Why Do So Many Americans Mistrust the Media? [u]

Commentary2.jpg[ Updated Nov. 14, 2016 with more thoughts after reading initial comments.]

There were two themes that struck me forcefully from our recent election: First, was the vast number of people who no longer trust the media. Second, that actual facts are not as important as our belief in what the facts “should” be.

Seeing as the media industry is where we all work, this lack of respect has a direct impact on what we are doing and how it is perceived.

This lack of trust seems to me to reflect the continuous blurring of lines between news to documentaries to docu-dramas to dramas. The boundaries between fact and fiction are almost non-existent.

It also seems that the majority of Americans don’t fact-check what they see and hear. Just the opposite, there seems to be a willing acceptance that what we see and hear is, by default, accurate. The truth is what we believe it to be.

Hollywood has long said that viewers are clearly able to distinguish between the fanciful entertainment it creates and the real-world which viewers inhabit when they are not watching movies. I think that statement has been proved false, if it was ever true, by the amount of time, money and intellectual resources put into television commercials and political ads, all designed to persuade, if not purposefully mislead.

Are movies any less persuasive or compelling than a commercial? Does not the reality within a movie extend into the real world? If not, why did Universal build “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?” Or the incredible growth of cosplay, superheros, and Comic-Con. This leads directly into: “If it is true in a movie, it must be true in the real-world.”

What troubles me the most, I think, is that disrespect for the media translates into disrespect for what we do. We are already pressed with decreased budgets and fewer clients. When you combine that with diminishing concern about craft or veracity, you end up with a media environment that rewards sensationalism and dramatic falsehoods; all designed to attract the largest audience.

“Truth” no longer matters, its all about attracting eyeballs and sparking controversy. And its not “our” fault if people believe the false “truth” we are selling. We’re just doing what our clients tell us to do.

This is not a good place for us. Its a place that rewards low-budgets and bottom-feeder scripts. Worse, it means that whatever we create is not respected. We aren’t changing the conversation, we are reinforcing each other’s worst fears.

This descent into darkness did not occur quickly. We each contributed by decisions that seemed good at the time. Bigger audiences are generally a good thing. But something got lost as we chased larger audiences and bigger buzz. We lost our way and we lost our respect.

Its going to take us a while to get out of here. And, I suspect, it won’t be easy.

UPDATE: Nov. 14, 2016

After reading many of these comments, I realize that I am less interested in specific candidates and more interested in why fact-checking was not valued? As one commenter wrote, the ability of the Internet to invent its own facts is very scary. Why have accuracy and truthfulness fallen into disfavor? What are the ramifications when we can make up facts to suit our world-view?

I will be moderating comments going forward which focus principally on candidates.

As always, I’m interested in your comments.


30 Responses to Why Do So Many Americans Mistrust the Media? [u]

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  1. Billy Walker says:

    The latest Fake News… a pizza joint by the name of Comet Ping Pong in Washington DC receiving death threats for supposedly child trafficking and helped by Hillary Clinton in order to do so.

    People that buy into this garbage are even more ignorant that I thought. Very sad.

  2. Pat Paquette says:

    Larry, people don’t trust the media anymore because they are no longer trustworthy. When I was in journalism school in the 1980s, there was still some semblance of the Fourth Estate. That’s not to say that the major media weren’t biased – Debbie Wolfe is right that newspapers throughout history have had a slant. But you at least could count on The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post (mostly) to be fair and accurate. There also was PBS and NPR.

    There is no one single factor to blame, but the two major contributors were the rise of the Internet and 9/11, both of which happened in pretty much the same time period. As Debbie mentioned, the Internet cheapened the news. It no longer was news and information, but “content.”

    After 9/11, the media didn’t dare go too far in questioning the administration. When they did, their audiences accused them of endangering national security. But most didn’t. To the contrary, they cooperated, and from there it was a short jump to becoming virtual mouthpieces for the government. In its coverage of the runup to the Iraq War, The New York Times essentially colluded in convincing the public that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The paper still hasn’t recovered from the damage to its credibility, and there have been other incidents since then. Most people I know no longer consider the NYT a reliable source of information.

    While all that was going on, the media were consolidating into mega-corporations that were part of the power structure that many Americans don’t trust. Enterprising journalists, some disillusioned themselves, started independent news sites in an attempt to report what the “MSM” either was ignoring or slanting. With the growth of the Internet and user-friendly blogging platforms such as Blogger and WordPress, suddenly anyone could have a “news” blog. That, in turn, opened a huge door for propaganda from every quarter, along with armies of paid trolls to make it look real.

    People don’t know who to believe or who to trust, so in the end they trust the sources that affirm their own point of view. This truly is a crisis.

  3. Dan Wright says:

    It’s a fact people are feed up with mainstream Media BIG Government and BIG Corporations.

    In my opinion the Media and the Government need to move more toward the Center. Media needs to report the News and a lot less bias opinion. Government, including State, Local needs to stop picking and choosing what laws they will obey. if the laws need changed then change them.

    Much of the Internet is a cesspool of garbage which as mentioned above is not to be taken seriously.

    I guess that covers it 🙂

  4. latvis says:

    Wildly late…..but…..it’s all about economics……..

    24 hour news channels require viewers (i.e., ratings) to survive.

    NOT flourish, to SURVIVE……….As do newspapers and any other entity that proposes to make a ‘living’ from reporting the ‘news’. The ONLY way to do so is to sensationalize, tease and otherwise turn the reality of life into a reality show.

    The most important thing the ‘media’ needs to take away from this horrid campaign and its bizarre outcome is the knowledge that because of THEM we elected a former host of a reality show…….how’s that for a wake-up call?

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