Trust in news collapses to historic low

Americans' confidence in newspapers and television news has plummeted to an all-time low, according to the latest annual Gallup survey of trust in U.S. institutions.

Why it matters: The erosion of trust in media is one of the most significant signs of deepening polarization in America.

  • Political party affiliation has become the primary driver of opinions about the media's trustworthiness, as Gallup has noted.
  • A 2021 poll from Pew Research Center found that Republicans are far less likely to trust media sources that are considered "mainstream."

Details: Television news is today considered the second-least trusted institution in the country, following Congress, according to the poll.

  • While other institutions have also experienced precipitous declines, including banks and the medical system, others — like small business and the military — have held steady over the past few decades.

By the numbers: The trust fall in the news media been driven mostly by Republicans, according to the data.

  • Just 5% of Republicans said they had "a great deal or quite a lot of confidence" in newspapers, compared to 35% of Democrats.
  • Only 8% of Republicans said they had "a great deal or quite a lot of confidence" in TV news, compared to 20% of Democrats.
  • Independents' views are generally closer to Republicans'.

The big picture: The media trust gap between Democrats and Republicans began to widen during the the Bush and Obama administrations, but grew dramatically during the Trump era and has continued to widen.

  • Censorship and media bias have become a rallying cry among conservatives, prompting a slew of new media and tech investments, including alternative social media networks, entertainment companies and podcast networks.

Between the lines: The lack of trust in traditional news institutions is growing as partisan voices become more accessible online.

  • Data and experts suggest the public struggles to distinguish fact-based journalism from opinion content online.
  • The standards used by traditional media outlets — like fact-checking, bylines, datelines, and corrections — have not been fully-adopted by online news commentators on blogs, podcasts and social media.

Yes, but: The internet can't be fully blamed for the erosion of media trust. And distrust in traditional institutions could force them to reckon with institutional problems, like a lack of diversity.

  • Semafor's Ben Smith noted on stage Thursday at an event in Washington that the "single most important factor" in media distrust was "the horrible coverage" in the run-up to the Iraq war and "the disastrous media coverage in the years after 9/11," when television and newspapers were still the dominant forms of news.
  • Politico founding editor and editorial chairman John Harris reminded Smith on stage that "in the old days," a handful of people at a small number of outlets had all the agenda-setting power and they "would’ve all been white men."
  • "All of us have biases and that maybe true objectivity is, what does your newsroom look like? How diverse is it?" said Al Jazeera English host Femi Oke at the event.

Go deeper: Conservative trust in media has cratered

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