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For the major media, 2022 didn’t bring much good news after a rough 2021. Americans’ trust in both the traditional media and alternative media continued to decline in the new year, the latest I&I/TIPP Poll shows.
The I&I/TIPP Media Trust Indexes show continued weakening in early January in the public’s perception of the media, continuing a disturbing recent trend.
The Traditional Media Index, which includes such major legacy media as the Washington Post, New York Times, NPR and CBS, among others, fell to 40.2 in January from 43.3 in the final month of 2021, a 7% decline. January’s reading was the second-lowest since the index was created last March.
Meanwhile, the Alternative Media Index, which captures trust for such media outlets as the New York Post, Washington Times, NewsMax, Daily Caller, Real Clear Politics, among other names, fared even worse. It dropped from 39.3 in December to 34.6, a 12% drop and the lowest reading ever for this index.
And an average of the two indexes is now nearly back at the low of 37.3 reached in November.
As the U.S. enters an election year, the media appear to have lost control of the political narrative, with near-record levels of mistrust.
In a separate special survey, I&I/TIPP asked respondents: “Which of the following descriptions accurately describe the traditional or established news media?” They were then given 14 possible answers and asked to select only three.
In descending order of mentions, poll respondents described the big media as: “biased” (22%), “responsible” (19%), “fair” (16%), “honest” (16%), “fake news” (15%), “dishonest” (15%), “liberal” (15%), “balanced” (14%), “irresponsible” (13%), “Democrats’ allies” (12%), “adheres to high standards of journalism” (12%), “divisive” (12%), “single-minded” (10%), and “unbiased” (9%). 14% of respondents could not answer the question.
Note that “biased” is tops in the survey and “unbiased” is dead last. Also, of note, there was a sharp ideological and partisan split based on positive responses and negative responses.
For instance, 34% of self-described conservatives and 22% of moderates called the big media “biased,” but just 11% of liberals did.
A similar pattern prevailed by party affiliation: 32% of Republicans thought the media was biased, and 28% of independents agreed. But only 13% of Democrats did.
Further, 8 words used to describe the media had negative connotations, while 6 had positive connotations.
In each case, GOP/Conservatives/Independent/Moderates were far more likely to attribute negative characteristics to the media than the Democrats/Liberals.
Indeed, looking at just the 8 words that negatively describe the media, the average score for Democrats was 9.9%; for Republicans, it was 23.4%.
In short, there is a very real split in how the two sides of the political debate see the media. And it seems to be widening.
But what is the source of such deep distrust?
Recent reports suggest the answer is fairly straightforward: bias, negativity and lack of factual reporting. A few of the big headlines over the past year that stick out:
“US ranks last among 46 countries in trust in media” – Reuters Institute, via Poynter.org
The point is, this trend has been building for years, but appears to have gathered momentum since President Trump’s election in 2016 and the battle to remove him from office, the advent of in-your-face woke culture and the misreporting on the COVID-19 virus.
While distrust is reasonably widely distributed among the American population, there is a growing ideological and political split evident in the I&I/TIPP data.
Like it or not, moderate and conservative Americans frequently see the establishment media as an adjunct to the the Democratic Party and the liberal elite that often run the nation’s major academic institutions, think tanks and large bureaucracies.
Despite this, much of the media appear unapologetic and even defiant in their refusal to address even perceptions of bias or factual dishonesty.
In a nation this polarized over politics, education and culture, the question is: Will the major media serve to bridge those differences with reliable and responsible reporting based on facts? Or will it continue to divide us by ignoring traditional standards of journalism to push only one side in the debate?
The data above come from the I&I/TIPP Poll, conducted online from Jan. 5-8 and including responses from 1,305 adults from across the country. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.
In the coming weeks and months, I&I/TIPP will continue to provide timely and informative data from our monthly polls on this topic and others of interest. TIPP has earned its reputation by being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.