Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to Record Low

Published October 20, 2023

Over the past 50 years, Gallup has tracked Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly.” In 1972, 72 percent of adults said they had a “great deal/fair amount” of trust in the mass media (newspapers, TV, and radio) while only 6 percent said “none at all.” Today, only 32 percent say they have a “great deal/fair amount” of trust in the mainstream media whereas 39 percent say they have “none at all.”

It is incredible that nearly three out of four Americans trusted the mass media in 1972 considering that the country was strongly divided on an array of issues including the ongoing Vietnam War, the fight for civil rights, and the budding Watergate scandal. It is also worth noting that at this time three networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—monopolized TV news coverage.

Back then, the vast majority of Americans received the news from network TV broadcasts, which generally did a decent job of covering domestic and international events in an even-handed manner. In fact, Walter Cronkite, who anchored the CBS Evening News throughout the 1960s and 1970s was routinely named “the most trusted man in America” in polls because he largely delivered the news sans bias.

Unfortunately, the days of the mass media bringing the news fully, accurately, and fairly are long gone. Unlike the 1970s, when the mass media reported the news, today, the mass media have an agenda and use their media megaphone to shape the news to fit with their preferred ideological narrative.

As the Gallup polling indicates, the tide turned in the early 2000s. In 2003, 53 percent of U.S. adults still had a “great deal/fair amount” of trust in the media. However, by 2005, this slipped to 50 percent and it has been on a downward trajectory ever since. Coincidentally, this is when the mass media were banging the drums of war, claiming Iraq had WMDs, which helped secure the needed public support for a costly invasion of Iraq.

In 2016, the year Donald Trump threw his hat in the presidential race, trust in the mass media fell precipitously, from 40 percent to a then-record low of 32 percent. Meanwhile, at the same time, the percentage of those saying they had zero trust in the mass media spiked to a then-record high of 27 percent.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the mass media’s unfair and dishonest coverage of the Trump campaign, which drove Trump to label the mass media as “fake news,” resonated with a large number of Americans.

By 2016, the general posture of the mass media had swung decidedly to the left end of the political spectrum. Moreover, once Trump became president, the mass media, for the most part, abandoned all pretenses of fairness and accuracy, as they sought to use their exalted position as the Fourth Estate to undermine Trump’s Make America Great Again policy plan.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit gleaned from the Gallup polling is that 2016 also marked the beginning of a trend wherein Democrats’ trust in the mass media increased while Republicans’ trust plummeted. In 2016, 51 percent of Democrats had a “great deal/fair amount” of trust in the mass media. By 2020, that increased to 73 percent. On the other hand, in 2016, only 14 of Republicans answered likewise. By 2020, this dwindled to 10 percent.

In recent years, self-identified Independents have also lost confidence and trust in the mass media. For instance, in 2018, 42 percent of Independents maintained a strong sense of trust in the mass media’s coverage of news events. Yet, by 2022, this fell to 27 percent.

Aside from the mass media’s one-sided coverage of all things Trump beginning in 2016, we cannot ignore the reprehensible role they played in their slanted, deceitful reporting of the COVID-19 pandemic and the “peaceful” protests after the death of George Floyd. We also can’t overlook the mass media’s predisposition in a range of other timely topics, including their stance on climate change, the Biden economy, Hunter’s laptop, rising crime, the wide-open Southern border, and most recently, the events in the Middle East following Hamas’ slaughter of Israeli civilians.

Although it is bad enough that the vast majority of mainstream media outlets do not present the so-called stories of the day in an unbiased, fact-based manner, it is equally disheartening to watch as they routinely commit bias by omission, as well. By this, I am referring to the wide range of news events that they fail to report to the American people simply because doing so would undermine the left-wing agenda for which they advocate for on a daily basis. For example, why did the mass media refuse to inform the American people that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Trump’s signature economic achievement, was a boon for minorities and working-class Americans?

Those who have studied history are well aware that when the mass media do not report the news in a full, accurate, and fair manner, totalitarianism and censorship can gain a foothold. We must prevent this from occurring in the United States at all costs.

Photo by David. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0.