The credibility crisis

The credibility crisis

: Journalism’s credibility crisis keeps growing. From a transcript of tonights’s PBS Newhour sent to me by their PR, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Center says:

When we first started our People in the Press series, we asked people, a representative sample: Does the media usually get the facts straight, or do they often get it wrong? And we found, I think we have a slide on this, we found 55 percent then saying that media usually gets the story right. The 55 percent was defined as a very low number and it was a shockingly low number. But over the years, that number has gotten lower and lower.

And at this point in time, we have a majority of people saying the media usually gets it wrong, and only 36 percent saying the media usually gets it — the facts straight….

Back in the 1988 campaign, 58 percent said there was no media bias in the reporting. That number slowly slipped down over the course of the ’90s. We got to this campaign. It was only 38 percent, both Republicans and Democrats increasingly critical and skeptical about how fairly the media is doing campaign coverage.

Frightening stats, eh?

Kenneth Smith, the interviewer, tries to blame that on Fox. But in his opening spiel of news sins, it was The New York Times, CBS News, and USA Today that were listed, not Fox. Smells like media bias about media bias to me. Closed loop.

Then Ken Auletta says, with not a hint of irony:

I think if you watch, say cable television, you see reporters moving out of their normal job as reporters to become what I would call bloviators, and so what you have is people watching them and saying, wait a second, they’re not reporters, they’re just expressing opinions, so how can I trust them?

Hmmm: A reporter bloviating about reporters bloviating. (And, yes, here I am bloviating about the bloviator bloviating on bloviating. I’m exhausted, how about you? More closed loops.)

  • Barry Dauphin

    I saw some of that piece on PBS. It starts with the CBS stuff and quickly moves far away from that. One of the panelists suggested that the problem is really that reporters aren’t showing their biases enough, since they should be speaking out against the war in Iraq and the problem is that they don’t have the courage of their convictions! CBS? Forged memos? I guess there are too many important things to bloviate about besides silly things like facts.

  • I feel like a dinosaur trying escape the slime.
    I’ve been writing local news for five years for a Website, and have a LOT of praise from folks for being fair and balanced. Many don’t read the daily paper any more, because I, all by myself, tell them the top news, in what they consider accurate, fair fashion.
    And yet … I have to find a new job, because my boss hasn’t been able to sell enough ads to keep it going (in terms of my salary). Good will don’t pay da bill, so to speak.
    Have I been tarred with the media-bias brush? Or are just a wee bit ahead of enough local (and national) advertisers figuring out a decent revenue model online? A colleague who started a radio station and has sold ads for us as well says folks need to be “educated” about the Net, as opposed to the plain old radio-TV-newspaper buys. What they get for the money, in other words. And yet … so many eyeballs are turning to the Web, for their news. For free. The ads must follow, and not those ugggly “Pop the Zit on Santa!” monstrosities.
    So, I’m not yet 50. I love blogging, and reading blogs, and the Web. I’m not a dinosaur. Am I?

  • The real question is did the media ever have “credibility” to begin with? When one speaks of a loss, one assumes there was something there to lose. Credibility is in the eye of the news consumer, not as measured or assumed by the institutional press.
    The assumption of public trust (and credibility) is the Achilles’ Heel of all pedestal sitters. May it rest in peace.

  • Nobody I’ve known in 25 years of journalism was of the chest-inflated “we have the public trust” variety (well, except the editorial board;-) We fought to deserve that trust, with every article, every day. The smug “you guys were slime to begin with, now ya just know it” crowd galls me. There’s a large cadre of folks, led by certain talk show hosts and commentators, who want to tar all the institutions of the day with a big black brush, from politics and government to the big bad media.
    I’ve never felt I was sitting on a pedestal (that’s too high, the rotten tomatoes have too easy an aim). I like to tell good, interesting stories that people should know or I think would want to know. That’s all good journalism aspires to. To believe we’re all trying to slant stories and trash someone or something is very unfair to the tens of thousands of journalists who work to earn a reader’s respect. And that’s a crying shame.

  • Eileen

    Excellent point, Terry. I lost my starry-eyed innocence regarding print media ‘accuracy’ in 1976 as a 22 year old in law school, after attending an event which was completely misreported by the L.A. Times. [Up until that ‘story’ it had been my primary news source.] Over the next forever, I worked on many (locally) high profile cases in three cities, two states, which – without a single exception – were reported upon with either woeful inaccuracies and/or bias in both print and television coverage. Clearly, local media were protecting/enhancing their next ‘get’ or just plain dumb. It was so pervasive as to represent either extreme sloppiness/lack of brainpower to understand the legal issues, or agenda-based intentional disinformation.
    As a 50 year old (dinosaur, I guess), when one also adds in the pervasive left wing political pablum MSM systematically dishes out, the result is media which somewhere along the line lost its soul or any semblance of an honest work ethic. It has run amok and is now in self destruct mode. The sloppiness, bias and efforts at political control are finally coming home to roost.
    Those stats speak volumes. The numbers don’t scare me in the least. I am heartened, for instead they represent the public’s enhanced awareness and demand for ‘the truth’. If they don’t find it on CBS, etc., they now at least have the opportunity to search for it elsewhere. Thank God for the internet. Thank God for blogs – ‘blovs’?
    I’m sure there are a lot of good people out there who continue in their efforts to present honest, balanced and factual coverage of the news. But fortunately, the public is no longer bamboozled by the arrogance, lies and bias of MSM. If major media outlets of all kinds don’t start reporting facts and Nothing but the Facts; i.e., we don’t want your opinions and bias in our papers and nightly news, they will begin to hear their own dirges…
    I’m concerned for people like you, Barney. I wish you well in your job search.

  • Barney Lerten

    Thanks, Eileen. If I had the gumption to go back to school, maybe I’d teach journalism, and try to push back the tide and stand up for objective reporting. The idea that everyone should write thinly diguised editorials is very unnerving to me.
    Here’s one example that sticks in my craw: Lou Dobbs. He’s giving agenda journalism with a very thin veneer of a straight news report. That bothers me more than the “you know where they come from” alternative weeklies, etc. But I hate the black-and-white, us-vs.-them world folks like Rush present. I ALWAYS see the grays. Granted, it’s for “entertainment,” but it also just deepens the rift and allows everyone to reconfirm their prejudices and biases. I think entertainment is winning out, and THAT’s scary.
    I posted a note on newsroom-l recently, asking what purpose newspaper editorials serve in today’s wide-open, anyone-can-be-heard arena, or if they are an anachronistic throwback to the days of press barons, when newspapers told folks what to think and believe. The response was underwhelming, but I was told in Europe, where the papers’ biases are well-known, editorials bring down governments, etc. Well, glad I don’t live there.
    One of the things I’ve loved about writing for the Net is I told folks at the end of interviews, “Take a look at my story, and if there’s any errors, let me know, and I can fix them.” And I did – and they were appreciative. As was I.

  • Eileen

    “If I had the gumption to go back to school, maybe I’d teach journalism, and try to push back the tide and stand up for objective reporting. The idea that everyone should write thinly diguised editorials is very unnerving to me.”
    Go for it, Barney. They need you. [And hey, in night school at Loyola Law School, L.A., I was (in my view) a little peon as the second youngest of 120, particularly given the doctors, astronauts, college professors and other important people in my class who were approaching 60.] It’s never too late. The youngsters will look up to you. I’m sure you’d make a great prof in a profession that sorely needs someone with the ability to see and promote the grays; i.e., ‘fair and balanced’ reporting. I for one am utterly Sick of rift-producing, entertainment ‘enhanced’ news. Just give me the facts.

  • Thomas

    To anyone who’s ever worked in a major newsroom or media center located anywhere near a major metropolitan area…
    When you walk through the halls, collaborate with associates and interact with others who share your profession–do you ever notice that many of us share the same outlook, views, and philosophies as our peers? That we agree on most matters?
    If the answer is no, then don’t read on because this need not apply to you. However, in my experience–I have been noticing that more and more, the people I interact with in my inner circles and in my city for the most part, all see things pretty much the same way.
    I usually only notice a “disconnect” when I travel out of state. So–sometimes I wonder. If I see many of our social issues one way and my peers see them in the similar ways… is that always a good thing?
    And let us remember. All professionals–whether it be doctor or journalist, are human beings first. We are all capable of achieving great things while in the same breath have the potential to fail in spectacular fashion.

  • Brandon

    This seems to beg the question: in the future, who will actually go out and gather news? Blogs are great and all, and follow in the tradition of pamphleteering that was so vital to the creation of our democracy, but they aren’t actually news sources as much as they are freelance editorial boards. In the PBS session, it came up that a good part of the financial success of the Fox News model (now increasingly emulated by CNN etc) comes from lowering expenses by spending more airtime with “bloviating” talking heads discussing current events, and less airtime covering reporters in the field actually reporting things (and so running up huge travel costs, placing themselves in danger, etc).
    I wonder if we’re headed towards a situation where more and more people are available to offer their opinion of world events, while less and less people are engaged recording what’s actually going on. And is there a danger here of rendering “reality” perfectly malleable to opinion, and so creating “just-so-stories” instead of news?

  • Richard Aubrey

    Some years ago, the local paper covered a school incident. The moron doing the reporting forgot to get the facts and my daughter was made out to be a moron. It even went on AP. The correction did not happen. What happened was what I guess is known as a rowback.
    I’m filled with confidence that I can trust these incompetent liars. I mean incompetents or liars or incompetents and liars.
    I have seen a couple of questionnaires which ask the following question, or paraphrase it:
    Have you ever been extremely familiar with an issue so that you know all about it and seen it reported in the general media? If so, did the media get it mostly right?
    The answers are about 80% no.