Democracy Dies in Darkness

Erik Wemple | Opinion

Report: Nearly 40 percent of Republicans have written off the media

September 11, 2018 at 1:49 PM

President Trump waves to the crowd during a “Make America Great Again” rally in Billings, Mont., on Sept. 6. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

In a recent essay in the Atlantic, “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd lamented that mainstream journalists have stood by idly while Fox News, under the conniving design of late founder Roger Ailes, delegitimized their profession. “[W]hat did we reporters do in the face of this cable onslaught that would eventually turn into a social-media virus and lead us to the election of the most fact-free presidential candidate in American history? Nothing.”

Time to fight back, urged Todd. Reporters need to more aggressively defend their work.

For a significant chunk of the country, however, it may be too late. A new Gallup/Knight Foundation Survey has probed why people have lost trust in news organizations and whether lost trust can be restored. For a mighty percentage of Republicans and conservatives, there appears to be little hope, according to the numbers:

That’s bad news. The Erik Wemple Blog has written from time to time on these trends, noting Republicans and conservatives’ dire view of the media. The study found that 94 percent of Republicans and 95 percent of conservatives reported their trust in the media declined over the past decade. Surely this dynamic stems in part from the national media’s cosmopolitan orientation, the large percentage of liberals/Democrats in its ranks and various high-profile press scandals over the years. But more influential has been the never-ending campaign by Fox News and its ilk who have been determined to tear down the practice of journalism in the United States, a cynical campaign that met its master advocate in Donald Trump — the guy who has congratulated himself for dashing public trust in the media.

Trump’s refusal to abandon his media slams — even as their disturbing ramifications become clear — means that the ranks of Republicans/conservatives who turn permanently against the country’s media may only swell. Media business models, as well as widely agreed-upon political mores and even basic facts, are sure to suffer. There’s also a curious dynamic between trust and the amount of attention that people pay to media: “Eighty-two percent of those who indicate they pay little or no attention to national news say they have less trust in the media now, compared with 74% who say they pay a moderate amount of attention and 62% who say they pay a great deal of attention,” notes the study.

None of this, however, is to say that people like Trump won’t cite major media organizations when they write seemingly favorable things. In those circumstances, these outlets are the most hallowed, trustworthy institutions in all of American history:

Funny how that works.

Erik Wemple, The Washington Post's media critic, focuses on the cable-news industry. Before joining The Post, he ran a short-lived and much publicized local online news operation, and for eight years served as editor of Washington City Paper.

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