Among major American institutions, the media have had a particularly rough ride over the past year. Public trust in the media’s integrity and performance has soured significantly in recent months, with big media credibility continuing to sink, the latest I&I/TIPP Poll shows.
The most recent data come from our May online nationwide poll of 1,320 adults, taken from May 4-6. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 points.
Each month since March of 2021, poll respondents have been asked the following two questions:
- “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?”
- “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?”
For the more mainstream “established” media in the first question, the poll shows how poorly in the public’s esteem the news outlets are: Only 37% of those who responded said they had either “a lot of trust” (15%) or “quite a bit of trust” (22%) in the media.
Meanwhile, 56% said they either had “little trust” (28%) or “no trust at all” (28%), for an overall negative trust reading of -19 points. An abysmal reading given the central informational role the media play in our daily lives.
The so-called Alternative Media do even worse.
Just 29% say they trust alternative media, with that total made up of 9% giving a “lot of trust” and 20% delivering “quite a bit of trust.”
Once again, those who don’t trust the alternative media greatly out numbered those that did. A total of 61% said they had “little trust” (37%) or “no trust at all” (24%) in these news providers. That’s a more than 2-to-1 margin for those saying they don’t trust the media vs. those that do.
The negative trust reading, overall, was a whopping -32%.
What’s most glaring about the political breakdown of the responses is that both Republicans and Independents are the harshest critics of the media, both Traditional and Alternative. Democrats are more trusting of both.
For instance, among the Traditional Media universe, 78% of Republicans and 66% of independents distrust the biggest news providers. Only 34% of Democrats did.
Conversely, 61% of Democrats said they trusted these news outlets, compared with just 19% of GOP leaners and 28% of independents.
Moving to the Alternative Media group, 48% of Democrats said they distrusted the news providers, far lower than the 70% of Republicans and 73% of independents who said the same.
Fully 42% of Democrats said they trusted these outlets, far higher than the Republican group (26%) and independents (19%).
What’s most intriguing about this response is that the news organizations mentioned as part of the question tend to be viewed as either centrist or conservative in their political leanings. And yet, they get more trust from Democrats than from Republicans and independents.
Looking a bit longer-term, I&I/TIPP has also created special indexes so that month-to-month comparisons can easily be made. What they say right now is clear: The media are in trouble when it comes to public perceptions of their trustworthiness.
In May, for instance, the Traditional Media Trust Index — a reading over 50 indicates trust, a reading below 50 a lack of trust — fell to 41 in May from 44.6 in April. In perspective, the first reading for the index in March of 2021 was 51.0. Since then, the index has mostly trended down, averaging 43.4 overall since first introduced, declining to just a 41.1 average since the start of 2022.
A similar pattern was evident in the Alternate Media Trust Index, which dropped to 36.9 in May from 39.2 in April. Since the beginning, the index has averaged 38.9, but that too has fallen to just 36.4 so far in 2022.
In short, the trust trend for all major media appears to be weakening significantly.
Why is it happening now? There’s an overwhelming feeling among Americans that the most basic news services are biased. It shows up repeatedly in studies and reports. And, increasingly, there’s a powerful sense among news consumers that this has had a negative impact on our nation.
From “woke” online cancel culture and the suppression of news for ideological reasons to the revolving door that now exists between media outlets and political posts and the selective and sometimes intentionally deceptive editing of stories has created a deeply cynical media-consuming public.
Recent examples of the above abound:
- The Washington Post recently had to run three corrections on one story. And those “corrections” included at least one outright falsehood. Despite such shoddiness, there are no indications that the paper plans to fire or discipline Taylor Lorenz, the writer in question.
- The Post’s staff also went into high dudgeon over a lame joke about women tweeted out by one of the paper’s own writers, Dave Weigel. Weigel appears to have come under far more intense scrutiny and criticism, at least publicly, than Lorenz.
- Major media refuse to engage the factual evidence presented by the Dinesh D’Souza film “2000 Mules” of probable election violations in numerous states during the 2020 presidential contest. Instead of addressing the points made with logic or contrary evidence, media mostly have spent their time in PR-oriented attempts at “debunking” the film.
This leaves a big hole that non-traditional, non-mainstream online media must fill. While nimble and aggressive, those far-smaller outlets don’t have the same resources that the larger outlets do. So people who are hungry for receiving basic news that’s fairly and thoroughly reported will be profoundly disappointed, as our I&I/TIPP data plainly show.
I&I/TIPP publishes timely and informative data from our polls each month on this topic and others of interest. TIPP’s reputation for excellence has come from being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is an 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.