For years, the U.S. news media has had a trust problem. Just when you think Americans’ views of the press couldn’t get any worse, a new survey by the Knight Foundation and opinion poll giant Gallup shows Americans’ confidence in the fourth estate has sunk to shocking news lows.
The annual survey, which examines Americans’ trust in news media and their current attitudes toward the press, found that 50 percent of Americans now believe most national news organizations deliberately mislead, misinform or work to persuade the public.
More than half (53 percent) of those polled said they hold an unfavorable view of the press, and only a quarter (26 percent) of Americans reported having a favorable opinion of the media, the lowest level Gallup/Knight have recorded since they began tracking news trust in 2017. Only 35 percent of respondents said they believe most national news organizations care about how their reporting affects American society, culture and politics, and less than a quarter (23 percent) said most national news groups care about their audiences' best interests. In total, only about one in five Americans (21 percent) said they currently have high emotional trust in national news organizations.
Even those who trust the news perceive some bias in it: 84 percent of Americans with high emotional trust in national news organizations believe bias is present in the news, and while nearly three-quarters (72 percent) believe national news organizations have the resources to report the news accurately and fairly, only about a third (35 percent) think most national news organizations can be relied on to deliver the information Americans need.
Perhaps as a result of this, more Americans than ever reported having a hard time feeling well-informed. Half (50 percent) said there’s so much bias in the news media today that it’s often difficult to sort out the facts, and 61 percent said the increase in information today makes it harder to be well-informed.
Americans’ widespread distrust in the news extends across mediums. Nearly half (47 percent) of those who said they get their news mainly from online outlets reported low emotional trust in national news organizations, and about the same number (45 percent) who get their news primarily from a cable outlet (such as CNN, Fox News or MSNBC) also exhibited low emotional trust in national news groups. The outlier seemed to come from consumers of network news outlets (such as ABC, CBS or NBC). Only 17 percent of people who get their news from those sources distrust national news organizations.
Another troubling trend: while Americans who identify as Republican have historically exhibited less trust in the press than those of other political parties, the latest Gallup/Knight poll suggests that an unfavorable opinion of the media is now spreading across all partisan affiliations.
One group especially driving this trend is independents, who are now reporting more distrust and perceived bias in news coverage than ever. Independents exhibited the greatest shift in their attitudes toward the media in the latest Gallup/Knight poll, with two-thirds (66 percent) of independents now holding a very or somewhat unfavorable view of the press, a big upswing from less than half (48 percent) recorded in Gallup/Knight’s late 2019-early 2020 iteration of the same study.
Even Democrats, who have consistently expressed a significantly more favorable view of news organizations than members of other political parties since Gallup/Knight began analyzing news trust five years ago, appear to have experienced a change of heart. Only 45 percent of Democrats currently hold a favorable view of the press, compared to 51 percent in 2019-early 2020 and 54 percent in 2017. The number of Democrats who also said they now see a great deal of political bias in news coverage has also shot up, to 33 percent from 27 percent in the previous Gallup/Knight poll.
The trend of Republican media distrust has continued, meanwhile, with 79 percent of Republicans viewing the news media unfavorably, up from 67 percent in late 2019-early 2020.
One silver lining: the Gallup/Knight poll found that Americans’ trust in the local news remains markedly higher than their trust in national news. According to the poll, more than half of respondents (53 percent) believe most local news organizations care about how their reporting affects their community, and 52 percent believe most local news organizations can be relied on to deliver the information they need.
Nearly half (44 percent) of Americans also said they have high emotional trust in local news organizations, compared with less than a quarter (21 percent) who reported high emotional trust in national news companies. Only 18 percent of Americans reported having low emotional trust in local news organizations, compared with 41 percent said they who have low trust in national news organizations.
The Gallup/Knight Foundation's “American Views 2022” report was based on a series of web and mail surveys of more than 5,500 U.S. adults conducted between May and July 2022.