under attack by one party or another, due to biased reporting, “Fake News,” or any other negative claims.
Although “Fake News” may be, in itself, fake, biased reporting is an unavoidable element of journalism. Information is too readily available in a variety of platforms, and through political socialization, having no opinion is a luxury few can afford. Through a cycle of information, people formulate opinions and report on the facts, still holding these opinions. Writing objectively is of extreme difficulty, and more often than not, subjectivity is at least in part, reflected through journalism.
Now, it may seem obvious why people believe that the media is not to be trusted, and is inherently swayed. In part, this is true. However, when observing news via platforms on the internet or televised, it is imperative that people recognize and acknowledge modern-day journalism for what it is, not what utopian journalism is. Notably credible news platforms, like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, should be understood in the context of credibility and background biases. Having a tone that reflects positively or negatively towards a subject should not cancel out the credibley acquired factual information. Working on these platforms are actual jobs for people, their livelihoods. It is absurd to think that they would risk jeopardizing their professions in order to include a false fun-fact about this subject or that one.
Platforms like pop culture magazines and social media as a whole, should be taken more lightly. As the purpose of the NYT author is to inform, to work, to persuade, the purpose of a teenage boy behind a computer screen is often to inflame. Tabloid covers of celebrities with false headlines plastered across the page, whose purpose is to sell, to make money. Tabloids have always been criticized and recognized for inflammatory messages and false information, just as our parents, our teachers, have reiterated that “not everything you read on the internet is true”.
It is also important to understand why so many have lost their trust in the media, and it largely lies on the President. Again, looking at the purpose of comments made by Donald Trump are important. Through his Twitter, Donald Trump allows an international audience to contextualize his brief comments about this subject or that. Twitter is hardly a place to provide newsworthy articles in 140 characters or less, and the purpose of Twitter is largely to get thoughts out, quickly, and frequently, irrationally. The purpose of President Trump’s tweets, thus the purpose of the remarks about “Fake News,” is to inflame; to get a reaction. In short, what Donald Trump has preached of “Fake News” can be turned around on him, because his comments have been inflammatory and false, just as he described major news platforms.
All in all, the importance of the media is still great, its impact on our everyday lives, paramount. As we have all known, have all grown up with, some platforms are more trustworthy, more credible, than others. But even in the most credible, most notable platforms, journalism is hardly objective. We do not shake our biases off at the door of writing an article, and therefore, instead of shaking off the trust in the media, we must look to these news platforms with an understanding of what journalism is.