Global trust in the media has deteriorated significantly in the last year, and it’s not something that can be blamed solely on Trumpian claims of “fake news,” according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer of government and civic institutions. This distrust is part of a growing global trend of mistrust in government, business, media, and non-governmental organizations that, study authors state, is indicative of widespread “information bankruptcy.”
The Edelman Trust Management’s 2021 Trust Barometer report, titled “Declaring Information Bankruptcy,” found “an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, political instability, economic crisis, and global reaction to the death of George Floyd.
The study notes that there is a record low amount of trust in all four spheres of influence that it examines, with many respondents indicating that they believe leaders and journalists alike are deliberately lying to them for the sake of a certain agenda. The focus of the report is largely on how much trust there is in media, as well as in global habits of consuming media and information.
The latest Edelman Trust Barometer, a trust and credibility survey that has been taken every year since 2000, found a significant rise in distrust of media institutions. In addition, the report points out “a failing trust ecosystem unable to confront the rampant infodemic, leaving the four institutions — business, government, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and media — in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.”
The study found that people are unsure who they can trust for reliable information as a majority believe that government leaders, business leaders, and journalists are all intentionally misleading the public by conveying information they know to be false. Their press release states.
“The global infodemic has driven trust in all news sources to record lows with social media (35 percent) and owned media (41 percent) now seen as the least trusted source of information; traditional media (53 percent) saw the largest drop in trust, with a decline of 8 points. A December Edelman Trust Barometer Post-U.S. Election Flash Poll found a stunning 39-point gap in trust in media between Biden voters (57 percent) and Trump voters (18 percent); a 15-point drop among Trump supporters since November,”
CEO Richard Edelman said,
“This is the era of information bankruptcy. We’ve been lied to by those in charge, and media sources are seen as politicized and bias. The result is a lack of quality information and increased divisiveness. Fifty-seven percent of Americans find the political and ideological polarization so extreme that they believe the U.S. is in the midst of a cold civil war. The violent storming of the U.S. Capitol last week and the fact that only one-third of people are willing to get a Covid vaccine as soon as possible crystalize the dangers of misinformation.”
The study found that just one in four respondents currently practice what they call “good information hygiene,” which requires engaging with the news, avoiding echo chambers, verifying information, and not amplifying unvetted information. At the same time, nearly half of respondents said that it has become extremely important to them to increase their media and information literacy.
In Axios’ reporting of the Edelman Trust Barometer, the outlet attempted to address how media outlets can confront this growing mistrust in their reporting. They stated:
“Mistrust of media is now a central part of many Americans’ personal identity — an article of faith that they weren’t argued into and can’t be argued out of. Reversing the decline is a monster task — and one that some journalists and news organizations have taken upon themselves. They’re going to need help — perhaps from America’s CEOs. Media outlets can continue to report reliable facts, but that won’t turn the trend around on its own. What’s needed is for trusted institutions to visibly embrace the news media.”
The study did note that, between media, government, and NGOs, business enjoyed the smallest decline in trust — but it was still a decline. While Edelman’s press release provides a broad admonishment for business and societal leaders to “provide trustworthy content that is truthful, unbiased and reliable,” it seems like Axios has interpreted this to mean “CEOs should tell people to trust the media.”
The media would do far better to offer a wider range of views and work harder to appear objective since the Edelman Trust Barometer clearly shows that distrust of media results directly from the belief that journalists are pursuing their own political agenda rather than ethically reporting the facts and letting their readers decide the truth for themselves.
It’s no secret that the establishment media in the U.S. is an ideologically monolithic echo chamber — just ask columnist Bari Weiss or the editorial page director who dared to publish a controversial opinion piece by a sitting U.S. senator about the intellectual diversity of the New York Times’ staff.
Weiss, who is both Jewish and bisexual, had been hired early in 2016 to provide a moderating voice for the Times’ op-ed page and book review sections, but eventually quit after enduring a hostile workplace and clear discrimination. “My own forays into Wrongthink made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views,” Weiss wrote in her resignation letter.
“They have called me a Nazi and a racist…. Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers…some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly ‘inclusive’ one … Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are.”
“Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery,” she added.
Meanwhile, when the New York Times ran an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton last summer calling for the use of troops to help quell the violence and riots taking place in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, James Bennett, the Times’ editorial page director, was forced out. Why? Because the paper’s employees were offended. The Times later stated that Cotton’s op-ed “did not meet our standards. As a result, we’re planning to examine both short term and long term changes, to include expanding our fact checking operation and reducing the number of Op-Eds we publish.”
So in other words, fewer ideas, less debate, less diversity of thought — not exactly the ingredients for inspiring trust among readers that the truth is being pursued or even that the Times thinks its readers are capable of coming to their own conclusions about differing ideas.
If the New York Times and other major media outlets are already so tone-deaf as to believe that embracing their own biases, insisting on reporting just one side of every story, and seeking first the approval of their colleagues is somehow akin to pursuing the truth and holding the powerful accountable, then it’s unlikely that they’ll understand the alarming findings of a respected study showing that regular people don’t trust them much anymore.
The Fourth Estate has always been sorely needed in a constitutional republic to check the power of the state. But what are we supposed to do when we can’t check the media?