Most Americans increasingly say they loathe and mistrust the "news media," but what are they really saying?

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A huge majority of Americans ostensibly still mistrust the news media writ large, according to data released this week by the Gallup Poll organization.

But, then again, maybe not so much.

Nonetheless, a scant 16% of U.S. adults now say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers and only 11% in television news, with both metrics dipping five points since last year, according to Gallup’s data.

A graph published by Gallup shows that failing trust in news media is not a new phenomenon. It’s been steadily eroding since 1982, when 35% of Americans robustly trusted their newspapers, and 46% were bullish on TV news in 1993 (the first year Gallup included that latter category in annual rankings).

Although the latest data reveals declines in Americans’ confidence in 11 of the 16 public institutions and no improvements for any, newspaper and TV news media “rank nearly at the bottom of that list … with only Congress garnering less confidence from the public than TV news,” Gallup reported.

“At this point, there are probably exotic diseases that poll higher than [news media] do, though we can take (extremely) modest comfort that Congress is even less highly regarded,” wrote Washington Post staff writer Oliver Knox on Thursday in the Post‘s “Daily 202” newsletter.

But the data’s meaning may be somewhat skewed—a measure less of Americans’ opinions of all media than of outlets that they don’t patronize.

Related: Confidence in U.S. institutions down; average at new low

Knox suggests that because the current news ecosystem is so fractured—between so-called mainstream media like CNN and MSNBC, and right-wing outlets like Fox News and the National Review—data can be unintentionally siloed and thus misleading. He suspects that,

[T]he growth of partisan media, particularly on the right, means ‘getting news’ in 2022 might be synonymous with ‘get confirmation of prior beliefs.’

It seems plausible that people trust where they get their news, but not where people they disagree with get theirs.

oliver knox, the washington post

In short, people don’t generally read and watch diverse news sources but stick to their tribal mouthpieces. Writes Knox,

For an admittedly partial explanation, I might look to Congress. Specifically, look at incumbents’ sky-high rate of reelection. It seems people loathe Congress but are fine with their representative. It seems plausible that people trust where they get their news, but not where people they disagree with get theirs.

In other words, Gallup’s new data might mainly measure Americans’ trust (or mistrust) in news media other than their own.

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...

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