“If you don’t read newspapers you are uninformed; if you do read them you are misinformed.” Mark Twain
The 2021 survey of trust in media among 46countries that are deemed to have a relatively free press by The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University ranked Finland first with 65% of its citizens trusting its media, and the US last with media trust at only 29%. The majority of Americans surveyed responded that they found that the media has embraced advocacy journalism, particularly for the “woke” movement, and found the media overwhelmingly biased in favor of the current administration and alarmingly supportive of that same woke movement, resulting in a quasi-state media where journalists are more bound to the government’s embrace of ideology rather than independent and objective reporting.
Those surveyed also expressed dismay at the lack of support for free speech manifested by the call in both government and mass media to pressure social media to censor anyone questioning that trend. In summary, they consider the media in general to be an echo chamber of ideology rather than a reliable information source. This included many that were opposed to Trump, but found Facebook’s and Twitter’s cancellation of his accounts a troublesome example of the slippery soap of the cancel culture regarding free expression.
While this phenomenon is ostensibly different than the PRC’s closing down “The Apple Daily” in Hong Kong for its open criticism of the crackdowns, and arresting its journalists, it is still alarming that the most revered liberty of American constitutional law and free expression culture is so obviously under attack by a minority radical movement whose ideology is embraced by the press and our own government. It was the prior administration that coined the phrase “fake news” in criticism of those in the media that criticized it, and whose supporters embraced such claims even to the extent of accepting the false narrative of a fraudulent presidential election.
Among the news organizations in the US we have Fox at 46% trust and then CNN, MSNBC and Buzzfeed at 37%; things decline rapidly thereafter. So where then can Americans look for reliable, fact based and unbiased news? There then is the dilemma that provides a mere overall 29% trust rating. But what was hopeful is that local news had a 58% rating. Apparently trust of news organizations on the national level declines markedly. Interestingly, trust in government has a similar phenomenon with the local doing much better than state, and state better than federal.
Trust is an easy thing to lose as it doesn’t take much for that to happen. Many political scientists have found that one of the main reasons for the swings in partisan success in America is the extent of wrong doing by those in power. Nixon won because Johnson made so many social and military blunders; Carter won because Ford was so tainted by Nixon’s Watergate; Regan won because of the incompetence of Carter; Clinton won because Bush Sr. ignored the economy; Obama won because Bush Jr. lied about so many things; Trump won because Hilary was such a manipulative politician who alienated so many people; Biden won because Trump was such a narcissistic moron.
This decay of trust can be seen in differentials of approval ratings of recent Presidents reported by the five top polls; while there are variances in these polls, the average mean is telling. The most radical are found with the Bushs’ at around 60%; Americans don’t like body bags. Clinton, Regan and Obama all were around 30%; while reasons varied, consistency paid off. Amazingly Trump was the lowest differential at 15%, but then again he had consistently low ratings to begin with. For Biden it’s too early to tell; currently he has a 52% approval rating, but he is saddled with a wide ideological gap within his own party. Luckily for him, the Republicans are likewise fractured, perhaps even more so. The percentage of American voters who regard themselves as independents has steadily increased since 2000, now at about 41%, leaving 31% as Democrats and 26% as Republicans, and the balance with various third parties.
So along with the decline in trust, both in media and government, we have a decline in major party affiliation. But the swings in voting tendencies also indicate confusion, which coupled with distrust makes for a volatile political climate, increasingly polarized among shrinking partisan groups. In the past the press played an important role of informing the public somewhat objectively, providing a modicum of a reliable basis for a peaceful realignment and emergence of viable alternative parties.
The echo chamber of current times does not provide that. What we have instead is growing dissatisfaction, alienation and radicalization. History shows that one potential outcome is a chaotic and potentially not so peaceful realignment of political affiliations. Regardless of how it happens, the two major political parties are likely near the end of their era. Depending on what the political landscape that emerges looks like, that may very well be a good thing.
So what do we do about the echo chamber? Unfortunately for the average American there is very little to be done to change the current journalistic paradigm of mass or social media. The best course may be abstention; shut off the noise, grab some classics to read, avoid sound bites, think in a common sense mode and follow your gut. While you may not be deemed the most informed, you will be a lot less misinformed; but be careful as George Orwell cautioned that “The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.”