That was the conclusion of a “sobering” study of attitudes toward the press conducted by Knight Foundation and Gallup and released Tuesday.
Nearly half of all Americans describe the news media as “very biased,” the survey found.
“That’s a bad thing for democracy,” said John Sands, director of learning and impact at the Knight Foundation. “Our concern is that when half of Americans have some sort of doubt about the veracity of the news they consume, it’s going to be impossible for our democracy to function.”
The study was conducted before the coronavirus lockdown and nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd.
Eight percent of respondents — the preponderance of them politically conservative — think that news media that they distrust are trying to ruin the country.
The study found that 71% of Republicans have a “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable opinion of the news media, while 22% of Democrats feel the same way. Switch it around, and 54% of Democrats have a very favorable view of the media, and only 13% of Republicans feel the same way.
That divide has been documented before but only seems to be deepening, particularly among conservatives, Sands said.
“We’re starting to see more retrenchment among those who have already expressed deep concerns,” he said. “Moving the dial on these attitudes becomes more and more difficult for media organizations.”
The study doesn’t attempt to assign blame for these attitudes. President Donald Trump has constantly labeled journalism he doesn’t like “fake news.” Cable news networks Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN feature evening opinion shows that are an increasingly popular pasttime for viewers.
Who is to blame for the nation’s political divide? Well, 48% of those questioned says the media bears a great deal of the responsibility.
The study found 73% of Americans feel that too much bias in news reports is a major problem, up from 65% two years ago.
Those surveyed also didn’t believe much in honest mistakes. When there were inaccuracies in articles, 54% of Americans said they believed reporters misrepresented facts, while 28% said reporters were making things up in their entirety.
The picture isn’t much prettier when you take a step back. Knight and Gallup said 41% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the media to report the news fairly, down from 55% in a similar survey in 1999.
Eight in 10 Americans are calling for more diversity in news. Democrats and Black people are more likely to be referring to racial and ethnic diversity; while Republicans and white people prioritize diversity in political views.
In a clear message to Facebook and Twitter, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said social media companies have to work harder to remove hateful language and inaccuracies from their platforms.
Knight and Gallup conducted a random sample of 20,046 American adults between Nov. 8, 2019 and Feb. 16, 2020, and claimed a margin of error of plus or minus 1%.