Brent Bozell: The Media's Massive Credibility Problem

L. Brent Bozell III and Tim Graham | August 21, 2019 | 5:02am EDT
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President Donald Trump talks to reporters at the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On her weekly Sinclair TV show, "Full Measure," on Aug. 18, former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson interviewed pollster Scott Rasmussen about journalists' standing in the public square. They're about as trusted as Wikipedia, the website considered so unreliable that school teachers often tell students they can't cite it as a source for their research papers.

Only 38 percent said national political coverage is accurate and reliable, while 42 percent said it is not. "We asked about national political reporters. Are they credible? Are they reliable?" said Rasmussen. "And you know, a little more than 1 out of 3 people say yes. When we ask about Wikipedia, we get the exact same answer. So what's — what's happening is we have a world where people look at journalists like they look at Wikipedia."

You hear the media elites often break out the nostalgia for an era when the American people had "shared facts." Translation: a time when all Americans had the "mainstream" media to tell them what the "facts" were, and when those in that "mainstream" enjoyed a monopoly in their industry. Facts always seemed carefully arranged for political impact.

For example, the TV anchors told us the Vietnam War was an unwinnable quagmire. Watergate was the worst scandal in American history. The Soviet Union only wanted peace. The wealthy were greedy. Planet Earth would succumb to global warming. And Planned Parenthood cares about children.

All this created a national hunger for alternative sources of information. The addition of Fox News, conservative talk radio, and conservative news websites and blogs in the '90s is decried as the dawn of a new era of "misinformation."

The media's dramatic tilt has clearly taken a toll on their image. Rasmussen told Attkisson that 78 percent of voters say reporters don't report news so much as they promote their agenda: "They think they use incidents as props for their agenda rather than seeking accurate record of what happened. ... Only 14 percent think that a journalist is actually reporting what happened."

That result is just devastating. The "news" media no longer exist.

Then Rasmussen added a layer of public cynicism: "If a reporter found out something that would hurt their favorite candidate, only 36 percent of voters think that they would report that." The public sees the media for what they are: flagrant activists manipulating the democratic process.

Attkisson also interviewed former CNN anchor Frank Sesno to react to this massive credibility problem. Sesno toed the company line and, in so doing, tripped over his own tongue. "The public understands fundamentally what journalism should be," he said. "They don't understand how it's actually practiced." What does that mean? The public isn't well-informed enough to know how well-informed it would be if it were to trust the press?

If media organizations really wanted to improve their image, they would address public skepticism seriously, taking some very simple steps. Stop trying to bury every bit of good news for President Trump and every bit of bad news for Bernie, Biden & Co. Try to acknowledge that policy debates have two sides. It is fair to question climate change, support our national identity and oppose the abortion industry trafficking human carnage.

Is it too late? Conservatives have walked away from these networks and newspapers, which means that their audiences are now mostly liberals who reject everything conservatives champion. Obviously, from all we've witnessed, liberal journalists are much more sensitive to criticism from fellow liberals than they are to the American public. That's unlikely to change, so the credibility crisis will only deepen.

L. Brent Bozell III is the president of the Media Research Center. Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog

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