The news media — that bastion of information, the fourth estate, the guardian of truth — is suffering a trust deficit.
According to a poll of just over one thousand U.S. adults conducted by Gallup in early June, the percentage of
Americans who say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the main sources of news — newspapers, TV news, and the Internet — has tanked to an all time low of around 20 percent.
The bad news is that confidence and trust are the news media’s bread-and-butter. The good news is that the media still comes out ahead of the U.S. Congress, which recent polls show is trusted by a mere 7 percent of citizens. (This confidence is starkly different from the 42 percent positive response in 1973, the first year Gallup began asking the question.)
The recent fall in trust is just another in a series of declines: from 23 percent in 2013, 25 percent in 2012, and 28 percent in 2011. It has been a downhill ride in recent years.
Only 18 percent said they have confidence in TV news, down from 23 percent in 2013, 21 percent in 2012, and 27 percent in 2011.
Americans have never seen the Internet as the bastion of news or impartiality. Trust in the Internet remains in the basement at 19 percent — basically unchanged from the 21 percent who gave it a thumbs up in 1999.
For newspapers and TV news, these short-term drops are just the latest leg in the long-term decline. In 2001, 37 percent of Americans said they had a great deal of confidence in newspapers, and in 1979 — which seem like the dark ages now — the figure was 51 percent. In 2000, 36 percent of Americans said that they trusted TV news, and in 1993 the proportion was 46 percent.
There’s not only a trust deficit, there’s also a political divide. Only 15 percent of self-identified conservatives said they have a great deal of trust in newspapers, down from 27 percent in 2006. Liberals who say they trust newspapers has remained basically unchanged from 35 percent in 2006 to 34 percent in 2014.