By Mary Elizabeth High
The 2016 presidential election was quite possibly the most controversial election cycle in United States history. With the tense political climate pervading all media outlets, even those not formerly engaging in political commentary, media trust levels in the United States plummeted to an all-time low.
In an article for Gallup, Art Swift stated that only 32 percent of Americans said that they had a great amount or fair amount of trust in the media, and only 14 percent of Republicans, in particular, claimed the same.
Though trust in the media has fallen across each demographic and psychographic category researched, 10 percent fewer millennials reported trusting the media, and 18 percent fewer Republicans reported the same.
A study published by the Pew Research Center in October 2014 states that, even in 2014, consistent conservatives expressed greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey.
This growing distrust of the media is due, in part, to the massive polarization of the nation’s voters caused by the presidential campaign. The ways in which many voters gather information are questionable at best, and most media outlets held extremely biased views of one or both candidates.
With certain news outlets reporting “facts” blatantly contradicting “facts” reported by other news outlets, it became difficult for voters to feel confident that they were making educated decisions, and in a time where making educated decisions was so critical, many became skeptical of the media.
Donald Trump’s rocky relationship with the media did nothing to aid the media in regaining public trust. Throughout his campaign, Trump called out, waged war against, and manipulated the media to his advantage, and it clearly paid off. One of Trump’s many call-outs against the media was in regards to terror attacks in Europe. Trump claimed that
“All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”
When voters heard claims like these, they were forced to re-examine not only the specific media they had been taking in, but also the sources from which they were gathering information. Voters began to want more information on terror, to seek more information on terror, and to realize that not all media outlets were being completely transparent in regards to terror in Europe.
The mainstream media typically spends very little time reporting on terror and explaining the true motives behind terror attacks, often not even calling them terror attacks, and often refusing to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” for fear of offending the sensibilities of part of their viewership. Instead, they focus heavily on trivial matters, such as Trump’s admittedly embarrassing social media habits.
Another topic that Trump has called the media out for is the way it handled Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party’s many missteps and scandals. After one of the presidential debates, Trump called out Lester Holt, the debate moderator, for displaying bias toward his opponent, saying,
“He didn’t ask her about her emails at all, he didn’t ask her about her scandals. He didn’t ask her about the Benghazi deal that she destroyed. He didn’t ask her about a lot of things she should have been asked about.”
Fox News also called out the mainstream media for ignoring important topics that could be damaging to the Clinton campaign, saying,
“If you believe the pundits, Donald Trump is going to wage a one-man revolution if he loses the 2016 presidential election… The mainstream media is advancing this outrageous narrative to avoid covering legitimate scandals – like the James O’Keefe videos exposing DNC thuggery and the WikiLeaks emails that reveal media collusion with the Clinton campaign.”
Wikileaks was another damning factor for media trust during the past election cycle. In his TED Talk interview, Julian Assange said of Wikileaks:
“It’s a worry — isn’t it? — that the rest of the world’s media is doing such a bad job that a little group of activists is able to release more of that type of information than the rest of the world press combined.”
Wikileaks works actively to release information to the public that would otherwise be hidden and kept secret, and that it deems will do good or create change in the world. This election cycle has seen no change in this pattern. Wikileaks has released information (without bias) which the mainstream media ignored or swept under the rug for the benefit of those to whom the information pertained.
In a more recent call-out by the Trump Administration, Sean Spicer said that:
“This kind of dishonesty in the media… There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable. I’m here to tell you that it goes two ways. We’re going to hold the press accountable as well.”
It is call-outs like these that led the public, Republicans and other Trump supporters in particular, to lose trust for the mainstream media, to search for information substantiated by more than one source, to better inform themselves of current events, and to focus not only on what the mainstream media is reporting, but also (and quite often more so) on what they are not.