Commentary: The public's loss of faith in mass media began long before Donald Trump
MINOT, N.D. — It's become fashionable for journalists to blame Donald Trump and his attacks on "fake news" for undermining the public's trust in mass media.
An example of this are recent editorials from newspapers across the country, coordinated by a call to action from the Boston Globe, criticizing the President's "dirty war on the free press" (as the Globe put it).
The combative attitude Trump has inspired is understandable. His comments about the media industry are often spectacularly unfair and calculated to distract from real news.
Still, Trump's not the reason why the public has lost some of their faith in reporters.
Trump didn't create public dissatisfaction with the news media. He capitalized on it.
According to Gallup polling, trust in mass media in America was at 55 percent in September of 1999.
In September of 2016 that number had shrunk to 37 percent, with most of the decline happening long before Trump's presidential campaign was launched.
If anything, Trump's bombastic attacks on the press has created some sympathy. Per this same poll, trust in the media rebounded to 41 percent in September of 2017.
But even supposing Trump can inspire a renaissance in media trust, the most journalists can probably hope for is a return to those halcyon days of the late Clinton era...when just barely more than half of the public trusted them.
Rather than engaging in a rhetorical slap fight with the President, the journalism industry ought to acknowledge the legitimate reasons why so many in the public have lost their faith in journalism.
One big problem is ideological bias. In 2017, according to Gallup, we see just 14 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of independents saying they trust the press.
That's a stark contrast to the 72 percent of Democrats who trust the press.
In fact, over the years, Democrats consistently have far more faith in journalism than Republicans or independents.
This is probably a product of so many who work in journalism — from beat reporters up to publishers and producers — being sympathetic to Democratic causes. Something that's more visible than ever as the public follows journalists on social media where personal feelings are often made very clear.
This isn't to say that those people are in the tank for Democrats. Only that they're human beings who cannot help but see the world through a filter of their own biases.
I often read about the journalism industry being concerned with things like racial and gender diversity in the newsroom. That makes sense. A wide variety of life experiences and perspectives are a benefit when your job is to cover complex social and political topics.
Yet what is consistently overlooked in newsrooms, what many in the journalism industry are unwilling to acknowledge is even a problem, is a lack of viewpoint diversity.
America is a divided country, but we might be less divided if the folks who inform us weren't mostly on one side of that divide.