Story at a glance
- Throughout the Trump presidency, Americans’ attitudes towards the news media have become increasingly politically charged.
- A new survey by Gallup and Knight found political party affiliation was the primary determining factor of Americans’ opinions of and trust in the media.
- These findings, however, do not reflect any changes in public opinion after the coronavirus outbreak.
More Americans today believe that the role of the news media in democracy is critical compared to 2017, according to a new report. More Americans also say that the media is performing poorly now, as President Trump’s first term nears an end, than they did when he first took office.
“Most Americans have lost confidence in the media to deliver the news objectively,” Sam Gill, the Knight Foundation’s senior vice president and chief program officer, said in a statement. “This is corrosive for our democracy.”
The Gallup and Knight survey polled 20,000 adults in the United States between Nov. 8, 2019, and Feb. 16, 2020, before the coronavirus outbreak exploded into a global pandemic and the death of George Floyd reinvigorated the ongoing movement for racial justice.
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"The low levels of public trust in the nation’s polarized media environment have left open the possibility for dangerous false narratives to take root in all segments of society during these emergent crises," the Knight Foundation said in a release. "At a time when factual, trustworthy information is especially critical to public health and the future of our democracy, the striking trends documented in these pages are cause for concern."
More than 91 percent of respondents said it is “critical” or “very important” for the news media to provide accurate and fair news reports and ensure Americans are informed about public affairs. Eight-five percent say it's "critical" or "very important" for the media hold leaders accountable for their actions. But 49 percent see “a great deal” of political bias in news coverage and another 37 percent see “a fair amount.”
About half recognize bias in their go-to news source, according to the report, but more Americans — 69 percent — are concerned about bias in the news that other people are getting. Many Americans think inaccurate news is intentional, either because a reporter is misrepresenting the facts or making them up entirely, and nearly 8 out of 10 Americans say news organizations they distrust are trying to persuade people to adopt a certain viewpoint.
These views vary by age, with older Americans more favorable to the news media than younger generations, as well as political affiliation.
“Democrats and Republicans differ greatly in their ratings of the media on every aspect of performance, including providing objective news reports, holding political and business leaders accountable for their actions and helping Americans stay informed about current affairs,” said the report.
Almost three-fourths of Republicans have a “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable opinion of the news media, compared to 22 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents. And although 80 percent of all Americans say the media is under attack, 70 percent of Democrats say those attacks are not justified, while 61 percent of Republicans say they are.
The partisan divide also appeared in response to survey questions about diversity efforts in the news media. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say news organizations should hire to increase the diversity of their reporting staffs, but they have different definitions of diversity. Democrats and Black Americans are more likely to prioritize racial or ethnic diversity in hiring, while Republicans and white Americans are more likely to prioritize diversity in political views.
Still, the report ended on a positive note, concluding that while many Americans say the media bears "a great deal" or "a moderate amount" of blame for political division in this country, nearly identical percentages say the media has the power to heal those divisions.
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