If someone inside the American media elite were tapped to deliver a State of the Media address in front of a distinguished audience, they would not be able to claim that their position is strong, stronger than ever.
Sadly, a new survey by the Reuters Institute found the United States ranks last in media trust — at 29% — among 92,000 news consumers surveyed in 46 countries.
There are several easy answers for why this is true. But the most obvious one is the media’s dramatic tilt to one side of the political argument. For many years, the Republicans attempted to reply with polite rebuttals, never failing to concede the old media’s role as a referee of the democratic system. Then in 1996, the Fox News Channel challenged the dominance of the liberal establishment. It made the press look more liberal and less authoritative. They’ve never stopped hating Fox for that.
The media’s overt celebration of the Clintons and then, even more fervently, the Obamas, made it apparent that any notion of fairness and balance had been shredded and burned. By the middle of the Obama era, Republican candidates were learning that bashing the press was an obvious way to boost their popularity. Their voters no longer wanted to show respect to media outlets that showed them no respect. The media divided into reinforced silos. Opinion was king.
By 2015, all the Republican candidates were trashing the press in debates, as the debate “moderators” trashed the Republicans in return. Strangely, the media briefly became the wind beneath Trump’s wings — but only until he had vanquished all the other GOP contenders. That became just another episode in the extreme cynicism of the press in trying to manipulate the election, and it failed spectacularly when Hillary Clinton lost.
Throughout the Trump era, the media relentlessly campaigned to remove him from office as quickly as he could be. When impeachment failed, they relentlessly politicized the coronavirus pandemic, shamelessly accusing the president of killing hundreds of thousands.
When George Floyd became a household name and a cause celebre, the liberal media sided with rioters and eviscerated police officers as guilty until proven innocent. They touted a “racial reckoning,” where violence in the streets was blurred into “mostly peaceful protests” against alleged oppressors, soaked in “white privilege.”
Today’s radicalized youth also disdain the press as completely untrustworthy because they haven’t been revolutionary enough. They aren’t fierce enough in destroying capitalism, or defunding the police and the immigration enforcers, or emptying the prisons. They are still enablers of “systemic racism.” Because journalists care more about the opinions on the left than they do about the American “middle,” we can expect them to keep attempting to shuffle further toward this extreme.
Building trust cannot coincide with more crusading for “social justice.” People don’t trust referees who have always wanted to be players. People can’t trust moderators who refuse to restrain their ideological urges and sound moderate. People shouldn’t trust questioners who are more interested in generating the hostile “gotcha” or the friendly fist-bump than an honest answer.
To build trust, the media would have to act like trust is their goal, not just an entitlement.
They would have to act as moderators on behalf of all the people, just not their half. Nobody can be optimistic that they would accept this assignment.
Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org. To find out more about Tim Graham, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.