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Poll finds high level of distrust in the media. Anybody surprised?

A new Gallup survey finds most Americans have little or no trust in the media, especially Republicans and independents. Is this a dangerous trend in a democracy reliant on public information?

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“When The [New York] Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so,” Arthur Brisbane, the newspaper’s ombudsman, wrote in his final column last month. “Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism – for lack of a better term – that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.”

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“As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects,” Mr. Brisbane wrote.

Except for Fox News, broadcasters generally went nuts over Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, leading Politico’s Jim VandeHei to observe that “the mainstream media tends to be quite smitten with the Obamas.”

But it’s also true that people tend to dwell in the media echo chamber they’re most comfortable with, whether it’s Sean Hannity and Fox News on the right or Rachel Maddow and MSNBC on the left. Fox News drew many more viewers to the Republican National Convention than the other broadcast or cable networks; NBC and MSNBC led the way at the Democratic National Convention.

It’s also true that the tea party movement and social conservatism have had a profound impact on traditional political conservatism, driving a deeper and angrier distrust of conventional media sources.

“I'm undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I'm in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican Party platform,” Ms. Maddow quipped in 2010.

Regarding the Gallup survey, Andrew Beaujon of the Poynter Institute (a nonprofit school that promotes excellence in journalism) asks: “Is it possible people considering that question disassociate or exempt the media outlets they like (you have to work pretty hard to not find a news organization that skews toward whatever your views are these days) from the ones they distrust?”

Being down on the press has a long history in the United States.

“Newspapers serve as chimneys to carry off noxious vapors and smoke,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to Thaddeus Kosciusko in 1802.

But for many reporters and editors, who tend to be an idealistic lot, the words of the late, great columnist Molly Ivins still ring true:

“I have long been persuaded that the news media collectively will be sent to hell not for our sins of commission, but our sins of omission. The real scandal in the media is not bias, it is laziness. Laziness and bad news judgment. Our failure is what we miss, what we fail to cover, what we let slip by, what we don't give enough attention to.”

RECOMMENDED: Are you smarter than a Fox News viewer? How about a CNN viewer? Take our quiz to find out.


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