So: Fifty-eight percent of Republicans/Republican leaners say “journalists create a lot of made-up news and information,” as opposed to 20 percent of Democrats/Democratic leaners. That political partisans have opposing views on the media is not news. Less than a year ago, Pew released a study showing a 34-point gap between Democrats and Republicans over whether news organizations “tend to favor one side.” Guess which group agreed with that assessment by 86 percent, and which clocked in at 52 percent.
Republicans’ thumbs-down view of the media has tugged down trust ratings for the industry, which cratered in 2016 and have recovered somewhat since then, according to Gallup. When those numbers were still tanking, Trump told radio host Fred Dicker in September 2016, “I think I had a lot to do with that poll … because I’ve exposed the media. If you look at The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and if you look at others: the level of dishonesty is enormous. It’s so dishonest. I can do something that’s wonderful and they make it sound terrible."
This expert on dishonesty shouldn’t have taken so much credit. The advocacy campaign to undermine the U.S. mainstream media, after all, began decades ago, in the Nixon era, and assumed its modern, professional incarnation with the 1996 launch of Fox News — the leading purveyor of false and misleading statements about the performance of the media.
It’s a good bet that the 38-point gap surfaced by the latest Pew study would have been wider if the survey had been conducted a month or so after its Feb. 19-March 4 span. That way, it would have reflected public opinion in light of Attorney General William P. Barr’s March 24 letter abridging the Mueller report, which noted that the investigation did not establish a conspiracy with Russia. In response to that selectively articulated document, commentators blasted the media for a “catastrophic” failure, a “lie, a fabrication, a complete and utter hoax” and the like.
That idea prevailed for weeks, until the report itself hit the streets in mid-April. A key passage stated that in the vicinity of collusion/conspiracy, there was a great deal of smoke: "Although the evidence of contacts between Campaign officials and Russia affiliated individuals may not have been sufficient to establish or sustain criminal charges, several U.S. persons connected to the Campaign made false statements about those contacts and took other steps to obstruct the Office’s investigation and those of Congress.” And on obstruction of justice, the report read like an indictment, even if it lacked the legal trade dress. Just last week, a woman who attended a town hall event in Michigan said that her “conservative news” diet left her unaware that the Mueller report contained negative information about Trump and his associates.
From all indications, in other words, the effort to convince a good chunk of the U.S. public to trust only certain media outlets is working. It will, therefore, continue apace.
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