'Made-up news' is a top concern — but will the news media pay attention?

'Made-up news' is a top concern — but will the news media pay attention?
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Racism. Terrorism. The immigration crisis.

These are the huge, important issues of our time. Except for the economy, which is humming along about as well as anyone could hope, these three issues are the kinds of things that determine elections. 

So it may come as a profound surprise that a new Pew Research study shows Americans, by a decided margin, say made-up news is easily more important than terrorism, immigration or racism. 

A whopping 50 percent of U.S. adults name made-up news as a very big problem, while only 40 percent name racism. Rounding out the top five are drug addiction (70 percent), affordability of health care (67 percent), the U.S. political system (52 percent), and the gap between rich and poor (51 percent). 
"U.S. adults blame political leaders and activists far more than journalists for the creation of made-up news intended to mislead the public. But they believe it is primarily the responsibility of journalists to fix the problem," the Pew study reads. "Close to six-in-ten U.S. adults (57%) say political leaders and their staff create a lot of made-up news, and about half (53%) say the same thing of activist groups. 

"About a third feel journalists (36%) or foreign actors (35%) create a lot, while about a quarter (26%) put the blame on the public. Even though Americans do not see journalists as a leading contributor of made-up news and information, 53% think they have the greatest responsibility to reduce it – far more than those who say the onus mostly falls on the government (12%) or technology companies (9%).”

Overall, “nearly seven-in-ten U.S. adults (68%) say made-up news and information greatly impacts Americans’ confidence in government institutions, and roughly half (54%) say it is having a major impact on our confidence in each other," according to Pew's study, released Wednesday. 

Before you cry "partisan hack study,” know this: Pew is as nonpartisan, nonprofit and meticulous as it comes. Their work is extensive and done over a series of time to ensure the outcome isn't a rushed, random conclusion in an effort to create clicks.   

Pew found considerably more Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (62 percent) say made-up news is a very big problem for the country. Only 40 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents feel the same way. (A logical argument might be made that this difference should be expected, since many — though certainly not all — quarters of media lean left, especially among major broadcast and print outlets.) 

"Most of those surveyed (56%) think the problem will get worse over the next five years. Only one-in-ten believe progress will be made in reducing it," Pew concludes. 

Says Amy Mitchell, the group’s director of journalism research: “The impact of made-up news goes beyond exposure to it and confusion about what is factual. Americans see it influencing the core functions of our democratic system.”


“While Americans want the issue of made-up news addressed," she continued, "they are also conscious of the huge challenge posed by partisan divides in our country today – challenges that are pronounced in the level of blame members of each party place on the news media.”

Mitchell is correct. As I wrote recently, we as news consumers read and hear opinions that look and sound more like a "Dear Diary" entry than just the facts of a story. What's real? What's hiding under the guise of a supposedly straight news report? 

With confusion comes mistrust. And when Americans by a considerable margin believe the news media, fairly or not, is presenting news that may or may not be made up, you have an industry facing its come-to-Jesus moment. 

Whether those who are influential enough to switch gears will understand this or care is a whole different story. 

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill and co-host of "WOR Tonight with Joe Concha and Lis Wiehl" weeknights on 710-WOR in New York. Follow Concha on Twitter @JoeConchaTV.