The Crisis of Confidence and the News Media

Posted: June 24th, 2010 by makleen

By Michael Kleen

Previously, I have written about the crisis of confidence in government (“The Crisis of Confidence,” “Potholes and the Crisis of Confidence”). Simply put, this means that constituents can no longer trust their elected officials. But this crisis extends to and envelops the news media as well, creating a toxic environment of distrust in which a republican form of government cannot properly function. By sowing the seeds of distrust in government while exposing its own biases, the media serves to fuel the fires of this crisis. Metaphorically speaking, government and news media are locked in a death spiral, racing to the bottom of public opinion while engaged in a political battle increasingly estranged from the general public.

That there has been a dramatic decline in public trust for the news media cannot be denied. 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.” In March 2010, the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of those surveyed had a negative view of the national news media, a percentage only surpassed by the number of people who had a negative view of the Federal government and banks (65 and 69 percent).

When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the story on the Watergate scandal in 1972, the news media was seen as a guardian of the people—an objective source of information and investigative journalism, but today, the news media is seen as biased and driven by partisan motivations. It is generally recognized that MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and the print media support liberalism and the Democratic Party, while FOX News and talk radio lean neo-conservative and Republican. The pretense of objectivity was laid bare after the 2008 presidential election, when a shuffle in cable news personalities aligned the top three networks even more closely with their respective ideological affiliations.

As news outlets race to score political points by exposing the wrongdoings of politicians in their opponent’s camp, they inadvertently contribute to the erosion of public confidence in both government and the media. With every new scandal, constituents see their elected officials as hopelessly corrupt regardless of the political affiliation of those officials. The target of media scrutiny seems to depend on the target’s political affiliation, so the credibility of the scrutinizer is damaged as well. Today we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot trust either our elected officials or the people reporting on their activities.

This situation becomes even more interesting in the face of inter-nicene conflicts. Recently, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a satirical news program that vigorously supported Barack Obama throughout his political career, turned its guns on President Obama for breaking a half dozen promises regarding civil liberties and the War on Terror. During his presidential campaign, Obama and the Daily Show were in agreement over which Bush administration policies needed to be reversed. As president, however, Obama has retained or expanded many of those policies, leading Jon Stewart to lecture, “All that power that you didn’t like when someone else had it, you decided to keep it.”

Rather than demonstrate how the Daily Show directs its satire toward both sides of the isle, this incident illustrates how the writers of the Daily Show, along with its host, have an ideological lens with which they choose targets. Because President Obama moved away from the dove wing of the Democratic Party, he has become a target of their satire. Not only does this incident reveal the political bias of the Daily Show, it also illustrates how the media contributes to the crisis of confidence by hunting for political heretics and spotlighting hypocrisy, leading to a sense that no elected official can ever be trusted.

None of this is to say that politicians implicitly deserve our trust or that the politicians should not be held accountable for their actions. Ultimately, the crisis of confidence originates in the immoral, irresponsible, and often illegal activity of our elected officials. But the news media is part and parcel of this crisis, both inflaming it and falling victim to it through their own participation in the partisan game. By taking sides in an ideological struggle, the news media has altered its role as the Fourth Estate, to the detriment of its credibility and the public trust.

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Michael Kleen is the publisher of Black Oak Presents, a quarterly digital magazine of Middle American art and culture and proprietor of Black Oak Media. His columns have appeared on websites such as Strike the Root, World Net Daily, and MilitantLibertarian.org, and in newspapers like the Rock River Times and Daily Eastern News. He is also the author of One Voice, a collection of columns regarding issues in contemporary America.

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