By Nancy Smith
Here’s a poll you won’t see widely in Florida mainstream media — because, frankly, the press is either in deep denial or it’s looking for a way to smear it in lipstick. But here it is, released Wednesday by Gallup: “Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32 percent (of respondents) saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.”
That means less than a third of Americans trust what the media say. And I thought last year was bad, when the number was 8 percentage points higher.
Gallup first asked its trust-and-confidence question in 1972, and has on a yearly basis since 1997. Over the history of the entire trend, Americans’ trust and confidence hit its highest point in 1976, at 72 percent, “in the wake of widely lauded examples of investigative journalism regarding Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.” After staying in the low to mid-50s through the late 1990s and into the early years of the new century, says Gallup, Americans’ trust in the media has fallen slowly and steadily. It has consistently been below a majority level since 2007.
Please don’t tell me you’re surprised. You know you’ve seen the bad behavior of the MSM yourself, particularly this year, since Donald Trump won the Republican nomination.
Columnist Michael Goodwin has been one of the few to write about “the complete collapse of American journalism as we know it” in the Aug. 21 edition of the New York Post.
“The frenzy to bury Trump is not limited to the Clinton campaign and the Obama White House. They are working hand in hand with what was considered the cream of the nation’s news organizations.
“The shameful display of naked partisanship by the elite media is unlike anything seen in modern America,” he writes.
Goodwin indicts the largest broadcast networks — CBS, NBC and ABC — and major newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, whom he claims have jettisoned all pretense of fair play. He says, “Their fierce determination to keep Trump out of the Oval Office has no precedent.”
If you’re a regular follower of my columns, you know I’ve been no fan of Donald Trump. But I’ve clearly and embarrassingly seen the bias for myself in newspapers and from networks that solemnly swear they deal fairly with both sides. They don’t. Not even close.
One of the most egregious incidents of media bias among so many I saw this year was CNN’s tizzy over a Trump campaign worker choosing to place a decorative star icon on a mailer. Somebody suggested it was the Jewish Star of David, and therefore didn’t that say Trump is anti-Semitic? The network pursued this for four straight days. Four straight days. They brought on panel after panel of experts to ask the same questions and get the same answers. It was petty, it was boring, it got nowhere, but it was an opportunity to hammer home Trump’s “bigotry” and obstinence and refusal to apologize to anybody about anything. To this day CNN calls it the “Jewish symbol scandal,” when it was only a “scandal” because their four days of overkill deemed it one.
To make the overkill/bias even more obvious, after four days, along came the release of more Hillary Clinton emails that showed she hadn’t been honest about her knowledge of how many of them had been classified. What did CNN do? They spent fewer than three hours on Clinton, then went right back to a panel on the Star of David.
Covering Trump’s contradictory and rash statements is one thing. That’s the media’s job. But there isn’t a commentator or an anchor on CNN who doesn’t wear a Clinton heart on his or her sleeve. And frankly, with 53 days to go before the election, it’s not only getting worse, they’ve even stopped trying to hide it.
Look at the most recent news “event” — the 20-second video of Hillary Clinton collapsing and being lifted into her security vehicle.
Without it, do you really believe Americans would know, even scantly, what’s going on with Clinton’s health issues? Because of that video — nothing else — she was forced to admit she has pneumonia.
Because they were scooped by the video, an army of journalists is now under pressure to report facts instead of covering them up. Most important, voters got fresh proof that Clinton’s first instinct is to lie, and then lie again.
Those are just some of the immediate aftershocks of that little video. Says Goodwin, “If my hunch is right, the fallout is just beginning and eventually will result in voters finding out the whole truth of Clinton’s condition.”
Start with the fact that she humiliated the so-called best and brightest news organizations. As the Post columnist has said, “Despite her unshakable reputation for being dishonest and untrustworthy, Clinton nonetheless managed to snooker most mainstream outlets into believing that her coughing fits were just allergies.”
What the media ultimately did to “balance” the coverage was to repeat some 16 times in 24 hours that Hillary Clinton “has released more information about her health than Donald Trump has.” They closed their minds and treated dissenters like pariahs to coerce conformity. NBC News got the full treatment when it dared to break ranks and talk about Clinton’s broken elbow after fainting and falling in 2009 and her concussion after falling in 2012.
Alone among the big networks and major papers, NBC did a four-paragraph, 91-word story on Clinton’s uncontrolled coughing fit during her Labor Day speech. In a flash, campaign operatives and their media handmaidens declared war on the reporter, Andrew Rafferty, in case others might get the crazy notion that their job is to report facts.
If you weren’t following it, Rafferty was mocked and swamped with insults, including from some MSNBC commentators who turned on their sister network. Goodwin put it best: “They were like jackals, tearing away at a colleague’s reputation out of partisan allegiance.”
The Washington Post, CNN and others added their voices to the Clinton chorus. They demonized any who mentioned her coughing fits as cranks, nut jobs and conspiracy theorists. No news here, folks.
And then came the video of the former secretary of state struggling to get to a security vehicle and virtually fainting as she tried to climb in.
We don’t even have to look at national politics to see bias in the mainstream media.
In 2014 in Florida the liberal media went from just being the liberal media to jumping on Charlie Crist’s campaign train — going all-in to “bring Gov. Rick Scott down.”
Scott just never learned to treat them with respect. From Day One — from before Day One, when he skipped their editorial board meetings — the outsider-businessman governor had the Florida MSM’s target on his back.
And how about the activist journalism practiced in Stuart, where Treasure Coast Newspapers printed up and passed out to readers protest signs reading “Stop Killing Our Lagoon” to greet Scott the first time he visited the St. Lucie Lock? The staff even posed for a photo holding the signs up in the newsroom. And more recently, the trip to Tallahassee to deliver a petition the newspaper championed to buy land? The question isn’t whether activist journalism is journalism. The only question that matters is whether a newspaper that practices even advocacy journalism, let alone the more virile activist brand, can be trusted.
Gallup suggests not: “When opinion-driven writing (in news stories) becomes something like the norm, Americans may be wary of placing trust on the work of media institutions that have less rigorous reporting criteria than in the past.”
Results for the Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 7-11, 2016, with a random sample of 1,020 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
See Gallup’s complete question responses and trends here.
Nancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.