Trust in Media Dips But Other Institutions Lag Behind

If life were the 1950s game show “Who Do You Trust?” many of our public institutions would be judged as losing contestants.Johnny Carson first gained notoriety in 1957 when he hosted a game show called “Who Do You Trust?” If some of our important public institutions were contestants on that show today, chances are they’d be judged as losers.

To put it bluntly, the public is grumpy. Americans are growing more distrustful of our public institutions. In fact, attitudes about the news media are at an all-time low in most categories measure during the past 25 years by the Pew Research Center.

And the media fares better than our other important organizations such a state and federal governments, business and Congress.

A Pew survey released in September concluded the press is seen as:

  • Lacking in fairness (77 percent);
  • Unwilling to admit mistakes (72 percent):
  • Perpetrating inaccurate reporting (66 percent); as well as
  • Engaging in political bias (63 percent).

The Pew Research Center’s first surveyed the public on news attitudes in 1985, Back then, a majority of respondents said that news organizations were often influenced by powerful people and organizations (53 percent) and tended to favor one side (53 percent).

The latest report noted: “And since 2007, there have been increases in the percentages saying that news stories are often inaccurate (from 53 percent to 66 percent), that news organizations are often influenced by the powerful (from 69 percent to 80 percent), and that news organizations tend to favor one side (from 66 percent to 77 percent).”

Another new low is the public’s belief that the media hurts democracy. “For the first time in a Pew Research Center survey, as many say that news organizations hurt democracy (42 percent) as protect democracy (42 percent)."

More disturbing is that the trust factor is lower for other institutions. When survey respondents were asked to rate the level of trust they had in information provided to them, they gave the following ranking. (Percentages represent a combined response of “some" or "a lot” in terms of trust.) 

  1. Local news organizations, 69 percent;
  2. National news organizations, 59 percent;
  3. Your state government, 51 percent;
  4. The Obama Administration, 50 percent;
  5. Federal government agencies, 44 percent;
  6. Business corporations, 41 percent
  7. Congress, 37 percent; and
  8. Candidates running for office, 29 percent.

Just imagine what the public level of trust and rankings will be a year from now during the final sprint of the 2012 election.