No kid wants to come home with a report card that has more Ds and Fs than As and Bs. It usually means punishment: a ban on TV or video games, and lots more hard work. The Big Media have once again received flunking grades for their own subpar performance in covering the news. But if it bothers them, it sure doesn’t show.
In February’s I&I/TIPP Poll, we asked what responsibility the media bear for the nation’s current high level of political and cultural polarization, a continuing theme in our own recent polls and outside studies.
Americans, to be blunt, are not feeling very charitable toward the media. The numbers are pretty shocking. Three-quarters (74%) believe the country is divided and only 21% think it is united. According to the poll chart, 78% of those who believe the country is divided believe the media is “somewhat” or “very” to blame for the current polarization of American public discourse. Only 17% said “not very” or “not at all.”
Also in the February I&I/TIPP Poll, we asked average Americans to grade the media on how well they cover — or fail to cover — certain major, hot-button events that have taken place in recent months and years, but that received only scant or highly selective media coverage.
Those events include: Donald Trump’s presidency, the January 6 demonstrations in Washington, D.C., the Jussie Smollett case, Hunter Biden’s questionable business dealings, and Ashli Babbitt’s death. There’s really no surprise here: The media flunk across the board, with more Ds and Fs than As and Bs.
The grades for the media’s performance aren’t exactly stellar, as you can see from these media report cards:
Trump presidency: 30% A or B, 45% D or F, 7% “not sure.” It’s no surprise that 53% of Republicans flunked the media, or that 49% of independents did. But even 38% of Democrats felt the media failed to do their job in covering Trump, while just 36% gave them the highest grades. Trump’s stormy four years in office included some of the most negative coverage of a president in modern history, and a four-year campaign by government insiders to have him ousted from the White House.
Jan. 6 events in Washington, D.C.: 30% A or B, 40% D or F, with 12% not sure. Among Democrats, a significantly large 46% gave the media top grades for covering the Jan. 6 political demonstrations, which many media outlets falsely termed an “insurrection.” That compares to just 14% of Republicans who gave top grades, and 25% of independents.
Jussie Smollett alleged hate-crime case: Overall 22% A or B, 30% D or F, and 28% “not sure.” The large “not sure” number is itself an indictment of the media’s coverage, which initially began as sensational reporting of African-American actor Jussie Smollett claiming to have been assaulted by white supremacists. The story fell apart, however, revealed as a hoax when it was revealed two associates of Smollett’s, both black, helped stage a phony attack on the actor. The early noisy coverage died down after it became known that the “perpetrators” weren’t White.
Hunter Biden’s questionable business deals: 21% A or B, 41% D or F, and 19% not sure. The media have soft-pedaled or completely ignored the deals made by President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, piggy-backing off of his father’s global connections and domestic political clout to sign deals around the world. Hunter Biden and his extended family has been on the receiving end of literally millions of dollars of sweet deals with Russia, Ukraine and China that raise red flags over their possible illegality and the possibility that a sitting president financially benefited.
Ashli Babbitt’s death: 18% A or B, 25% D or F, and 40% not sure. The media downplayed the unarmed Babbitt’s death after being shot by a U.S. Capitol Police officer. Instead, Babbitt, along with other demonstrators, was smeared in the media as an “insurrectionist” for her participation in the mostly-peaceful Jan. 6 demonstrations. While some of the demonstrators did get violent, Babbitt wasn’t one of them; in fact, video footage showed the 35-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran, with two tours in Iraq under her belt, trying to prevent the attack.
Given the poor job the major media have done in covering recent stories, it’s no surprise they have declined so much in the eyes of average Americans. The message from polls across the spectrum comes through loud and clear: the media let politics and ideology get in the way of reporting facts and the wider context for news events. And now, with their collapsing reputations, they’re paying the price.
All the data above come from the monthly I&I/TIPP Poll, which was conducted online from Feb. 2-4 and includes responses from 1,355 adults nationwide. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 2.8 percentage points.
I&I/TIPP will continue to provide timely and informative data from our monthly polls on this topic and others of major interest. TIPP has earned a reputation for excellence 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.