A new survey by the Gallup organization reveals that Americans have all but given up on old media services like newspapers and television. Only about 25% of respondents say that they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in either. This puts the legacy media on a par with perennially hated institutions like banks, HMOs and congress.
It isn’t difficult to surmise the reason for this deep distrust. While the media has long been held in low esteem, there was a noticeable decline that began in the mid-1990s. Since that time confidence has dropped about 30%. And just as a point of interest, Fox News launched in 1996.
There isn’t really anything coincidental about it. Fox News has always had as its purpose the discrediting of news as an institution. I made the case for this last year in Fox News Confidential: The Truth Behind Its Secret Mission:
The real mission of Fox News is [cue trumpets] to so thoroughly tarnish the practice of journalism that majorities of the public would recoil in disgust at all of it. Murdoch and Ailes knew that the introduction of a single cable network would have a difficult time enshrouding the whole of the mediasphere in their veil of lies. So rather than try to change people’s minds, they would endeavor to poison the relationship that people have with the press.
Mission accomplished. By trivializing journalism with tabloid-style sensationalism, and diluting its authority with speculation and hyperbolic opinion, Fox has succeeded in producing large majorities of the American public who are now repulsed by the “mainstream” media that barges into their homes every day. The lies Fox News spews are secondary to the campaign of defamation that they launched against the media as a whole. As a result, their fictional accounts of current events are more enduring because people are paying less attention overall.
The saddest part of this scenario is that the non-Fox media have essentially cooperated with Fox’s disparagement of them. Rather than defend themselves and the integrity of their profession, they went along and allowed Fox to create the negative impressions that are now dominant in society. Even worse, they actually helped to reinforce those impressions.
The Washington Post apologized for not covering more of the fakery of Andrew Breitbart. CNN bent over backwards to endorse the wacko wing of the right by hiring RedState’s Erick Erickson. MSNBC continues to host disreputable characters like Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan. And everybody persists in covering non-entities like Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. With respect to the latter, Sarah Palin just came in fourth (pdf) amongst Republicans in a preference poll for 2012. And the Tea Party registered a measly (pdf) 30% favorable rating with an even smaller percentage (25%) saying they would vote for a candidate with a Tea Party affiliation. Yet these two subjects get wall-to-wall coverage across the media spectrum.
Perhaps if newspaper and television reporters would cover issues that actually address the interests of their audience they would not be so universally reviled. If they could manage to resist the melodramatic minutiae that Fox News has embraced they could recover some of their lost respect. And above all they need to put objectivity and honesty at the top of their agenda, not ratings and revenue.
In other words, if they deliver a product that is informative and useful, and contributes to people’s lives, profits and popularity will follow. If they continue to pursue the Fox model they will only succeed in further damaging their reputation and their prospects for the future. To say nothing about the damage they are doing to a country whose democracy relies on a well-informed population.