American Trust in Mass Media Slides

Mass media, which supplies much of the information viewed and read by Americans, is widely mistrusted, according to new research. Concerns about partisanship and a lack of accuracy are the primary reasons.

A new Gallup poll finds that only 41% of Americans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in newspapers, TV and radio. Gallup asked the question about whether these media report the news “fully, accurately, and fairly.”

Gallup points out that the media trust level has recovered somewhat from the period around the last presidential election. However, it has never recovered to the levels that ran from 1997 through 2013. Based on this same information, the trust of the media was stronger in the periods before the Great Recession. No rebound appears to be in the offing as another presidential election cycle begins.

Media trust varies massively by political party membership. Only 15% of Republicans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in mass media. The figure among Democrats is 69%. The level of the divide is highlighted by another number. The only medium Republicans trust more than distrust is Fox News. Democrats list six national news sources as trustworthy.

The study raises a question about the future of the media in America, and in particular newspapers, which are already reeling from a fall-off in both circulation and advertising. As they cut staff, their ability to cover news at all is compromised. If readers also lack trust in the news they produce, the problem likely worsens.

The research also begs another question. If Americans do not trust the mass media for news, whom do they trust for this information?