The Causes and Effects of Media Distrust
Over the past decade, it seems like people have lost faith in either all general media, or most of it. The political divide in our country has reached a point that has not been seen in decades. There are several reasons for this, but a big part of it is peoples perception of the media and the news reported. Many seem to think that the media is pushing an agenda on them and just giving out biased information to harm a certain group of people. Because of this, people then don’t know who or what to trust and just lose faith in the media all together. It is a really big issue, and the current state of distrust in the media can only further harm the country.
There are a few reasons that caused this distrust. One of the biggest reasons, if not the biggest, is the role of Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump used public perception of both social media and the news to gain a following. Pablo Boczkowski writes, “From the apparent disconnect of the agenda setting media with a vast segment of the American voters to the deluge of fake news circulating on social media, and from the intensity of the confrontation between President Trump and these media to his constant use of Twitter to promote (the) alternative- and often unsupported by facts.” Essentially, Trump’s campaign focus was to target people that maybe felt disenfrancized by the Obama administration. He was able to convince them that the media had basically been lying to them for eight years, but he would be someone that they could trust. They all flocked to him and his promises, and he was elected President. He used Twitter to get his messages directly to the American people, so his words and actions wouldn’t get, in his view, mis-interpreted by the media. This seems like a really good idea on paper. In fact, today the majority of politicians use Twitter and other forms of social media. But as time went on, Trump would tweet things out that had no factual evidence to support the claims he was making. With all of his followers supporting every word he said, it only added to the hysteria, nd the attack on big media.
Despite all of this, these big media outlets really did not do much of anything to help themselves out. With Trump attacking their credibility every chance he got, they just attacked him back in other ways, not helping to build their own image and trust of the public. Victor Prickard wrote, “Media outlets help set discursive parameters around political debates during elections. This was abundantly evident during the 2016 elections when typical coverage depicted a false equivalence between Trump and Clinton while empacizing specatcle over long standing policy issues.” The media really did not seem to take Trump seriously all throughout the 2016 campaigns, and made Hillary Clinton appear to be the more worthy candidate. On the other hand, Trump was such a fascinating candidate that he got more media coverage than usual. According to Prickard, One study calculated that in 2015, Trump recieved 327 minutes of nightly broadcast network news coverage, compared with Hillary Clintons 121 minutes and Bernie Sanders 20 minutes (Tyndal report, 2016).” This only gave Trump more popularity and gave the public more exposure to him.
On the flip side of big media coverage, there is also social media, which played a huge role in the 2016 elections and Trumps four years in office. The two correlated to benefit Trump, as “results demonstrate that social media activity , in the form of retweets of candidate posts, provided a significant boost to news media coverage of Trump, but no comparable boosts of other candidates. Furthermore, Trump tweeted more times when he had recently garnered less of a relative advantage in news attention, suggesting he strategically used Twitter to trigger coverage,” according to Chris Wells. After maybe some negative attention, Trump would tweet something or other in his defense, and that usually immediately bolstered his media coverage in general. The biggest thing is that regardless if the coverage surrounding him was positive or negative, it still got his name out there, and that way he was reaching more and more people.
With all of this in mind, it should have been expected that Trump’s time as President of the United States was under the national media spotlight every second of every day for 4 years. It was the same deal as his campaign, all coverage was good coverage, regardless of whether or not it was positive. The big difference was that Trump attacked the media even more while he was in office. Douglas Kellner wrote, “When he makes questionable or demonstrably false statements and is confronted with contrary evidence, Trump and his handlers dismiss any critical claims against Trump as ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts.'”It became a huge problems as this as an occurance more than af few times per week over the course of what became a long 4 years. This was one of the biggest driving forces behind the political divide that has become so evident. Whenever somone cries “fake news” at something, the other side then immediatly goes to call them inferior and stupid and other things that might put people down, thus furthering the divide. While it is clear that the Trump supporters are the biggest reason behind this issue, the mainly left group has not done much to help fix it.
When it comes to the people who push the narratives of fake news, it will not be very easy to get them to trust big media, whether or not they even did before Trump. Because the media did not do itself any favors in this case, as well as Trump continuously bashing the media seemingly every chance he got, the country seems to be in a much worse place than it was four years ago, and it will take a lot to heal the divide, however long that may take.
If you look at the other side of things however, it is important to see how the media arguably belittling one side of the aisle led to serious changes for a whole presidential term. You can see that the right was already unhappy with the media, and felt that they were continuously degraded by the media. Whether this is is proven true or not, is really not too important, as it pushed the country in a certain way. The people should trust the media, but that should start with the media having faith it its consumers.
The Trump Presidency, Journalism, and Democracy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=uchHDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT16&dq=trump attacking media&ots=lTIFpmAvFh&sig=uUEDi7G74S5W5KYko71sceirLVY#v=onepage&q=trump attacking media&f=false
Pickard, V. (2016). Media failues in the age of Trump. Retrieved from http://polecom.org/index.php/polecom/article/viewFile/74/264
Additional informationNotes on contributorsJulia R. AzariJulia R. Azari is Associate Professor. (n.d.). How the News Media Helped to Nominate Trump. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10584609.2016.1224417?journalCode=upcp20
Chris Wells, D. S. (2020, April 2). Trump, Twitter, and news media responsiveness: A media systems approach – Chris Wells, Dhavan Shah, Josephine Lukito, Ayellet Pelled, Jon CW Pevehouse, JungHwan Yang, 2020. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1461444819893987