We previously discussed how years of openly partisan reporting in the age of echo journalism destroyed American journalism. Unsurprisingly, the public has lost faith in the once-leading nation on journalistic practices and ethics. A new poll by global communications company Edelman (via Axios) found that only 46 percent of Americans trust traditional media. This reflects polls from Gallup, which show even lower levels of trust. We are living in a new age of yellow journalism in a time when real journalism was never needed.
The loss of confidence is greatest among Republicans, who see the media as openly affiliated with the Democratic Party and most recently with the Biden campaign. Gallup’s 2020 results showed that 73 percent of Democrats trusted the media, while only 10 percent of Republicans had such confidence.
The falling levels of trust reflect the loss of the leading news organizations to a kind of lively journalism. We discussed how writers, editors, commentators, and scholars have responded to increasing calls for censorship and language control, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisors. Even journalists cite attacks on freedom of expression and the free press. This includes scholars who reject the concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy. Columbia Journalism Dean and New York writer Steve Coll has denounced how the First Amendment freedom of expression was “armed” to protect disinformation.
One of the deepest moments was the New York Times’ Mea Culpa for the publication of an opinion column by a Conservative Senator. The New York Times was condemned by many of us for its apology after publishing a column by Senator Tom Cotton (R, Ark.). and promise not to publish such columns in the future. It will not publish a column by a Republican senator on protests in the United States, but it will publish columns by one of the Chinese leaders crushing protests for freedom in Hong Kong. Cotton argued that the use of National Guard troops might be necessary to quell violent unrest, citing the historic use of this option in previous protests. This option was last used after the Capitol uprising.
There is no evidence that American journalism will revert to its former position of independent reporting. Reporters continue to offer openly partisan displays of stories (including clearly false stories) while completely burying other stories. No editor or journalist wants to undergo the treatment of the Times editor or anyone else forced to hold unpopular positions or reports. The result is that audiences and readers now have isolated media sources that keep them in a comfort zone of reporting – while maintaining narratives that neither challenge nor enlighten them. Therefore, the majority of citizens do not trust the media as a source of information. In a generation contemporary editors and journalists have utterly ruined their profession, throwing aside generations of struggles of journalists to uphold rigorous principles of neutrality and integrity. The sad fact is that in the First Amendment you can have the greatest protection for the media in the world, but our journalism is going to be no better than the journalists themselves. The Constitution can keep the government from coercion, but not from media overlap.
The great tragedy is that we need legitimate media more than ever. Citizens are exposed to deep and violent divisions without having confidence in what is reported in our newspapers, television programs and websites.