Last week, I wrote about the news media’s obsession with President Trump’s tweets. In one sense, it comes down to a lazy business model. Reporters love Twitter because it allows them to write news stories without ever leaving the office. Controversy over the latest tweet fuels link clicks and website visits, attracting coveted web traffic that drives advertising sales. It’s the same business model that leads local newspapers to slash employees and fill their pages with Associated Press wire stories.
On a deeper level, however, their (I’m talking about the major news networks) anxiety over the president’s 25.8 million Twitter followers comes down to fear of losing editorial control. They want to filter and interpret Trump’s comments through their editorial lens. They want to control what information the public receives and interpret it for them. If Trump can just bypass those filters and tweet directly to the public, they lose that control.
Just the other day, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’, made my point for me. In a moment of frank honesty (or a Freudian slip), she said:
Well, I think that the dangerous, you know, edges here are that he is trying to undermine the media and trying to make up his own facts. And it could be that while unemployment and the economy worsens, he could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that, that is our job.
Brzezinski later went on Twitter and tried to walk back her comments, but it’s clear from the video and transcripts what she meant. Trump is trying to undermine the media to push his own narrative, which will degrade MSNBC (etc.)’s ability to control the conversation.
But Donald Trump didn’t start eroding public confidence in the media, it has been in the gutter for quite some time. In 2003, according to a Gallup poll, only 36 percent of those surveyed believed news organizations “get the facts straight.” That percentage fell to 29 percent in 2009 (Pew Research Center), while in the same year, only 19 percent felt that the press “dealt fairly with all sides.”
According to the Pew Research Center, every news outlet’s believability rating has dropped by double-digits, except for local daily newspapers and local TV news, since 2002.
Just look at this graph from Gallup:
Is it any wonder those numbers are so low, when the New York Times claims to be a guardian of truth and impartiality, then writes things like: “hundreds rallied across the country to stick up for a president who they say has been treated unfairly by the news media and his critics”? Wow, hundreds, huh? Must have five or six supporters in each state, I guess.
Donald Trump is not the reason public confidence in the news media is at an all-time low, but Trump is exploiting that distrust to push his own narrative and agenda. In Trump, CNN, New York Times, MSNBC, and others have found a convenient scapegoat, but until they recognize they are to blame for this situation, they will only dig themselves a deeper hole.