Is mainstream media trustworthy anymore?
Until the early 1990s, when about 57% of households in the U.S. were connected to cable networks, television news had been relegated to three major networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS. Because almost everyone watched the news on these channels, reporting was careful to provide unbiased stances.
In a world now characterized by “fake news” and the presentation of “alternative facts,” mainstream media still provides reliable reporting. Nonpartisan evaluators, such as mediabiasfactcheck.com or politifact.com, reveal that established media sources continue to hold high editorial standards and accurately report the news. In fact, the original three networks are all rated by Media Bias/Fact Check as having “high” levels of accuracy on factual reporting.
And, yet, people are still reluctant to trust mainstream media. Herein, lies the clearest indicator of the problem of claiming the media as “unreliable.” The accuracy of most mainstream media hasn’t changed; what has changed is the eruption of--thanks to cable and the Internet--alternative news sources that are clearly partisan. News viewers end up choosing to watch news sources that speak to their own politics. This would be fine, except that pressure for profit has led many outlets to tailor reporting to their specific viewer base, and in turn, disregard facts. Consequently, fuel is added to the fire, as those who receive erroneous reporting claim “fake news” when more accurate sources contradict what they want to believe. The problem is made even worse by governmental officials who claim “alternative facts” rather than admit their sources are inaccurate.
News outlets are, first and foremost, a business. Many are owned by corporations, which may cause a conflict of interest. Will a news subsidiary report news on a topic without bias if their parent company is invested on a particular side?
There is also massive importance placed on ratings. Numbers bring in advertisers, and advertisers bring in money. This formula contributes to sensationalism since all the media outlets want a piece of the viewership pie. Sensationalism skews information, and the public, in turn, distrusts their source of information. In May 2018, Statista reported that 40% of Americans believed that mainstream media was more interested in money than telling the truth.
Media outlets also outrightly endorse political candidates. For example, the New York Times' Editorial Board of veteran journalists decides on who the Times endorses. During the 2016 election, 200+ newspapers publicly supported Hilary Clinton, and less than 20 supported Donald Trump. However, these endorsements did not reflect public opinion, as is evidenced by the outcome of the 2016 election. In turn, the public saw the chasm between their views and the media. According to a Gallup poll around the 2016 election campaigns, Americans' trust in mass media was at 32%, which was its lowest point in two decades.
A news report that is biased and intended to sway people's minds in a particular direction is, by definition, propaganda. The first amendment was established, amongst other reasons, to prevent the government from abridging the freedom of the press. But what protections are in place for the people receiving information filtered and shaped by the media?
- Mainstream media is defined as “forms of the media, especially traditional forms such as newspapers, television, and radio rather than the Internet, that influence large numbers of people and are likely to represent generally accepted beliefs and opinions.
- A recent Gallup poll revealed that only 41% of the American public trusts that mainstream media reports the news “fully, accurately, and fairly.”
- An American Trends Panel survey conducted in 2014 found that the most trusted news source was The Economist, while the most distrusted news source was BuzzFeed.
- Media Bias/Fact Check was founded in 2015 with the express purpose of “educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.”
- According to allconnect.com, since the COVID pandemic, the percentage of people getting their news from social media has nearly doubled, possibly due to “the urgency to receive and distribute information about the virus.”