Declining trust in media

Declining trust in media

: A new Gallup survey says that trust in media has taken a dramatic decline.

This survey was taken after the start of Rathergate but before the denouement. Gallup doubts that Rather is the primary cause. We all can — and certainly will — speculate about what the real causes in this decline are. You can predict that I’ll say the focus on and exasperation with mud-slinging is a factor. Some will say it’s the lack of coverage of the Bush and Kerry military stories; others will say it’s the excessive coverage. Whatever. I think that looking for a cause of this decline is as short-sighted as CBS appointing a commission to look just at the forgeries, not at the network.

This is a bigger story, of course, is the future and fate of journalism and news media. Trust and credibility are the only real assets of this business and Gallup says they are eroding, though we didn’t need Gallup to tell us that, eh? (See Tim Oren’s related post.)

So journalism must reform its relationship with the people formerly known as the audience (aka us). It must face us eye-to-eye and become transparent to rebuild trust. It must recognize that the internet allows people to go to the source sometimes — they report, they decide — and to talk back. It must admit the problems and failings it has. It must involve the citizens in that rebirth as equal partners, or they may as well not bother.


Can you hear that ringing sound, journalists? It’s another wake-up call from Gallup.

The Sept. 13-15 poll — conducted after the CBS News report was questioned but before the network issued a formal apology — found that just 44% of Americans express confidence in the media’s ability to report news stories accurately and fairly (9% say “a great deal” and 35% “a fair amount”). This is a significant drop from one year ago, when 54% of Americans expressed a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the media. The latest result is particularly striking because this figure had previously been very stable — fluctuating only between 51% and 55% from 1997-2003.

Conversely, 39% currently say they have “not very much” confidence in the media’s accuracy and fairness, while 16% say they have “none at all.”

Clearly, something new has happened to shake public confidence in the media, but whether that “something” is the recent CBS News controversy is a matter of speculation. One might assume that if the CBS News story were the culprit, that this would be reflected in a disproportionately large drop in confidence in the media among Republicans. However, the data on this is not conclusive. Trust in the news media is typically lower among Republicans, but all three partisan groups show a significant decline in confidence in the media since last year. It did drop by a somewhat greater degree among Republicans than Democrats, however.

My emphasis.