Not fake, but the news media is sacrificing accuracy for political bias
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
President Donald Trump and his administration have been waging a war with the mainstream media, calling their coverage fake news, while not necessary fake, their coverage is becoming extremely partisan, and the American public agrees. A recent Gallup poll published on Wednesday, April 5, 2017, found that 62 percent of Americans view political bias mostly favoring the Democrats. The numbers represented a stark contrast to 20 years ago when less than 50 percent saw bias in the in the news reporting. Unfortunately, with the proliferation of fake news, the mainstream media is facing similar criticism as fringe news sources because of their partisan and biased viewpoint. The media’s partisanship is also making them sacrifice accuracy for political favoritism and is being scolded not only by President Donald Trump but also by the American public.
According to Gallup’s latest poll, 62 percent of Americans find “the news media generally favors one political party over the other.” While only 27 percent still believe the news media is still non-partisan. The numbers grew in that last 20 years. According to Gallup in 1995, only 47 percent believed the media was politically biased, with 48 percent saying they are politically neutral. By 2001, the numbers were already changing, with 51 percent saying there is a political bias versus 41 percent saying there is none. In 2003, the numbers reversed to 48 percent saying there was bias versus 46 percent saying there was none. The numbers correspond with the growth of the partisan divide in the country between Democrats and Republicans in presidential approval ratings.
Fast forward to 2017, and Americans believe political bias has taken over the news media. Republicans, however, are feeling the bias more than Democrats are. Now, 77 percent of Republicans believe the news media is politically biased, while in 2003, only 59 percent of Republicans felt that way. Somehow, Democrats do not seem to believe the news media is any more biased than it was in 2003, then and now only 44 percent of Democrats believe the media biased.
Democrats might not be feeling the bias because it is usually in their favor. According to the Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans think the news media favors the Democrats, while only 22 percent believe it favors the Republicans. Republicans are overwhelmingly accusing the news media of the bias, with 88 percent feeling that way. The Democrats seem far more oblivious to the partisan bias in their favor, with 43 percent believing there is a bias towards their party, but 40 percent believe there is bias in the media towards Republicans.
Americans have long felt that the media had a liberal/Democratic bias, in 1995, 53 percent felt there was a bias towards Democrats with 36 percent believing the bias was towards Republicans. In 2001, 57 thought it was towards Democrats, 30 percent towards Republicans, in 2003, the numbers were almost even 48 percent for Democrats and 42 percent for Republicans.
The 2016 presidential election, brought to the forefront fake news and inaccurate reporting, problems that have been lingering for a while. The Gallup poll examined the phenomenon among the mainstream media’s reporting practices. According to their findings, 55 percent of Americans find the mainstream news’ reporting “often inaccurate,” while only 36 percent find their report accurate.
The American public’s trust of the media has a complicated history, and the distrust is hardly new. The distrust has been above 50 percent five other times in the past 30 years. Media distrust was high in 1986, during the Iran-Contra Scandal with 55 percent and again in 1990 with 54 percent. At the end of the decade, distrust also hit a high note in 1999, during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment resulting from the Monica Lewinsky scandal with 50 percent of Americans claiming inaccurate reporting.
Again, in 2000, during the controversial presidential election between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush decided by the Supreme Court with 65 percent where there was the highest rate of distrust until now. Then again, in 2003, during the Iraq War, 58 percent of Americans found the news media inaccurate. The divisive and highly partisan election in 2016 between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton again led to feelings of inaccurate reporting. This election saw the most partisan reporting by the mainstream media and inaccurate polls all tipping the election in Clinton’s favor. Newsweek even prematurely released a special election edition of their magazine with the headline Madame President a nod to a history-making Clinton presidency, which they had to withdraw from sale after Trump’s surprise win.
Trump spent the campaign angry at the news media for the biased reporting in Clinton’s favor. Even after they were proved wrong, the media continued attacking Trump and his victory’s legitimacy. Then, barely a month into his presidency, Trump had enough and waged an all-out war with the news media calling the New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC News “fake news.” The sources Trump called out used to be the most reliable in the business. They included the biggest name in print the New York Times, the first 24-hour cable news channel, CNN and the original big three networks ABC, CBS, and NBC that American considered the gospel before the explosion of the 24-hour news cycle.
Trump went after the mainstream news media on Twitter calling them the “enemy of the American People!” His fight continued in his speeches, particularly at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and shutting them out of a press gaggle with press secretary Sean Spicer. The war culminated in President Trump and the White House boycotting the White House Correspondents Association’s annual dinner.
If not entirely fake news, the news media have become hyper-partisan as the Gallup poll proved, that it is clouding their dissemination of the facts before the public, clear of political bias or influence, where they have been demonizing the president and every word, he says. Professional journalism condemned the president’s criticism, but he is right. The media bias is not professional or maintaining standards all Americans no matter their political affiliation expects. If they intend to be partisan, they have honestly given a disclaimer saying the reporting is not objective but biased.
Trump is not alone; Americans are expressing their disdain for the current state of the news media. In another Gallup poll released in September looked at the “amount of trust in the media.” The poll found as ABC News recounts, “that only 32 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media — a new low, that includes 51 percent of Democrats, 30 percent of independents and only 14 percent of Republicans.” The numbers were considered a new low, looking at the partisan breakdown the liberal bias in the media caters to Democrats leaving Republicans profoundly alienated. The numbers are the reason why during the election, conservatives overwhelmingly turned to Fox News to escape the liberal bias, catapulting the network to the top of the rating pack.
Today’s news media are harkening back to the early days of the Republic, where partisan presses that were party sponsored flourished, they remained the norm and majority through the 19th century, only at the dawn of the 20th century did independent non-Party aligned presses proliferated. Although Trump might be the most critical president of the news since Richard Nixon, the comparison is hardly accurate. Nixon’s attacks were while he attempted to stave off and cover up Watergate. Trump is a new president speaking out, during a time when partisanship is polarizing the nation as never before.
As aforementioned, the news media overwhelmingly supported Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign to the point of blindly reporting she was ahead in the campaign polls and was going to win the election. Of the newspapers and magazine editorial boards throughout the country 38 endorsed Clinton, while only two endorsed Trump. The news media ignored the mood among the public where three traditionally Democratic blue states turned red, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin handing Trump the election and the presidency. Since Clinton won the popular vote while Trump won the all-important Electoral College vote, liberals have never been able to forgive him, and are vehemently protesting his every word. For the news media, Trump’s campaign was golden, and attacking has proven beneficial to a business level, at the sacrifice of honest reporting.
Political journalism today, eschews facts, relying more on opinion and editorials while claiming it is factual reporting. The problem might be forgivable when it involves bloggers or aggregate news sites that thrive on the sensational, but it becomes problematic when the new sources Americans rely on interjecting the political feeling into their reporting when striving for objectivity is the objective. In the constant competitive 24-hour cycle, digital be clicked to survive the world, journalism is falling into the trap and sacrificing their principles. These days journalists are being too carried away with the old adage if bleeds it leads and taking it to new levels of bleeding a stone just to lead.
Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.