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Trust in US media drops near record low with only 36% of Americans expressing confidence in reporting

Just 36% of American adults expressed some level of trust in mass media in a survey done last month, down from 40% last year and historic highs around 70% in the 1970s, Gallup said on Thursday. In fact, only 7% of respondents said they have “a great deal” of trust in newspaper, television and radio news reporting, while 29% have “a fair amount” of trust.

The all-time low of 32% was set in 2016, when Donald Trump blasted the political press as “slime” and “lying, disgusting people” on his way to defeating Hillary Clinton in that year’s contentious presidential election.

Trump’s presidency and his disputed election loss to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020 appears to have widened the political divide in media perceptions. While 68% of Democrats polled by Gallup said they trust the media, just 31% of Independents and 11% of Republicans still believe in the Fourth Estate.

The media-trust gap between Democrats and Republicans has widened from 23 percentage points in 2015, at 55-32, to 57 points in 2021, Gallup’s polling shows. At the start of the century, that gap was just six points, at 53-47.

Democrat voters perhaps liked what they saw from the media’s treatment of Trump during his presidency and its coverage of the 2020 election, as their trust level shot up to as high as 76% in 2018 from 51% in 2016. It has remained around 70% for the past five years.

For example, mainstream outlets joined Big Tech in suppressing October 2020 reports on the Biden family’s overseas influence-peddling. Revelations from a laptop that Biden’s son, Hunter, allegedly left at a Delaware repair shop were portrayed as ‘Russian disinformation’. Nearly a year later, with the Democrat safely installed as president, a reporter from one of the outlets that promoted the Russian-disinformation theory, Politico, revealed that he had independently confirmed several of the most damaging emails from the laptop.

And when a January 6 protest over claims of election fraud at the US Capitol escalated into a riot, CNN and other mainstream outlets joined Democrat politicians in touting the event as a deadly and racially motivated “insurrection.” The only person killed during the riot was a Trump supporter who was shot by police, while four others, including one officer, died of natural causes.

While coverage of the Trump era apparently pleased Democrats and alienated many Republicans, Independents are taking an increasingly skeptical view of the media. Trust in the media among Independents has dropped from 42% in 2018 to 31% in 2021, Gallup’s figures showed.

Coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic also may have diminished public trust in the media. A hidden-camera investigation by Project Veritas in April purported to show CNN technical director Charlie Chester saying that the network hyped fears of the virus to boost ratings.

“Covid? Gangbusters with ratings, right? Which is why we constantly have the death toll on the side,” Chester was shown saying in the Project Veritas video.

Gallup’s findings are in line with those of the Pew Research Center, which said in August that Democrats were more than twice as likely as Republicans to say they had at least some trust in information from national news organizations. That gap went from 13 percentage points in 2016, at 83-70, to 43 points this year, at 78-35.

Reaction to Gallup’s latest poll was similarly divided. Greg Scott, a staffer for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, said the results showed that it’s a “good time for some introspection, journos.”

At the other end of the spectrum, a left-wing Twitter user interpreted the poll as a reflection of Democrats rejecting “Trump- and GOP-enabling lies” and Republicans distrusting the media “every time the press tells the truth.”

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