Monday, October 08, 2007

Partisan differences in trusting, and not trusting, the media 

This morning's Gallup poll reviews a huge gulf between Republicans and Democrats in trust of the media -- twice as many Democrats as Republicans trust the mainstream media to report news "fully, accurately, and fairly." This is a sharp departure from the 1970s, when Republicans and Democrats trusted the media almost identically (notwithstanding Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs" declaration).

What might be the causes of this divergence? Without being able to prove a damn thing, I believe that at least two things have happened.

First, the Republican Party has moved substantially to the right since the Ford Administration. The average Republican -- and therefore the center in American politics -- may have moved away from the mainstream media as much as the media itself has become liberal. Of course, that invites another question: Why has the political tone of the mainstream media failed to move to to the right at roughly the same pace as one of the two main political parties?

Second, perhaps the average reporter, editor, or producer in the mainstream media has moved relatively to the left since 1976. In 1976 there were still a great many journalists who had served in the military. Veterans of World War II and Korea were only then in their forties and fifties, and many of them were working for major newspapers and broadcasters. Also, journalism was not neary as professionalized in the seventies as it is today. I am given to understand that there were still editors around who had worked their way up from fairly humble beginnings, rather than recruited directly from Princeton and Yale or the Columbia Journalism School as they increasingly are today. Not only does an elite education tend to push one to the left, but it broadens a person's horizons -- Ivy Leaguers and their ilk are much more likely to "think globally," which means they care what substantially more left-wing foreigners think about American policy. How many times have you read that we are the "only developed country in the world with capital punishment," as if that were an even remotely relevant consideration? Have these two developments -- journalism's disconnection from the military and its greater credentialism -- made it more difficult for the mainstream media to reflect the sensibilities of a country that has moved signficantly to the right?


By Anonymous Post Liberal, at Mon Oct 08, 02:32:00 PM:


I graduated ~ 4 decades ago from a university high school. Perhaps because of the activist-journalist prototype that led to Watergate and was also fed by Watergate, many of the brightest graduates of that era from my high school went into journalism. Some have had a go at the NYT or WaPo. Many, but not all, from my high school who went into journalism retained both the left-wing politics of our youth and also the arrogant sneer of what passes for the anointed in a faculty brat high school- possessing high Merit Scholarship and SAT scores. Perhaps the one whose politics have changed the most had a go at being an entrepreneur in the newspaper business.

BTW, regarding the "only developed country in the world with capital punishment" , many would be shocked to find out from a WaPo article just which politician in postwar West Germany led the abolition of the death penalty: Hans-Christoph Seebohm , leader of a small right-wing party.

The WaPo article goes on to quote from Evan’s Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany, 1600-1987

“the rightist politician was ‘thinking above all of the execution of war criminals, to which he and his party were bitterly opposed. Preventing Nazi war criminals from being sentenced to death would certainly help the German Party in its search for voters on the far right.’ ”

Hat tip to David’s Medienkritik.  

By Anonymous Bird of Paradise, at Mon Oct 08, 03:48:00 PM:

The main-stream left-wing newe media are like the horns of a steer a point here a point there and a lot of bull in between  

By Anonymous Opinionated Vogon, at Mon Oct 08, 03:48:00 PM:

Call me crazy, but maybe the distrust held by conservatives is due to the 6 years (and more) of Lies, Distortions, and Omissions from the MSM that appear on Page 1A above the fold, and then the retraction later (if at all) on page 38 under the obituaries?

How many trumped up kerfluffles have there been? Stolen elections, Missing explosives, Frat hazing of prisoners, Flushing of books, Non-outing of CIA agents, and the list goes on and on and on. I challenge people to cite ONE of these episodes that was a mistake that FAVORED the GOP and harmed the Democrats. I cant think of any.

The distrust of the media is not surprising to me at all. I am surprised that people still wonder why.  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Oct 08, 03:57:00 PM:

"only developed country in the world with capital punishment"

Yeah, I've read that, too.

Japan has capital punishment. They hanged three murderers in August. And as you know, TH, Japan is a developed country.  

By Anonymous meta-4, at Mon Oct 08, 04:23:00 PM:

Color me unshocked and unsurprised.....MSM is horrid and getting worse fast as the election approaches.  

By Anonymous Howard in Boston, at Mon Oct 08, 04:34:00 PM:

TH, I'm going to take issue with this one:

How many times have you read that we are the "only developed country in the world with capital punishment," as if that were an even remotely relevant consideration?

Japan (and the issue of the detah penalty itself) notwithstanding, do you really think this kind of sentiment is not "remotely relevant?" To the extent that the majority of civil societies have policies different from ours on a particular subject, it ought to make us examine our premises more carefully - we should be able to articulate why we choose a different path. This seems like a valuable exercise in many manners of controversy, rather than one that is not remotely relevant.

For a more parochial example - when I see a movie that all of my friends love but I hate, I'm inclined to watch the movie a second time and see if I just missed something. Sometimes, my opinion stays the same (I still don't like "Fight Club") and that's okay. Shouldn't we as a society apply the same kind of critical thinking when our allies differ [relatively] uniformly?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Oct 08, 04:51:00 PM:

This electoral season will break the MSM and their transparent propaganda agenda. Folks are beginning to notice.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Oct 08, 05:18:00 PM:

My personal epiphany came during the Iran-Contra hearings, courtesy of my newfangled VCR.

I taped the hearings during the day, while I held down a real job, and watched them at night (fast forwarding frequently).

This made me notice the extreme difference in my own opinion (or impression) of the course of the hearings, from the one-minutes summary from Dan Rather (remember him?) on the CBS Evening news.

Ollie North was and is no hero to me for his part in this, but my impression of the hearings was that of a two ring circus, in terms of the level of fact-finding and decorum involved.
This situation continued into the deteriorating mess involved with Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, which was more visible to many due to their "prime time" broadcast.

And who can forget John Kerry testifying in 1971 before Congress (I actually remember watching that on the news).

I think the Mass Media has moved a little to the left in the past 40 years, but I think that many more people have become aware of the underlying message in this and reject the "conventional wisdom" as imparted by that so-call Mass Media now, than say, 35 years ago.

So the friction between the parties and the media is mainly "pushback" caused by an increasing analytical awareness by the people on the Right, in particular, of the underlying narrative of the modern Mass Media (the major networks and the big national newspapers).
To quote The Who, "we're not gonna take it".
People are entitled to their own opinions, but selectively using "facts" in the guise of "news" has been a short path to Hell for the MSM.


By Blogger mike, at Mon Oct 08, 06:07:00 PM:

not sure what's up w/comments...hope this isn't a dbl post...

Discounting the changing landscape over the years I think it would be interesting to survey people on "diversity of news sources" and report based on political affiliation.

The so-called lack of trust...implies skepticism. Which is healthy and a core component of media literacy. To beat on the NYT...the idea of "a paper of record" or, "all the news that's fit to print" is obscene from a media literacy perspective.

So, the study hints that Republicans might be more media literate than others. Additional, more focused studies may or may not show that to be true but, would be interesting nonetheless.  

By Anonymous Troll Feeder, at Mon Oct 08, 11:39:00 PM:

Howard in Boston 04:34 PM:

It is not efficient, practical, or even sensible to continually revisit a question every time some old acquaintance brings it up. It is possible to reach a firm, well-considered conclusion and to require no additional reviews of that conclusion so long as the opposition fails to bring any new argument to the table.

This is eminently the case with capital punishment. Treason, premeditated murder, and rape are all crimes for which death is often a thoroughly justified punishment.

The Netherlands or some other such group of self-immolators continued, poorly-reasoned, Natural-Law-ignorant complaints notwithstanding.

And +1 to Opinionated Vogon.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Oct 09, 05:50:00 AM:

An elite education does seem to broaden the typical person's outlook to include consideration of more left-wing international opinions. But it may simultaneously prevent many journalists from "seeing", considering or understanding the opinions of their conservative neighbors.

When conservative speakers are routinely prevented from speaking on campus or when they are shouted down, it sends a message to elite students (future journalists) that conservative thought should not be taken seriously. And when even a liberal like Larry Summers is demonized for suggesting a closer look at scientific data which challenge liberal orthodoxy, it sends a message to future journalists about the relative importance of a search for the truth vs. helping "oppressed groups" (in this case, female mathematics professors) to feel good about themselves.

Additionally, the emphasis in schools of journalism on "making a difference" may make advocacy more important to journalism students than telling the whole truth. Advocacy on elite campuses is almost always in a leftward direction.  

By Blogger Fritz, at Tue Oct 09, 11:35:00 AM:

Ah, yes. Gotta love the red meat topics for the base! The question is framed in an excellent manner: "given that the country has moved to the right" (unsupported, but neatly pre-empts the possibility that the *mainstream* media is in fact reporting with a *mainstream* slant), "why do you think those wicked Dems trust them more?"

Come on.  

By Anonymous Howard in Boston, at Tue Oct 09, 11:56:00 AM:

Troll Feeder:

I think I can only respond by saying, "point, thou art missed."

I'm explicitly not arguing one way or the other about capital punishment. I'm also not suggesting that we need to debate that topic (or any other topic) every time someone says something.

I am saying that when opinion is, e.g., 95%-5% on a matter and you are in the 5%, it's valuable to be reflective rather than dismissive. You may still end up in that 5%, but policy perspectives (like personal preferences) are not matters that are settled forever by fiat. Otherwise, we'd still have slavery / institutionalized racism, rampant polygamy, etc.

The whole "every other civilized country does this" does not settle the debate (and on this limited point, I'd agree with TigerHawk), but it at least points to the merits of having the debate.  

By Blogger DEC, at Tue Oct 09, 12:47:00 PM:

"...Ivy Leaguers and their ilk are much more likely to 'think globally' "

I am so weary of reading and listening to variations of "I'm smart and they're dumb; I'm sophisticated and they're Beverly Hillbillies." You find this thinking primarily in America's Northeast. It really is rather provincial in its own way. And it is precisely the kind of thinking that gets America in trouble in the developing and undeveloped world.

In the old days, you had many talented journalists (without Ivy League schooling) who went on to write bestsellers about international topics. Most journalists didn't think globally in those days because most American readers weren't interested in much of anything that happened outside their communities. In other words, journalists in those days were market-driven.

The change was the result of the global marketplace, global communications, and 9/11. Since 9/11, average Americans have shown a greater interest in international affairs.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Oct 09, 12:55:00 PM:

To me, Tigerhawk's comment concerning the death penalty refers to instances when the MSM brings up the existence of the death penalty in the United States as incidental evidence that the US does not value human life as much as other nations do. Even when the main topic of discussion is not the death penalty.

But perhaps the Left's focus on saving murderers from death at the hands of developed governments is a reflection of their tendency to think in terms of power rather than in terms of the sanctity of innocent life. Since the governments of developed countries have power, it is wrong for them to kill. For others, not so much. Jimmy Carter wants us to be careful not to hurt the feelings of those commiting or condoning rape and slaughter in Darfur.

Norbert Vollertsen, is a (reportedly communist) German physician who became an activist against starvation and other atrocities in North Korea after spending 18 months there. He reported on the Dennis Prager radio program that he came to the United States to publicize his observations in part because he couldn't get the press in Europe to take him seriously. He is now based in South Korea but reportedly spends some time working with human rights activists in Tokyo, too (is it a coincidence that Japan also has the death penalty?)

And below is another expression of the perception that many of today's Western intellectuals (including many in the media) do not particularly value innocent human lives when those lives are destroyed by someone perceived as having less power than the government of a developed nation. It is just possible that this type of attitude affects the way news is reported and, thus, the trust placed in it by Republicans.


By Blogger DEC, at Tue Oct 09, 12:55:00 PM:

P.S. In fact, one of the leading advocates of "world news" on American television was Canadian-American Peter Jennings. He lasted in college "about 10 minutes" before dropped out.  

By Anonymous Post Liberal, at Tue Oct 09, 05:17:00 PM:

"given that the country has moved to the right" (unsupported,...
Granted, one can write books on the topic, but consider the following anecdotal evidence.
1) Nixon, an alleged right-wing president,had a hand in affirmative action and creating the EPA. Would a Republican do the same today?
2)Two decades later. Clinton, a Democrat, signed legislation which drastically reduced welfare benefits.
3)There is less racism in politics now than 3 decades ago. Consider Earl Butz's crack about loose shoes, to be contrasted with black Secretaries of State and a prominent black Democratic presidential candidate. Is this a left-wing or a right wing phenomena, or neither or both?

I have moved rightward in the last 30 years. Domestically: greater skepticism towards government interventions. Internationally: I no longer view the US as the great sinner.  

By Anonymous QuakerCat, at Tue Oct 09, 07:37:00 PM:

TH - I am shocked that none of your commentators gave any credit to talk radio. Guys like Rush, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved and others devote huge chunks of their daily broadcasts to the many slights that take place daily. Laura Ingraham runs a special segment each day that takes the key lines out of each telecast that is offensive or leftward leaning. I have to admit she even makes the most conservative of people think she is far too sensitive to these slights.

Nonetheless, all one needs to do is listen for 10 minutes and the MSM will be attacked at least three times. The funny thing about it is that the issue is so acute that their constant criticism does not get old...

As for the MSM, I do think that it has gotten more emboldened in its leftward lean. Years ago the major newspapers would at least try to give the appearance of objectivity and try to play it down the middle. However, I do believe that the more people like Rush and others have called them out the more they feel they have to defend their positions. Moreover, I also think that the European media does not carry any pretense towards objectivity and I think that has been a bigger influence in our media versus which schools these guys come from. Actually, the best communications schools in America are Northwestern, Boston University, Syracuse, UCLA and Columbia to name a few.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Oct 10, 01:15:00 PM:

I think that news organizations and their loyalties shift over time. At one point in our history, every newspaper belonged to a certain political persuasion. Then some wit figures out that that kind of focus alienates more people than it draws, and broadens their spectrum. When the field is saturated with moderates, catering to an ideological position corners that position's readership and so they do that.

I reckon that now, with distrust of the media at an (I think) all time low, the smart ones will figure out that telling an evenhanded fact oriented story will put them ahead of their competitors. (i.e. I myself would gladly pay for a subscription to Michael Totten's stories, for instance, before buying one single copy of the NYT) The dumb ones will go out of business and/or get gobbled up by the new ones.

Example: Fox News came along *specifically* as a conservative medium and was an almost instant success because there were so many people who were fed up with inherent liberal bias in other news services.

There's an element of capitalism in all of this.  

By Blogger Fritz, at Fri Oct 12, 04:52:00 PM:

"There's an element of capitalism in all of this."
DING DING DING! I'd be 100x more ready to believe that any perceived right- or leftward shift of the MSM is driven by what people will pay to read, rather than any ideological considerations.  

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