“The Associated Press should be embarrassed by a story that utterly distorts what happened yesterday on my program ‘Media Buzz,’ ” Kurtz wrote Monday on Facebook. The news agency had published a story with the headline, “Fox News mistakenly posts graphic showing it lags in trust,” which has since been corrected.
On Sunday, Kurtz had been talking about a new Monmouth University poll on “fake news” and American trust in the media when a graphic appeared on-screen.
“Do the media report fake news regularly or occasionally,” Kurtz said. “Seventy-seven percent say yes.”
“WHO DO YOU TRUST MORE?” the graphic's banner said, and listed Fox News at 30 percent, while competitors CNN and MSNBC came in at 48 percent and 45 percent respectively.
Kurtz quickly noticed.
“This is not the graphic we’re looking for,” he said. “Hold off. Take that down please.”
The poll numbers were on air for less than six seconds, enough time for plenty of other people to take note.
CNN host Chris Cuomo also picked up on the news, sharing a Raw Story headline reading: “Watch Fox host Howard Kurtz panic after graphic shows Fox News is least trusted network.”
Except that's not what the graphic shows.
The three cable networks were not being compared to each other; instead, poll respondents were asked to compare each network to Trump as a trusted source of information.
Monmouth found that 30 percent of people trust Fox News more than they trust President Trump; 20 percent of poll respondents said trust the president more than they do the network. Thirty-seven percent said they trust both equally.
This is an obvious explanation: Fox’s viewership leans conservative, so it’s more likely to believe what Trump says — even more than its preferred cable news channel. That CNN and MSNBC viewers place more trust in their outlet over Trump is probably more a reflection of their viewers not trusting Trump rather than the relative quality of their journalism.
Fox News’s Twitter account shared the “Media Buzz” segment. (Watch the moment below beginning at the 1:58 mark.)
On Facebook, Kurtz explained what happened.
“During the segment, the control room mistakenly posted the graphic early, while I was dealing with the fake news questions. So I calmly asked that it be taken down,” Kurtz wrote. “About a minute later, I asked for the graphic to be put back on the screen and discussed the finding with my guest, pollster Frank Luntz.”
In a statement Monday, Kurtz told The Washington Post that he “was disappointed when I saw the AP story because I thought the journalists there had higher standards than to just recycle online partisan garbage without asking for comment. But I do appreciate the correction.”
AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said in an email statement that the story “was corrected to show that the graphic was taken down because it was used in the wrong segment, and was used again on the show.”
Fox News was the most-watched basic cable network in the first quarter of 2018, followed by MSNBC, according to Adweek. CNN was seventh for the total day and 11th for prime time.
The Monmouth poll, published April 2, came with a dire message for journalists.
The percentage of Americans who say that traditional major television outlets and newspapers report “fake news” at least occasionally rose to 77 percent from 63 percent the year before, Monmouth said in a statement. “Fake news” isn’t just about factual errors but also applies to “how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report.”
“These findings are troubling, no matter how you define ‘fake news,’ ” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Confidence in an independent Fourth Estate is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Ours appears to be headed for the intensive care unit.”
Emily Guskin and Aaron Blake contributed to this report.