First, the good news: Public opinion of both the Traditional Media and the Alternative Media rebounded slightly in March. Now the bad news: Despite the slight gain, the media failed to arrest their slide in public opinion over the last year, data from the March I&I/TIPP Poll show.
Even worse news for the media comes as both The New York Times and Washington Post admitted in recent days that they failed for two years to cover signs of possible influence peddling by President Biden’s son Hunter, as revealed on Hunter’s lost laptop. It’s a major PR disaster for both outlets and for the mainstream media in general.
Will the public be forgiving? Or will the media’s long decline in public trust resume after March’s uptick?
First, some numbers. Each month, I&I/TIPP asks Americans two questions about the major media:
One, “Generally speaking, how much trust do you have in the traditional or established news media (Example: Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, CBS News, etc.) to report the news accurately and fairly?”
And two, “Generally speaking, how much trust do you have in the alternative news media (Example: New York Post, Washington Times, NewsMax, The Daily Caller, RealClearPolitics, etc.) to report the news accurately and fairly?”
The idea is to get as broad a reading as possible on the largest and most influential media outlets in the U.S. information landscape. The two indexes were unveiled in March 2021.
In March of this year, it was a classic good news/bad news situation for the media. The Traditional Media Index, which gauges the long-term trends of changes in public opinion, rose 6.2% to 41.1 in March from 38.7 in February.
Meanwhile, the comparable Alternative Media Index, which looks at many of the scrappy competitors that go head to head with the big, traditional media, gained 8.5% to 37.1 in March from 34.2 in February.
Neither media grouping should be taking out party hats and ordering champagne, however, to celebrate the one-month rise.
When first taken in 2021 the Traditional Media Index opened with a solid 51 reading, while the Alternative Media Index started out at a lower 44.8. Since then, however, neither index has returned to its initial level, falling consistently for most of the year.
Meanwhile, a look at the actual underlying percentages of Americans who no longer trust the media should be of keen concern for U.S. media companies.
For the Traditional Media, in March only 37% of Americans said they trust that group of outlets, while 58% said they had “no” or “little” trust.
For the Alternative Media, just 30% expressed “trust,” compared to 61% who said they didn’t trust them.
Taken together, it’s a damning picture of an industry in crisis.
While the Traditional Media get higher marks, even that is suspect. The index figures show that the Traditional Media, which are overwhelmingly left-liberal in news orientation, get the bulk of their support from the left side of the political spectrum.
Among self-described “liberals” in the I&I/TIPP Poll, the Traditional Media outlets have a solid 58.3 Index reading. That’s way above the comparable reading for those who describe themselves as “moderates” (41.1) and “conservatives” (29.7).
On the other hand, the Alternative Media’s support is fairly even across the spectrum, based on the Index: “liberals” (40), “moderates” (33.8) and “conservatives” (39.4). Interestingly, “moderates” here are the outlier.
All this suggests, at minimum, a sharp political division among Americans when it comes to how and from where they get their news.
This has been on evident display in recent weeks with the burgeoning Hunter Biden laptop story, which appears to be on the verge of becoming a full-blown scandal.
For two years, the Traditional Media outlets ignored clear indications of potential scandal inside Hunter Biden’s laptop, which was accidentally left at a computer repair shop and never picked up. Reporting by others, in particular the New York Post and Epoch Times, was ignored or dismissed as “Russian propaganda.”
In recent weeks, however, both the New York Times and Washington Post have felt compelled to admit that the Hunter Biden laptop and its 22,000 or so emails are genuine, and require further investigation.
The contents of the laptop, which the government at one point had in its possession raise serious questions about not just Hunter Biden, but his father, President Joe Biden. Hunter and companies he controls or has stakes in has been the recipient of multiple seven-figure sums from Chinese, Russian and Ukrainian sources.
Did Joe take part? Was this active influence peddling? The Traditional Media didn’t tell us. It might well have been a decisive issue in the 2020 election. Instead the big media focused on what have turned out to be false and possibly criminal allegations by Hillary Clinton’s campaign that Donald Trump “colluded” with the Russians?
Serious news outlets are asking serious questions.
“Publications that ignored the Hunter Biden story in 2020 now admit it’s real,” the Wall Street Journal noted in a video, “Hunter Biden’s Laptop and Media Accountability,” last week. “Will Joe Biden finally answer the questions he refused to answer before he became President?”
Even lefty comedian and political commentator Bill Maher had harsh words for the left-wing media for “burying the Hunter Biden laptop scandal because it wasn’t part of their narrative.”
Will the media slip further in the I&I/TIPP poll for ignoring such a major story, especially after ignoring potentially damning testimony of Hunter Biden’s former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, who has implicated Joe Biden in Hunter’s money-making schemes?
Or will they be rewarded by readers for finally coming clean on what is certainly a major news story, whether they covered or not?
Our April poll begins this week.
As noted above, these polling data come from the I&I/TIPP Poll, which was conducted online from Mar. 2-4. The poll of 1,318 adults from across the country has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.
Each month, I&I/TIPP provides timely and informative data from our polls on this topic and others of major interest to Americans. 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.