For years, pollsters have found a majority of Americans have little trust in their national media. In many instances, the positive percentages of those questioned about fairness, accuracy and impartiality have hovered below 30-percent or so. I’m not willing to accept those numbers at face value.
One reason for my skepticism is pollsters often don’t define the word “media” before asking their questions. I’ve looked at some of the larger outfits in that business – Gallup, Pew, etc. Most of their queries are about media in general which leaves responses open to interpretation. On occasion, if they specify which media, further questioning often avoids other sources – mass media – radio, TV, print or “social media.”
And therein lies one reason for my distrust of most such surveys. What about “social” media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like? Given the high percentages of folks – especially those age 40 or under – who get most of their information from such, are those sources broken out from print and broadcast media in polling? Seldom.
Four important factors to consider here. First, nearly none of what appears in “social” media is edited for accuracy, sourcing or even truth. There are no checks on whether the information is reliable. Given the huge number of people who have no idea how businesses operate – or even how their own government functions – you’re on your own when it comes to whether you believe what’s been read or told. That will, in turn, affect how a person sees all media.
Second, if pollsters don’t specifically break out which media is being asked about – which, in my checking is all too often the case – responses will be skewed. Comparing a Facebook post to The Washington Post makes responses invalid. One is checked, cross-checked and heavily edited. The other is totally unedited, unchecked and, too often, a bogus source.
Third, many of us tend to gravitate to media that agree with our viewpoints because they reinforce what we already believe. We routinely avoid the ones that don’t. (Fox, for me.) For those doing that consistently, they’re not exposed to new or different facts and, thus, cling to information that may be comfortable but also old or wrong. People who rely on Fox, for example, are fed a steady diet of information edited to skew things to false “facts.”
Finally, another factor skewing polling is the issue of what the word “news” means to both the pollster and the “pollee.” Unless there’s some major disaster or important world event at the moment, CNN, MSNBC and Fox have little to no news after 4pm MST. It’s mostly opinion mixed with a few facts. Much of it reporters talking to reporters or others favorable to the networks point-of-view. It’s not “news.” But, pollsters don’t always differentiate news from opinion in their questions. So, if the responder doesn’t like a certain news source, is that person conflating opinion with news?
I’m certainly not opposed to polling. Far from it. But, before taking results at face value, one needs to know how the question is asked and if the questioner and the responder are clear on the meaning of terms they’re using.
I think most of us have a higher trust of national media than a lot of polls indicate. But that’s just my opinion. Certainly not news. Just so we’re clear.