Forty-four percent of Americans believe that media outlets fabricate stories about President Trump “more than once in a while,” according to the just-released 2017 Poynter Media Trust Survey. The breakdown goes like this: 24 percent believe that the media fabricates Trump stories “about half of the time,” 14 percent “most of the time,” and 6 percent “all of the time.”
Those staggering tallies would seem to reflect the success of Trump’s “fake news” wars, in which he counters negative coverage by insisting it’s all made up. In his 318 days as president, in fact, Trump has tweeted about “fake news” 155 times, according to the Trump Twitter Archive. He also delights in alleging that when media outlets base information on anonymous sources, those sources don’t actually exist.
The Poynter study speaks to the impact of the president’s media attacks, though it does so in a complicated manner. As the study’s authors — Andrew Guess of Princeton University, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter — explain, they gave respondents one of four different articles — one on a big error by CNN, one on a “fake news” attack by Trump related to Russia, one a neutral (placebo) news story on the Russia investigation and one a control story about cooking sauces.
What were the findings? Overall, the study concluded that media attacks by Trump didn’t move attitudes too much. Digging down a bit, however, yielded some interesting stuff: “When we break the data down further by presidential job approval, however, we can observe that the effects of the experiment are quite distinct. None of the messages have a measurable effect on overall media attitudes for respondents who disapprove of Trump. However, the media attack and Russia placebo measures significantly worsen media attitudes for Trump approvers (the media error message does not). These effects are strongest on the media trust and media accuracy/bias subscales.”
That chart reveals that among Trump approvers, those indicating either a “fair amount” or a “great deal” of trust in the media dropped off from 30 percent in the control scenario down to between 14 percent and 16 percent for the Russia investigation and “fake news” attack scenarios. The conclusions are based a a survey of 2,100 respondents conducted by YouGov. The company recruits a “large panel of opt-in respondents and then uses a weighting and matching algorithm to construct a final sample that mirrors the demographic composition of the U.S. population.”
And the timing is right. Over the weekend, Trump blasted ABC News for botching a Friday story about the guilty plea of fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. It reported that Trump, as a presidential candidate, had directed Flynn to contact the Russians, a report that set the newsphere on fire. A subsequent “clarification” — later upgraded to a “correction” — amended the record to state that such a directive didn’t happen during Trump’s candidacy. Trump tweeted: