March 6, 2013

In a calm “Hannity” segment last night, Sean Hannity and John Sununu bashed the U.S. media. At one point, Hannity decided to go rhetorical: “How do we have a thriving democracy when people can’t get accurate, fair information?” asked the host.

That question came moments after a telling bit of “Hannity” polemics. The host was hammering NBC News anchor Brian Williams for some self-serving and precious comments he’d made about his patriotism on a podcast with Alec Baldwin, including his confession that he has “profound disappointments” in the United States.

Toehold for Hannity. “Well, guess what, Mr. Williams, the rest of the country appears to be disappointed with you, because, according to a new Rasmussen poll, only six percent of Americans view the news reported by the mainstream, lapdog, Obamamania media as very trustworthy,” said Hannity.

Talk about “accurate, fair information.”

The way Hannity tells it, you might suppose that the question posed by the Rasmussen pollsters was this: “How trustworthy do you view the news reported by the mainstream, lapdog, Obamamania media?” Or perhaps: “How trustworthy do you view the news reported by Brian Williams?”

In fact, however, here’s how the Rasmussen question was articulated in the poll: “How trustworthy is the news reported by the media?”

The media, that is, including Fox News. Including “Hannity.” So the Rasmussen results may well reveal Americans’ “disappointment” not only with Brian Williams but also with Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly and Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell. Everyone’s involved here. (A graphic on the “Hannity” segment had the correct question from the Rasmussen poll, but it didn’t stay on the screen long enough for viewers to be able to fact-check Hannity).

This distortion of fact and logic wouldn’t be worthy of comment if it didn’t reflect an infirmity of Fox News. From its weekend “News Watch” segments through its “Bias Bash” discussions and the very frequent debates on its daily shows, Fox News loves to criticize the mainstream media. Ever so rarely does it recognize its membership in it.

Consider the poll’s breakdown of news consumption. More than half of the respondents (likely U.S. voters) reported receiving news from television, with 24 percent relying on “traditional network news” and 32 percent relying on cable news. Given that Fox News is the leading cable news provider, perhaps it plays some minor role in the media-trust equation.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.