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Why the Distrust for the Mainstream News Media is Justified

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“Fake news” is a term that Americans have been hearing incredibly frequently over the last year or so. President Donald Trump has been waging a so-called “war” on the mainstream news media throughout the course of his political career. According to a poll conducted by Gallup, many Americans don’t trust the mass media. But is this distrust for the media justified? In short, yes.

Before I go into the current state of the media, I want to point out the fact that the public’s view of journalism has not always been the way it is now. According to Gallup, trust for the media hit a high in 1976; 72% of respondents to the poll displayed “a great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the media. In 2016, the percentage was at 32%.

The question to ask in response to this information is, why is it that over the years, people have steadily begun to trust the media less? Has mass media become more dishonest over the years, or have people simply become less trustful?
Perhaps this so-called trust in journalistic outlets has less to do with the former belief that journalists were engaging in “honest” reporting, and more to do with the fact that the public had no other choice but to believe what they were hearing.

Before the dawn of the internet, there were really only two ways to stay informed on current events. Citizens could either trust the journalists providing them with information, or become the journalists themselves. People didn’t have the ability to whip out their phones or laptops and simply look at the boundless sources of information on the internet. They didn’t have the luxury of at least trying to separate the false information from the truth.

Americans would tune into the nightly news, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper in order to hear about current events. If falsehoods appeared in the news, there was little chance the errors would be noticed by the consumer unless reporters corrected the record or the story was too important to ignore. Thus, civilians tended to trust the news.

Even if the trust was usually there, this does not mean mass media always deserved it. Although many political pundits often act as though news outlets have just now become dishonest, that is not necessarily true. If you look through history, journalists have always had moments where they misled the public, both on accident and on purpose. But either way, sometimes errors are too blatant to ignore and forgive.

Take this article from The New York Times, for instance. The story was published on November 21, 1922. It was a profile of the genocidal, anti-Semitic dictator, Adolf Hitler. Hitler was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 11 million people.

In The Times’ 1922 profile of Hitler, the author wrote, “But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.”

The article was brought back to light in 2015 when The New York Times rightfully admitted to being wrong about Hitler. It took one of the most popular news outlets in the country over 90 years to admit that they were completely wrong about an evil dictator who had very clear motives.

Although I believe that The New York Times does have moments in which they report fairly and honestly, this particular mistake in reporting is very upsetting. The failure on the part of The Times to correct their bad judgement in a timely manner is simply irresponsible.

Although there were many examples of serious journalistic miscommunications in the past, I do think that journalism has become more misleading and morally corrupt over the years. This is due to political agendas becoming increasingly woven into facts.

Oftentimes, journalists make an effort to make the public believe that they are playing the devil’s advocate and being “unbiased.” But honestly, opinions appear in the news regularly.

These beliefs are usually expressed through misleading language or inflammatory headlines that lead the reader to misinterpret stories.

From coverage of Trump to the Middle East, it’s very rare that personal convictions are not hidden somewhere within the truth.

This may sound a bit backwards to some people, but my problem with this actually isn’t the fact that the opinions are there. It is nearly impossible to be completely “unbiased,” since everyone has an opinion. My problem is that the opinions are usually masked as facts.

I would much rather see news organizations and reporters being clear and open with their own beliefs, rather than pretending like they don’t have any at all, and manipulating the public to believe what they do. I am not trying to say that there aren’t honest journalists out there today, as there certainly are. But there is so much corruption in the journalistic community that it’s hard to ignore the bad reporters in the industry.

If you look at any study on distrust for the mainstream media, Republican-leaning Americans tend to distrust the American media drastically more than Democrat-leaning individuals. This is probably because of the fact that the majority of popular news stations tend to lean left, rather than right.

Openly conservative-leaning online news sources, like Breitbart or The Daily Wire, are gaining a large amount of popularity as of recently. Their jump in readership is, in part, due to a Republican dislike for mainstream news networks.

Ben Shapiro, the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Wire, is arguably the loudest voice in conservative media currently. He has an incredibly popular podcast, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” in which he speaks openly about his opinions on politics and pop-culture. Shapiro has become a strong opponent to the mainstream media in terms of both opinion and readership — it’s rare that you meet someone who has not, at least, heard his name.

If Shapiro is openly conservative and by no means unbiased, why is it that so many Americans, of all backgrounds and views, tune into his podcast or watch videos of his lectures on YouTube every single day?

It’s because Shapiro’s stardom is due to his honesty and his personal biases. Unlike many mainstream reporters, he is open with the fact that, like most human beings, he has an opinion. Shapiro is incredibly unapologetic and unafraid of being divisive or sharing his personal objectives. His readers don’t have to agree with every word he says, but at least they know that he’s not hiding anything.

Shapiro serves as evidence that maybe the average American’s views on the news are slowly, but surely, changing. Perhaps people are done with the idea of fake objectivity and reporters with a hidden agenda.

With the terrain of journalism changing and the distrust for the mainstream media growing, there is still another question that arises: why is it that the media, as unpopular as it is, still being funded by Americans? And why are “honest” sources of news not being supported? Is the dishonesty on the part of journalists all their fault — or are we, the people, to blame for continuing to support the journalism industry despite this huge problem?

The answer is no. It is true that Americans have not always held the media to high enough standards. Mainstream journalists, for the most part, have become lazy — probably partially due to the fact that they have not been forced to be honest and held accountable by the American people up until the age of the Internet.

But with that being said, isn’t it still the journalist’s job to be honest even in the face of adversity? Shouldn’t they make it their mission to tell the truth no matter the circumstances? I certainly think so. And I don’t think the people are to blame for journalists not always doing their job honestly and truthfully.

There are boundless sources of information on the internet. Luckily, we live in a country where we have freedom of speech and the press. There is no excuse for misleading people and lying about facts and agendas.

There are also endless platforms in which people can freely report and say whatever they want. And saying that Americans don’t receive honest news because they don’t “fund it” is just as silly as saying that journalists are dishonest because of their audience, rather than their own personal errors.

People who are not backed by large media companies have the same rights to free speech as those who are. Yes, it may be hard for independent journalists to compete with reporters working at huge media networks. But because of free speech and an abundance of speech platforms, it is possible.

Reporters need to realize that the journalistic terrain is changing. Thanks to the internet, people are becoming more and more informed on the lies and agendas of mainstream news networks. Regular Americans are waking up to reality, and it’s time for the media to follow in their footsteps.

Header credit: Wikimedia Commons

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