While acknowledging that technological advances “have made it easier for Americans to connect with each other and to find information, including details about the major issues facing the country,” a poll conducted in late 2017 by four liberal foundations indicates that media bias and “fake news” were still serious problems.
Amid the changing informational landscape, trust in the U.S. media has been eroding, and while a majority of consumers still believe the media have a critical role in our democracy, they are not very positive about how the media are fulfilling that function.
The report -- which is the result of a late 2017 Gallup/Knight Foundation survey -- is entitled “American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy,” and was released on Tuesday, January 16, by the Knight Foundation and lists among its major findings:
Most Americans believe it is now harder to be well-informed and to determine which news is accurate.
Many consumers may not be able to easily discern the difference between the two. Less than half of Americans, 44 percent, say they can think of a news source that reports the news objectively.
In addition, Americans are highly concerned about the effects of “Fake News” on the nation’s democracy, but their definitions of the term varied widely.
“Seventy-three percent of Americans said the spread of inaccurate information on the Internet is a major problem with news coverage today,” the report noted.
“This percentage is higher than for any other potential type of news bias,” and “four in 10 Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be ‘fake news.’”
Underscoring the changing news landscape, equal proportions of Americans rely on social media as rely on newspapers to stay informed.
Meanwhile, Americans view many newer sources of news positively, but they are less positive about the social media.
In an interesting response, the survey indicated that “Republicans who can name an accurate source overwhelmingly mention Fox News, while Democrats’ responses are more varied” possibly because CNN and MSNBC help to split the audience of liberal cable television viewers.
However, half of the more than 19,000 U.S. adults 18 years of age or older stated they feel confident there are enough sources to allow people to cut through bias to sort out the facts in the news, which is down from 66 percent a generation ago.
While less than half of the Americans polled had a negative view of news media -- 43 percent -- than a positive view -- 33 percent -- of the news media, 23 percent were neutral.
“Today, 66 percent of Americans say most news media do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion,” the survey noted. “In 1984, 42 percent held this view.”
Another interesting result was that the public divided very evenly on the question of who is primarily responsible for ensuring people have an accurate and politically balanced understanding of the news: 48 percent said the news media, while another 48 percent claimed it was up to the individuals themselves.
Meanwhile, Americans’ perceptions of the news media are generally negative, and their view of bias have grown considerably from a generation ago. Also, a majority were unable to name an objective news source.
“Based on their self-reported knowledge of current events and perceptions of how easy it is to discern truth from misinformation in news reporting,” the report noted, “most Americans fall into one of two categories.”
The first grouping, as indicated by their self-reported knowledge of current events and perceptions of how easy it is to discern truth from misinformation in news reporting, was “Knowledgeable Optimists, who are informed and believe it is possible to find the truth,” or the “Inattentive Skeptics, who are less informed and pessimistic that the truth can be identified.”
In a curious result, most of the people surveyed stated that television news programs are still one of the most popular sources of information, coming in as tied with newspapers:
Americans have the greatest trust in national network news and local and national newspapers to provide mostly accurate and politically balanced news. They trust cable news more than they trust Internet news sources.
Some of the results from this poll are particularly interesting since it was sponsored by a quartet of liberal organizations, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which describes itself as “dedicated to fostering informed and engaged communities” in order to foster “a healthy democracy.”
Also providing funding was the Ford Foundation, which stated that it invests in “innovative ideas, visionary individuals and front-line institutions advancing human dignity around the world.”
In addition, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contributed to the effort under its motto: “All Lives Have Equal Value.”
And last, but certainly not least, were the Open Society Foundations, led by left-wing billionaire George Soros, whose cause is to “build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people.”