The media trust gap between conservatives and liberals continues to grow. Here's why

The media trust gap between conservatives and liberals continues to grow. Here's why
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The polarized views on just about every political and cultural issue in America have been underscored again in a new study from the non-partisan Pew Research Center. The study reveals a Grand Canyon-sized gap between Republican and Democratic perspectives on the national news media.  

Just five years ago, 70 percent of Republicans said they had at least some trust in national news organizations. In 2021, that share has been cut in half, with just 35 percent feeling the same way. 

Meanwhile, Democrats are peachy keen on what they're seeing and hearing from the national news media, with 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents saying they have "a lot" or "some" trust in the Fourth Estate nationally. When breaking down the numbers between self-identified liberals and conservatives, the gap widens to 53 points. Eighty-three percent of liberal Democrats have at least some trust in the national media, while just 30 percent of conservative Republicans do. 

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Pew's findings aren’t an outlier. A 2020 deep dive from Gallup showed that Democrats trust in the media approached record highs during the Trump presidency, while among GOP voters it fell to an all-time low. 

I asked longtime media observer and 14-time Emmy-winning journalist Bernie Goldberg what’s behind these numbers. 

Goldberg explained that the reason Democrats and liberals trust the mainstream media is that their values are reflected by said media. So, if you're a liberal and see your liberal values masquerading as straight news, you're perfectly happy.

The reason conservatives aren't happy is that most of the news comes from liberal news organizations, said the author of the 2001 New York Times bestseller “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News.” 

“Almost all of the major news organizations have a liberal slant to their coverage of stories, and certainly on their editorial page,” he explained. “So, Republicans and conservatives see bias. And liberals see honesty. But liberals are wrong, and conservatives are right, in this particular case."

To Goldberg's point, for conservatives, the sentiment you hear is consistent: Too many journalists incorporate their own opinions and biases into straight news reporting. And since most of the national political media is based in Manhattan (very liberal) and Washington, D.C. (extremely liberal), it's almost impossible for conformity and groupthink not to steer the perspectives left by those who seem to have gotten into the business not to report but to advocate. 

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The recent Reporting on the new Texas abortion law is a prime example of advocacy in action, as noted in an op-ed published by the non-profit Poynter Institute for Media Studies. "Texas Abortion Law Leads To Emotional Media Moments in a Busy News Day," reads its headline before noting CNN anchor Kate Bolduan's report on the new law. 

“[It] led to some emotional moments in the media coverage, including this from CNN’s Kate Bolduan," Poynter notes. "She opened 'At This Hour' by saying, 'Let’s just be real. The very same people in the very same state who say, ‘Don’t you dare tell me to wear a mask,’ the same people who say that is government overreach because it violates individual freedoms — those very same people clearly are saying now, ‘Never mind when it comes to my body and the medical decisions that I make with the advice of my doctor. Now that choice is totally fair game, apparently, to be taken out of my hand and dictated now by a bunch of politicians.’ That is hypocrisy. This is hypocrisy, the definition of.”

Note: Bolduan is not an opinion host or pundit. She is the anchor of a daytime news program. Yet there she was, hammering home her feelings on the matter with lots of emotion and no ambiguity. 

Any conservatives or independents who were watching may not have enjoyed being lectured to, either. According to Gallup, 49 percent of American adults consider themselves “pro-choice,” while 47 percent say they're “pro-life.” In 2019, just 46 percent called themselves “pro-choice” while 49 percent identified as “pro-life.” (And in case you’re wondering, despite how the issue is often presented, women and men hold almost identical views on abortion.)

If the goal is to alienate half your audience on an issue, this is a textbook way to accomplish that.

Many hyperbolic reactions could be found on Twitter, too.

It wasn't always this way, of course. Back in 1976 and the post-Watergate reporting era – the days of Cronkite and Brinkley and Mudd – 63 percent of Republicans trusted the media "a great deal" or a "fair amount," compared to 72 percent of independents and 77 percent of Democrats. A tiny gap compared to today.  

Today, most political journalists hold liberal views and vote for and give money to liberal political candidates.

Most conservatives don't trust the media. Most Democrats do. With studies and analyses like these, it's easy to see why. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.