Just 33 percent said they had a “fair amount” of trust in mass media such as newspapers, TV and radio, and only 7 percent had a “great deal” of trust and confidence that the mass media reports the news, according to a Gallup poll released this week.
Ten years ago, Gallup found an even split of 50/50 among Americans regarding their trust and lack of trust of the media. According to their poll results, the last time the majority of Americans trusted their media was 1976.
“Americans’ trust level in the media has drifted downward over the past decade…Some of the loss in trust may have been self-inflicted,” wrote Rebecca Riffkin, a Gallup analyst, in a statement.
“Major venerable news organizations have been caught making serious mistakes in the past several years, including the scandal involving former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams in 2015 that some of his firsthand accounts of news events had been exaggerated or ‘misremembered.’”
Other mass media scandals that violated public trust include the inaccuracy of stories on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, such as those that Judith Miller wrote for The New York Times in the lead-up to Iraq war. Jayson Blair, also of the NY Times, plagiarized and fabricated facts in at least 36 articles, something that led to his firing and to the resignation of an editor and manager at the newspaper. There were also revelations in 2003 that the Bush administration paid columnists to promote its policies.
The new poll was conducted as a telephone survey over five days, from September 9 to 13, with over 1,000 adults from 50 US states and the District of Columbia.
Pollsters found that trust in the media was lowest among Americans aged 18 to 49 than among those 50 and older, a pattern first noticed in 2012. Prior to 2012, there was less distinction between age groups except in 2005 and 2008.
When poll results are examined along political lines, trust among Democrats has usually been higher over the past decade than among Republicans and independents. That remains the case in the new survey, with 55 percent of Democrats trusting mass media, while the Republicans polled registered 32 percent, an increase of 5 percent from 2014. The trust of independents, however, decreased from 38 percent to 33 percent.
Pollsters know that trust opinions typically dip during election years – including 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2014 – but the dip in a non-election year is unusual. Gallup’s Riffkin said confidence in media has slowly eroded from a high of 55 percent in 1998 and 1999. Since 2007, the majority of Americans had little to no trust in the mass media.
The decline follows the same trajectory as Americans’ confidence in many US institutions, and their declining trust in the federal government’s ability to handle domestic and international problems over the same time period.
Gallup released a poll in June 2015 that found that Americans’ confidence in most major institutions had been down for many years, as the US dealt with prolonged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a major recession and sluggish economy, and a dysfunctional Congress.
Pollsters found only 28 percent of Americans were satisfied with the state of the nation, down from 40 percent in 2004. Broken down by institution, only 8 percent of Americans had trust in their Congress, 21 percent in television news, 23 percent in the criminal justice system and 32 percent in the US Supreme Court.
Where Americans had a great deal of trust was in small businesses (62 percent) and the military (72 percent).