Friday, January 31, 2014

Public Trust in TV News: Not Good, and Highly Politicized

Polling firm Public Policy Polling recently released its fifth report looking at the public's trust of major TV news outlets.  The results shouldn't really be that much of a surprise, although it will shock most media elites.
  Its probably not a shock to find that the public places more trust in PBS as a news source than it does any of the major broadcast networks, and all but one cable news outlet.  Or that that Fox News is that one cable outlet.  The real shock is in the numbers themselves - and that more people trusted Comedy Central most than trusted MSNBC and NBC.

When asked which media outlet they most trusted for news (more than any other outlet) - 39% said Fox News; 14% said PBS; 11% said ABC; 10% said CNN; 9% said CBS; 6% said Comedy Central; 6% said MSNBC; and only 3% identified NBC as their most trusted source.  Turning it around, Fox News was also identified as the "least trusted" by 33% of those surveyed, followed by MSNBC at 19%, Comedy Central at 14%, and CNN at 11%.  The broadcast networks can take take some comfort that none were identified as least trusted by more than 5%.

The survey also asked about each TV news outlet individually.  Most had similar numbers indicating that they trusted the outlet as said they didn't trust it.  Only PBS was significantly "above water" in that 57% of the sample said they trusted PBS, but only 24% said they didn't.  The two outlets that were significantly "underwater" were Comedy Central (29% trust, 38% don't trust) and MSNBC (34% trust, 44% don't trust).  That's probably not a problem for Comedy Central, as they don't see themselves as an "objective" news outlet - but could be a problem for MSNBC unless it wants to be perceived more as an opinion outlet than a news outlet.

In a blow to the idea of "objectivity" by news outlets, the poll also found that trust for most news outlets is highly correlated with political affiliation.  For instance, Fox is both the most trusted among those identifying themselves as Republican, and the least trusted by those identifying themselves as Democrats.  In looking at the news outlets individually, there were 40-50 percentage point swings in trusted/not trusted between those who voted for Obama in the 2012 election and those who voted for Romney.  This wasn't just Fox News and MSNBC, but was a coonsistent pattern for all of the news outlets examined.  The pattern also held true against a more general measure of political ideology, and smaller differences across gender, ethnicity, and age.

Oh, and the survey found that Fox's Bill O'Rielly would beat Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert in a Presidential election match-up.

Sources -  NBC, MSNBC sink to the bottom of who the public trusts , Washington Examiner
5th Annual TV News Trust Poll,  Public Policy Polling report

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