I got interviewed the other day by OneNewsNow about a new Gallup Poll that found a third of Americans view the news media as “favorable” or “very favorable” — the highest that number has been since the aftermath of Watergate. You can read the story and my comments here — but, as with any interview you ever do, not everything I said made it into the piece. Not complaining, mind you, just wanting to unpack my thinking a bit more.
I see the poll numbers as a reaction to all the talk of “fake news” — charges coming most loudly from The Tweeter of the Free World. Now that it’s under unceasing attack by someone in power, the press has become Rocky Balboa to President Trump’s Apollo Creed: the underdog. And we Americans love our underdogs. I mean, there have been eight Rocky movies!
I don’t think the poll results indicate consumers find the media any more honest or ethical than they did when similar polls showed far lower numbers of trust; they just see them as more picked on. Mix in the ever-devolving understanding of what true news is — it is reportage, not opinion — and Gallup’s findings are thoroughly unsurprising.
Truth is, we don’t ingest news the way we did in Walter Cronkite’s day. There are scores more sources now, most of them outfitted with commentators and pundits who aren’t there to tell you “that’s the way it is,” but “that’s the way they think it is.” I’m not saying true reporters, on the whole, inject opinion into their stories, but that too few stories get produced these days that don’t include somebody injecting their opinion into them. To be legit news, those opinions must emanate from sources other than the author or host and must be balanced. Fair journalism still exists in wide array in America today — and it is more vital to our communities and republic than ever — but you have to know what it is and how to find it to enjoy it. And, perhaps most importantly, you have to care enough to try.
Bottom line: The chief tragedy about how too many of us get our “news” today is we lazily seek out sources where the talking heads or scribbling scribes parrot back the opinions we already hold … and we call it news because it looks vaguely like the duck that used to be news, and we say it’s trustworthy because it quacks out sounds we like. But make no mistake: It’s a bird of an altogether different feather.
I’d feel more convinced by Gallup’s new poll if we all brushed up a bit more on our journalistic ornithology. A good place to start? SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: Chapter 2 of my book, Bite the Dog: Build a PR Strategy to Make News That Matters.