Donald Trump’s strategy is working. Since his campaign began, he has engaged in all-out war against the media, even going so far as to proclaim them the “enemy of the American people.” He has called them “fake news,” “ dishonest,” disgusting,” “liars” and “very fake news.” It’s worked. The American people have less trust for the media than at any time in modern American history.
According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ confidence and trust of the media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to a record low of 32 percent. That’s a drop of a full eight points from last year. Even more dramatic is Republicans’ distrust of the media. Last year at this time, only one in three trusted the media. That number is now at 14 percent. Gallup began asking this question in 1972 and every year for the last 20 years. Over the history of the entire trend, Americans’ trust and confidence hit its highest point in 1976, at 72%, in the wake of widely lauded examples of investigative journalism regarding Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. After staying in the low to mid-50s through the late 1990s and into the early years of the new century, Americans’ trust in the media has fallen slowly and steadily. It has consistently been below a majority level since 2007. Even among Democrats, trust in the media has fallen to record lows. In 2005, 70 percent of Democrats said they had a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the media. This year, it is 51 percent. Gallup reports:
Older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to say they trust the media, but trust has declined among both age groups this year. Currently, 26% of those aged 18 to 49 (down from 36% last year) and 38% of those aged 50 and older (down from 45%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. Older Americans tend to have more confidence and trust in the media than younger Americans. In 2001, younger Americans (55%) were more likely than older Americans (50%) to express trust and confidence in mass media.
This gap emerged again in 2005 when 53% of 18- to 49-year-olds had trust and 45% of those 50 and older expressed the same sentiment. Yet in the past decade, older Americans have mostly had more confidence than younger Americans, and this year, the gap between these age groups is 12 points. And 2016 marks the first time that confidence among older Americans has dropped below 40% in polling since 2001. While President Trump can claim some credit for the dissolving trust in the Fourth Estate, the spread of social media and other media outlets – many of them with no scruples whatsoever – play a big part. As social media matures and as people become better able to distinguish real news from genuine “fake news,” trust in the media might rebound.