Journalists have historically performed a watchdog function over the three main branches of government. The executive, judicial and legislative branches check the power of each other. Journalists watch over them all on behalf of the public and provide an additional check … or so the theory goes.
A 2012 poll by Gallup, Media Use and Evaluation, showed that trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, fairly and accurately has reached an all time low. It peaked in 1976, the year after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency following the Washington Post investigation into the Watergate Scandal, but as the Gallup chart below shows, trust has been declining since then.
“This is particularly consequential at a time when Americans need to rely on the media to learn about the platforms and perspectives of the two candidates vying to lead the country for the next four years.”
“Americans’ high level of distrust in the media poses a challenge to democracy and to creating a fully engaged citizenry. Media sources must clearly do more to earn the trust of Americans, the majority of whom see the media as biased one way or the other.”
In this second, separate survey that you can see by following the link above, Gallup also found that 60 percent of Americans see the media as biased, with 47% saying the media are too liberal and 13% saying they are too conservative. Republicans trust news media least, but curiously, Gallup found that they pay the most attention to national news.
For the moment, the lack of trust in news media seems to have caused people to become more vigilant rather than less engaged. However, one wonders when the switch will flip.
When people start to tune out, we are on the most slippery of slopes. We will lose the ultimate check-and-balance in society – an informed electorate.