As Americans turn away from the mainstream media, it is important to understand the roots of America’s media problems.
According to a recent Harvard-Harris poll, 65 percent of voters think the mainstream media presents a lot of fake news. The definition of fake news is relative, but from first-hand observation, it appears as if many see the mainstream media as a partisan tool to advance an agenda. There is an obvious left-wing bias in the mainstream media, as 80 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of Independents, and 53 percent of Democrats all believe the mainstream media propagates “fake news.” A whopping “eighty-four percent of voters said it is hard to know what news to believe online.” President Trump has often cried “fake news” and it has in many ways delegitimized the “free press;” however, “many conservatives believe the media has dramatically loosened its reporting standards when it comes to President Trump, taking an anything-goes approach and running on anonymously sourced material.” Open your news browser and turn on your television and it will be difficult to avoid the seemingly synchronized agenda of the mainstream media, whether it be on social media, the daily news, or alternative media.
Trust of mainstream news peaked at 55 percent in 1998 and declined to 40 percent in 2015. One can only question what caused this downward spiral. Trust in mass media, among those 50 or older, has remained fairly consistent since 2001, only declining 5 percentage points to 45 percent. Amazingly, trust in mass media for those 18 to 49 years old has declined from 55 to 36 percent since 2001. This decline is largely important given the massive societal changes since 2001. Mass media had consisted of cable news television, print newspapers, and magazines. In 2017, mass media consists of cable news television, print newspapers, magazines, social media, internet-based media content, and alternative news websites. The main factor is the wealth of information at the average American’s fingertips. Open your smart phone and you can find news from a seemingly endless number of sources. Americans no longer know what to choose, what to believe, and how to approach it. This factor along with a no longer quietly partisan news media fuel a distrust of the mainstream media. Essentially, mass media has become so large and encompassing that Americans do not even know what qualifies as real news. Breaking down distrust of mass media by political affiliation further explains the dilemma. In 1998, roughly 52 percent of Independents and Republicans trusted the mainstream media, yet in 2015 this number fell to roughly 32 percent. It is important to simultaneously recognize that American confidence in most institutions has declined over this time, with exception to the military as an institution. It is crucial for a democratic society to protect “freedom of the press,” while ensuring that Americans remain trustful of this institution.
According to the Daily Caller, the mainstream media often acts as “a bunch of synchronized swimmers.” Essentially, Matt O’Connor accuses the mainstream media of coordinating the direction of news. This is a particularly aggressive accusation given that journalism is often considered “America’s fourth estate.” In The Hill, Patrick Maines writes, “So there’s the lugubrious truth. Despite the denials of the media and their academic toadies, the MSM has lost the confidence of over half the people in the country, and over 80% of Republicans and conservatives. If the media operated editorially in a way that was consistent with the notion of rational markets, they would steer their news coverage toward objectivity, and be rewarded by the markets. But they don’t, they can’t, and they won’t.” Synchronization of media coverage and openly partisan news coverage has resulted in general distrust of mainstream media.
Since President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign announcement, the term “fake news” has been used to describe and discredit various news sources. What exactly does this term mean? Is news really fake? These are all questions I have encountered when discussing political journalism with others. Fake news can literally mean news that has no substantial factual backing. It seems to also refer to news that is presented as nonpartisan while being used towards pursuing a partisan agenda. President Trump, seemingly on a weekly basis, refers to CNN as “Fake News.” One must question the President’s motive, and understand his action. CNN, along with most mainstream news outlets, has made some claims that lack sufficient journalistic research. On May 4, 2016, CNN posted an article claiming that under the GOP’s American Health Care Act “rape and domestic violence could be pre-existing conditions.” The left-leaning Washington Post two days later performed a basic fact check confirming “despite critics’ claims, the GOP health bill doesn’t classify rape or sexual assault as a pre-existing condition.” On May 11, 2017, CNN posted an article titled, “Trump gets 2 scoops of ice cream, everyone else gets 1—and other top lines from his Time interview.” It would be fair to argue that CNN’s headline regarding President Trump’s ice cream is far from noteworthy content and totally irrelevant to the average working American. According to the Shorenstein Center study of news coverage of Donald Trump’s first 100 days, the tone of news directed toward President Trump was 93 percent negative from CNN and NBC, with The New York Times at 87 percent negative. Even right-leaning Fox News’ tone towards President Trump was 52 percent negative. Given, the moral pedestal of the Office of the Presidency one would expect the President to not accuse the mass media of “fake news.” However as Michael Wolff writes in the Hollywood Reporter, the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election was between “the Trump Party and the Media Party.” Wolff also states, “the media turned itself into the opposition and, accordingly, was voted down.” President Trump continues to fight an uphill battle against the establishment, corporate media as the first non-politician president, who often embraces untraditional political views.
Beyond the typical daily news cycle is a plethora of news often overlooked for a variety of reasons. Often covered by right-wing media but ignored by the left-leaning media is the controversy surrounding Representative Wasserman Schultz’ ex-IT aide. A federal case against Imran Awan now consists of an indictment on four counts including conspiracy and making false statements. Mr. Awan and numerous other House Democratic IT aides have been the subject of investigators’ work over concerns of possible double-billing, alleged equipment theft, and access to sensitive computer systems. These accusations are highly problematic as Representatives Schultz kept Mr. Awan on the taxpayer-funded payroll for a prolonged period of time after a criminal investigation was conducted and he was dismissed from the House IT network. This story has been overlooked in the news cycle, yet it is important to understand the implications of Awan’s arrest. In addition, The New York Times published an article, “At Senator Menendez’s Trial, Stakes Are High for Democrats.” Senator Menendez begins trial on federal corruption charges in fewer than three weeks, and this is extremely problematic for the Democratic Party. If convicted and expelled from the Senate, Menendez would be replaced by an appointee of Republican Governor Chris Christie’s choosing. Menendez’ expulsion from the Senate would provide the Republican Party with an additional vote towards repealing the Affordable Care Act and would bolster Republican representation to 53 of 100 Senate seats. The implications of this case are far-reaching and deserve much more coverage than it has received. In other words, the mainstream media has reported on the news, while knowingly covering up major stories.
Given the copious amount of information available, Americans should approach all news with caution. This is not to say Americans should distrust all news, but there must be a level of skepticism when approaching an article about politics. It is important to recognize that almost every single piece of news Americans see is altered to produce a partisan reaction. The current partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. can be broken and it will be broken when the American public demands for a return to objective, nonpartisan media.
Mitchell Nemeth is pursuing his Masters of Law at the University of Georgia. He has been featured in the Red & Black and The Arch Conservative. His Twitter handle is @mnemeth88.