Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Your Untrusted Source For News

As you may or may not have heard, a Pew Research poll just revealed that the public’s trust in the media hit a record low in July of this year. Imagine mah suhprise. Let’s discuss. . .

The Survey

According Pew Research, 63% of Americans believe that the information they get from the media is not accurate. That’s six in ten! Only 29% thought the media was generally accurate. That’s not even an “F” on a standardized test, that’s a not to your parents and a good grounding.

Moreover, this isn’t some ingrained distrust of the press by the American people. This distrust was earned. In 1985, when this poll was first conducted, a full 55% of the American public thought the media generally got things right.

But that was then, when a lot of the old-schoolers still roamed the hallways of our journalistic institutions. Soon the numbers began to slide. By 1997, only 37% of the public felt that journalists were reliable. By July of this year, that number was down to 29%. That’s a loss of 26% in twenty-four years.

The Excuses

So what’s causing this? It couldn’t be the things I ranted about the other day, could it? Let’s see what the media has to say. . .

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, which we all know has never engaged in open and obvious bias, has never sold its sold for the all mighty peso, and has never been caught with an obvious plagiarist on staff for oh so long, contends that budget cuts are at the root of the problem.

Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. Keller identifies budget cuts as a potential problem. According to Keller, the budget squeeze “means facts don’t get checked as carefully as they should.”

But then he quickly assures us that this really is not a problem. Indeed, he goes on to claim that “many media outlets” still go to great lengths to get the facts right and own up their mistakes. (I wonder if that includes the Times?)

In any event, he soon fingers the real culprit -- everybody else:
“The great flood that goes under the heading ‘news media’ has been poisoned by junk blogs, gossip sheets, shout radio and cable-TV partisans that don't deserve to be trusted.”
That’s the irresponsible NYT we’ve come to know and dismiss.

So what does he think should be done about this? Nothing really, he doesn’t think there is a real problem. See, while you all complain about the media, you really do love your media:
“Just as polls routinely show that people hold Congress in low esteem but tend to like their own congressman, I think the public is suspicious of the media in general but tends to trust the particular news organization they turn to for news.”
So don’t expect any changes from the NYT.

But surely, the Associated Press has something more intelligent to say, right? Nope. Kathleen Carroll, the executive editor of the AP, blames the internet. Apparently, the problem is that the internet is full of misinformation, which gets passed around on discussion boards. And that causes people to view the media with such disfavor. Tisk tisk.

Journalists at large agree. They blame the poor reputation of journalism on cable talk shows (63%), the 24 hour news cycle (42%) and the internet (57%).

Of course, both Carroll, Keller, and their journalistic friends ignore the fact that the public’s trust began to deteriorate long before the industry began to cut costs, long before cable news became so prominent, and long before the internet become so ubiquitous. Indeed, in 1999 -- by which time much of the damage was already done -- only 6% of respondents said they relied on the internet for news. The vast majority (82%) reported relying on the nightly news, and 42% said they also relied on newspapers.

So What Is Really Going On?

The reality is that journalists have lost touch with the public, and they don’t get it. Let’s compare how the public sees journalism against how journalists see journalism.

As we note above, 63% of Americans believe that journalists make too many factual errors. But only 45% of journalists agree.

And while 75% of journalists agree that media bias is a bad thing, only 26% of the public think that journalists make any attempt to avoid bias.

And how about that bias? Let’s compare the attitudes of the public with journalists at large. First, take a look at the following chart, which compares the self-described political leanings of journalists against those of the public.

As you can see, journalists are 14 percentage points more liberal than the public and 26 percentage points less conservative. But does that mean anything? Absolutely. Look at the difference between journalists and the general public on various “wedge” issues:
• When asked whether a belief in God is required for a person to be considered moral, 60% of the general public agrees with that statement, but 91% of journalists disagree.

• When asked whether homosexuality should be accepted or discouraged, 51% of the general public said “accepted” and 42% said “discouraged.” By comparison 88% of journalists said “accepted” and only 5% said “discouraged.”

• Only 25% of the public felt that abortion should be legal under any circumstances, compared to 40% of journalists.

• Fifty percent of the public felt that stricter gun control laws were needed, compared to 65% of journalists.

• Only 34% of the public believe that the government should guarantee that no one is in need, compared to 42% of journalists. And 60% of the public want less government interference, as compared to only 49% of journalists.
Whether you agree with these propositions or not, it certainly shows a significant divergence of beliefs between journalists and the public on wedge issues.

This translates into significant differences in how journalists and the public view events. Consider the difference in how the public and the media viewed the treatment of Bush:

As you can see, the public thought the media was too hard on Bush by a ratio of three to two. The media, by comparison, felt the media was too soft on Bush by a ration of seven to one.

And if you look only at the self-described “liberals” and “moderates” in the media, these number become even starker:

Moreover, these numbers are all the more skewed because when the media talks about “bias,” it is talking about “conservative” bias. Indeed, when asked if they could name a news organization that has an “especially conservative bias”, 82% of journalists said they could -- and most pointed their fingers at Fox News. But when asked if they could name a news organization that has an “especially liberal bias”, only 38% of journalists said that they could name such an organization. Further, only 26% of self-described liberals could name a liberally biased news organization. Ridiculous.

So is the reason the public has lost faith in the media really the invent of the internet or cable television or budge cuts that happened long after that faith began to erode? Or could the reason be that journalists suffer from obvious bias and, even worse, are largely oblivious to their own bias?

Seems kind of obvious doesn’t it. . . unless you’re a journalist.


Joel Farnham said...

The bias was there all along. It took the advent of the Internet and the proliferation of talk radio to expose it.

Check out Pajamas TV and listen to Simon's Burning Down the New York Times in three acts. This mainly focuses on NYT and Communism.

With the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, Talk Radio exploded onto the nation's airwaves and finally provided an alternate view of the news. This alternate view actually is closer to the views of the center-right society called the United States.

Because of these two developments, it should come as no surprise that MSM has declined in both readership and viewership.

FOX news (as flawed as it is) is closer to the center-right society.

StanH said...

For me as with so many things it was Carter that changed my attitude towards the press. I had subscriptions to Newsweek, US News and World Report, and watched the evening news. I as a young man saw the blatant bias in the defense of Jimmy Carter, and constantly referred to Ronald Reagan as an old war mongering fool, my instincts were correct, and by the end of the first Reagan Administration I had cancelled my subscriptions and begrudgingly except the WSJ that came to my office and watched an occasional evening news cast to stay informed somewhat. Now zero subscriptions, FOX News, and the internet. As an aside taking over the press was another leg of the takeover of America that was laid out in the ‘60s.

Writer X said...

I think what's most frustrating is this constant drumbeat of denial by people at places like NYT and AP: It's never their fault as to why people don't trust them or read their newspapers; it's everyone else's fault. The behavior is infantile.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, the decline predates talk radio or the internet.

Stan, I agree with you. I saw a marked change in the media when it came to Reagan. The media stopped reporting facts and started attacking. I remember how suddenly it became "news" to call the President names and how obsessed they became with finding things that Reagan had done "wrong" -- real or imagined.

And I remember the excuse was that it is the job of journalist to be attack dogs on behalf of the American people. But then we had Clinton and suddenly, the media had an ephiphany. "We've been too harsh."

From that moment on, a pattern became obvious, Republicans would be torn apart for something, but then the media would regret it's prior harshness when they caught a Democrat doing the same thing and they would go soft, only to rethink their regret when a Republican got caught.

It doesn't take long to see what they're doing.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, It's lack of self awareness, fed by the fact that they live in a bubble. They honestly don't think they are biased because their views are the same views that they see on the nightly news, that all of their family and friends have, that their college professors had, and they even see their views confirmed by movies and art.

In those circumstances, it's virtually impossible for liberals to see their own bias. Take a look at the "moderates" in the article. They honestly think that they aren't liberals, but look at their views -- far to the left of the general public. But, compared to their friends and neighbors, they probably are somewhat to the right.

So if you can't see the bias, that can't be the reason you are failing. And to that, there is a whole industry that tells people like the NYT that they are the flagship of journalism, and they just can't see their own flaws.

Joel Farnham said...


Do you expect liberals to be adults? Most liberal-thinking resembles a child-like view of what the world is about.

Case in point. What do Liberals want to do with the Islamo-facists whose whole reason for being is killing non-believers of Islam? They want to talk to them.

Writer X said...

Maybe I'm in the minority here but I have to think that smart people, even ones in a bubble, can have some inclination that maybe--just maybe--they're missing the point. If you're a business owner and people stop buying your product, don't you stop to think, even for a second, that maybe you're not selling a product that people want? Or trust? There has to be a come to Jesus moment at some point. Same thing with being an author. If I keep writing books that people don't want to buy, is there something wrong with my writing? Do I need to change something? I'm not a rocket scientist but even I can connect the dots on that. I can't believe that journalists are that stupid. (My analogy doesn't include Charlie Gibson, for obvious reasons.)

Maybe it has to get even worse (less sales, even smaller audiences)for the MSM before it can begin to get better. If it can ever recover at all.

Joel Farnham said...


When did the Decline start?


I don't think they will have a chance to recover.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, It's not being stupid, that's not what I'm saying. It's lack of exposure. If no one tells you that you are doing anything wrong, it takes a really, really self-aware person to realize the problem (and there are very few of those).

This is something you see both in history and thoughout society time and time again. Look at how many very smart historical figures slowly surrounded themselves with "yes men", and lost touch with reality.

Look at the number of advertising campaigns that completely miss the mark -- because the company didn't understand its market because none of them live among their clients.

Even in daily society. Think about your liberal friends. I would bet, if they are like the liberals that I know, they just assume that most people think like they do because that's all they see on tv. They aren't stupid, they just have little or no reason to think that anything other than a small fringe of people aren't liberal.

Think about it this way. You and I know what the US is about. But if you moved overseas, you would find that your take on the US is suddenly very "wrong" compared to what the locals believe. It's not that they are stupid, it's what they are exposed to.

People are social creatures (herd animals) and they tend to do and believe what those around them do and believe.

And there will be a come to Jesus moment for people/institutions like the NYT (and maybe we're there now), but look at Keller's quote -- he's delluded himself into believing that the problem is with "media" in general (which he thinks means biased to the right as much if not more than biased left) but that his paper is safe because his audience trusts him.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, According to the data, it start immediately in 1985, but that's also when they first took the poll. I would bet it started before then as it was already sinking by 1986.

AndrewPrice said...

Looks like they're turning off the electricity to the 'hood for a few hours. Be back later...

Joel Farnham said...


In 1984, Rush Limbaugh came to Sacramento. I was there. The first words out of his mouth that I remember were femi-nazi and the undeniable truths of life.

The Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1985. Coincidence? I don't think so. Once people had alternative views of the news, they turned to them out of curiosity at first. Then out of affirmation of their own views.

The internet provides everyone with alternative views along with differant news. It hastens the demise of MSM opinions and selection of news that they (MSM) have determined is important.

BIG GOVERNMENT is just one of the examples of differant news and views.

Writer X said...

"Stupid" was the wrong word. I probably should have said "lack of curiosity" or something like that. I can't believe that the owners of the various MSM outlets or its journalists lack that much self-awareness, especially the owners. I can't believe that they don't tune into talk radio, Fox, or other internet outlets like Breitbart to see what the competition is doing or talking about. I don't expect them to agree with them but I just can't accept that they lack that much intellectual curiosity. I'm not defending MSM journalists; I'm just trying to make the point that I don't believe that they lack that much self-awareness. I think it's more about ego in admitting they're getting their butts kicked by other media.

Joel Farnham said...


I believe that EGO is the operative word here.

LL said...

I find NO credibility in the mainstream media. If I want the truth I must ferret it out for myself. The situation with Dear Leader is so obtuse that it's reached a comedic level.

The MSM takes the form of a ring master in a three ring circus, directing the attention of the audience to the left ring, lights dimmed on the other two while the steam calliope plays on.

If you want bread and circus, MSM is a good place to go. It's entertaining in its baroque view of the world - but like a circus, nobody takes it all that seriously.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew: "Turning off the electricity in the 'hood"???? Does this happen often?

It started long before 1985. And this is probably a complaint that goes as far back as the printed word (or spoken word). Don't you think the travelling minstrels of in the days of yore got an earful sometimes?

What we are seeing now is that the general population has more access to events first hand around the world than ever before. Before the internet and television even radio, we relied on the MSM to keep us informed - to be our eyes and ears around the globe! Now with the internet and 24 hour news cycles, and YouTube, digital cameras, and blogs etc, we are our own "eyes and ears". Don't discount cheaper and more available world travel, either. We have more instant information passed around than ever before.

It is now harder for the MSM to get away with reporting the way THEY see it because we now see it too so we don't necessarily have to take the word of a journalist.

And you are correct there is this great disconnect. The MSM really thinks the general population is not interested in government policy, but really really interested in Michael Jackson. As they have found out this summer, they are wrong and they rune the risk of rendering themselves obsolete if they don't catch up.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I saw a sea-change in reporting happen as far back as Lyndon Johnson. When the MSM decided it no longer liked the Viet Nam war, the headlines started to change. Victories suddenly became defeats. Tributes to brave soldiers became "body counts." All leading up to the massive lie about the Tet offensive where Walter Cronkite declared the war lost.

Joel Farnham said...


In your opinion, why did the MSM decide to go against the Vietnam War and in so doing go against a liberal President?

LawHawkSF said...

Joel Farnham: The MSM never considered Johnson to be "legitimate." They considered him to be a crude hick who had arm-twisted his way to the top without their approval. Anything he did that was liberal they attributed to his power-madness or a theft from the martyred "legitimate" president. So when he decided to launch a full-scale war against their communist friends, they had their opportunity. They considered his Great Society welfare state and support for the civil rights movement to be cynical ploys to maintain his power base (and about those, they weren't entirely incorrect).

rarons said...

talking about news sources - and whether you can trust them...
My aunt received this video and has watched all 2 hours of it and is now leaning toward the conspiracy theory espoused.
Can any of you learned, wise, and politically aware folks give me some context for it?
(I've only had time for a minute or do of it so far)

AndrewPrice said...

rarons, This looks like a collection of all of the left/right conspiracy theories thrown together into one big happy conspiratorial soup.

I haven't watched too much of it, but so far, it's got all of the hallmarks of being done by crazies. Out-of-context quotes from bit players, no context, knowing innuendo, no support for anything they are saying.

I would be surprised if they don't start talking about the Bilderberg group and the Trilateral Commission fairly quickly.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: It also has a professional look to it, which could mislead people into thinking that slickness is a substitute for facts and logical connections between events and persons. They make the classic logical error of concurrence=causation.

As in most such presentations, there is a grain of truth in much of what they say, and it's built into an entire theory. Much like the 9-11 Troofers. And like "Loose Change," it has multiple parts (12, so far) which will "evolve" as it grows, which is another way of saying the parts they get caught dead-wrong on will simply disppear from the narrative.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, they turn off the power to teach us a lesson. . . that the cable company doesn't know where they're supposed to dig and they like to cut electric lines.

Writer X, For some of them, it may be ego, but I really think you're underestimating how not-self aware people are when they live in a bubble.

Look at our car industry, which entirely missed the fact that consumers wanted smaller cars in the 1980s. They missed it -- despite all their marketing telling them that people wanted smaller cars and despite the huge surge in sales of small Japanese cars -- because they were surrounded by people who still thought of the car industry in terms of the 1950/60s and who simply refused to believe that tastes were changing. Everyone they knew at work or at home in the city of Detroit, thought the same thing. Thus, they concluded that the marketing was wrong. It wasn't ego, they just didn't believe it.

History is strewn with examples, both political and economic, where politicians, generals, companies, and even large groups of people simply insulated themselves from reality.

And keep in mind that journalists and the MSM live and work mainly in three or four cities -- NYC, Washington, LA. Those cities skew far left compared to the rest of the population. Those leftists are their neighbors and their friends. Those are the people who they listen to, to determine if they are being fair and are providing the kind of news that people want to hear.

Finally, it's very hard to see your own biases. Few people are able to realize how their own preconceived views affect their thinking. Even after being shown their own biases, most people will continue to cling to them because its comfortable. And the more people you get who confirm your biases, the stronger they become.

rlaWTX said...

Andrew - yeah I know that that group is a pretty big part of it - per my aunt.

Thanks for the perspective!
(same as rarons - just figured out how to change to my all-purpose name)

AndrewPrice said...

RlawTx, The Bildberg Group and Trilateral Commission are part of a long time conspiracy theory about secret forces controlling world events and world governments. (Some of this dates back about 100 years now.)

Unfortunately, debunking that theory is very difficult because they never really give any precise details about what they are talking about -- they just deal with innuendo and suggestion, which makes it hard to shoot down their facts (because there aren't many).

Sadly, right now, many of the groups who promote these theories are using the current environment to try to sell these theories to people under the guise of exposing Obama.

Skinners 2 Cents said...

For myself one of the many telling situations is that all republicans are named as such when a scandal comes out.

While Congressman Jim Bob Joe who was hiring prostitutes on the government dime was not affiliated with any party, especially not the democrat party.

Instead of someone trying to reign in this incredible bias they ratcheted it up quite a few notches. They accelerated in the wrong direction once FOX News showed up. I'm more than willing to admit that Fox has a conservative bias and thank God for it. I still don't think that Fox has the same degree of bias that all the other networks have in the opposite direction. The scale is still way out of balance.

The other thing that is starting to show the medias true intent is how often racism is brought up. Out of thin air at times or better yet someone has a secret decoder ring to figure out what our secret words mean. How did they know that socialist=n***er.

Comments like that remind me of comments I've read at HuffPo. No basis what so ever for even attempting that connection.

AndrewPrice said...

Skinner, I think you're right that they're moving further and further left. I think that the open nastiness/whackiness of the left-fringe at places like Hufpo has made it more acceptable to shift left. Because things that would have seemed extreme a few years ago suddenly seem tame compared to what is going on at Hufpo.

I think the racism calls are a response to Obama's failure. It's the last refuge of the scoundrel to demonize the opposition, and the left's loss is getting more and more obvious every day, so I think they're going to get nastier and nastier in the hopes of turning this thing around.

I also agree that Fox is not especially conservative, though I'm happy they are at least right of center.

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