A survey in the latest issue of the Columbia Journalism Review presents data on the public’s level of trust in various American institutions. Highest on the list was law enforcement and the …
A survey in the latest issue of the Columbia Journalism Review presents data on the public’s level of trust in various American institutions. Highest on the list was law enforcement and the military. The institution in which respondents said they have “hardly any confidence at all” was the press, one spot below the U.S. Congress.
It’s unfortunate that people put such little trust in the media, but it’s also understandable, as a bad decision can overshadow a host of solid reporting.
A recently leaked video revealed ABC news anchor Amy Robach venting frustration over the network burying the story of pedophile Jeffrey Epstein three years ago, because it didn’t meet the network’s editorial standards.
The revelation follows accusations from journalist Ronan Farrow that NBC News buried his story uncovering the abuses of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein — an accusation NBC denies — for similar reasons. Farrow went on to publish the story in The New Yorker and won a Pulitzer for it.
Taking time to scrutinize stories and vet such accusations thoroughly, rather than rushing to broadcast, would normally be commendable, but in so many other cases the national media had no problem incredulously running stories without even the most basic of journalistic scrutiny.
In January, The Washington Post, seemingly without hesitation, condemned Covington Catholic High School students for supposedly harassing a Native American activist in front of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C., based on a very short, viral clip of a much longer incident. Later reports based on the full video showed the teenager in the original clip trying to defuse a tense situation and black nationalist cult members making threatening statements to the high school students. There was an important context to the story that was lost in the rush to publish.
More recently, multiple news outlets, CNN and Fox News among them, reported on a statement supposedly showing 11,000 scientists declaring a “climate emergency” that would result in “untold suffering.” What some outlets, such as NBC, reported is a study is actually an editorial without any peer review, and it wasn’t signed by 11,000 scientists. The names were collected on an internet form that invited scientists to sign, but the credentials of the signatories weren’t verified or held to any standard. Among the names on the list, for example, were Mickey Mouse and characters from Harry Potter.
Then there was ABC’s rush to put out footage of a Syria bombing, which later turned out to be video from a Kentucky gun range.
These examples follow a pattern in which the media’s standard for vetting sources is particularly high when it involves accusations against well-connected people but particularly low when it involves a story that is highly sensational or fits a certain narrative.
The Columbia Journalism Review survey only looked at national media — everything from CNN and Fox News to The New York Times and Huffington Post — but this erosion of trust, at least to some degree, filters down to the local level.
As small town newspapers face falling advertising revenues that have led to the closure of 1,800 local newspapers since 2004, their struggle to stay afloat isn’t helped by this growing distrust of journalism. Unfortunately, the national media, with its monolithic influence, often acts with less responsibility than their smaller, local counterparts.
If people have no local source for news and they don’t trust national sources, where exactly would they get their information? This does not bode well for our democracy.