No one trusts the media. Not left, not right, not those who believe themselves to be centrists. So this Gallup-Knight Foundation survey shouldn’t surprise us when both sides believe the media isn’t doing a good job informing the public of the pandemic.
Also not surprisingly, there is a vast difference in perceptions from the public on coronavirus coverage depending on one’s political partisanship.
The survey shows that Democrats believe the media is downplaying the severity of the crisis while Republicans believe the media is exaggerating the dangers.
As with many things in the Trump political environment, partisanship played a role. Democrats saw a bigger problem with stories that downplayed the virus, while Republicans said reports that hyped the crisis were more harmful.
But in both cases, the majority of partisans in each political party agreed that the media’s coverage of the pandemic fell far short of what they wanted.
People aren’t satisfied with the media giving them what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear because they don’t trust them. They believe the media is as biased and as partisan as they are.
Asked if media exaggerating the coronavirus caused “unnecessary harm,” 87% of Republicans agreed. Among Democrats, it was 25 points lower, at 62%.
Asked if downplaying the crisis threatened public health, 78% of Democrats agreed. Among Republicans, it was 60%.
“Partisanship informs what type of skewed coverage is considered harmful. More than twice as many Democrats (84%) as Republicans (35%) ‘strongly agree’ that coverage downplaying the threat is harmful, although majorities of all party groups at least somewhat agree,” read the analysis.
This partisan perception has real-life consequences. Those who are inclined to think the media is exaggerating the threat will support lifting the lockdown more quickly than those who think the media is downplaying the crisis and believe lockdown should be extended.
The public’s sour views of media coverage do not match their perceptions of how other American institutions have performed during the crisis.
“Americans have been more likely to disapprove than approve of the news media’s response to the coronavirus situation at a time when most other institutions’ responses have been rated more positively than negatively. This may indicate that people do not see the media as getting coronavirus coverage quite right — either drifting too far in the direction of downplaying the threat or too far in the direction of exaggerating it.”
And, it added, “To the extent Americans believe the media is going too far to downplay or to play up the coronavirus, they may see the media — in addition to elected leaders and public health officials — as responsible for making the crisis worse than it needed to be.”
I would hesitate to blame the people for this sad state of affairs. “Trust” in institutions has been eroding in America for 50 years, undermined by people losing faith in their leaders and the democratic process. The erosion has accelerated in recent years as rabid partisanship has besotted many of those institutions — like the media.
Since most people don’t know which sources of information to trust, they inform themselves by getting their news from outlets that mirror their worldview. It’s unavoidable when people think like CNN or Fox or MSNBC, reflecting the viewpoints of their anchors and contributors while swallowing the slanted, biased coverage of the news departments.
When the American people needed a competent, informed, unbiased media the most, they didn’t get it.
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