During the past six months, I had the opportunity to participate in the Media Trust Project in Casper sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, a nonprofit that advocates fair, accurate and ethical journalism. Wyoming was chosen for the project because its residents distrust the news media at a higher rate than residents of other states.
Results of the 2017 Gallup/Knight Foundation Survey found that Americans believe the news media has an important role to play in democracy, yet they do not believe the media is fulfilling that role. A 2016 Gallup poll found that only 32 percent of Americans had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. The Media Trust Project was formed to gain a better understanding of the reasons people mistrust the media and expose other grievances they have about the press. The sessions were designed to allow for participants to discuss why they are skeptical about what they read, hear or see in the news media, get an opportunity to express their concerns directly to local and national journalists and receive guidance on how to distinguish between news and other types of information.
The finale involved a forum of guest speakers of editors from the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Associated Press and BuzzFeed News last month at Casper College. At the forum, my first question to the panel was for a show of hands of the panelists that believed there was a liberal bias in the media against President Trump and conservative values. To my astonishment, none of the panelists raised their hand; not one of these editors was willing to admit to what most view as an obvious and overt liberal bias in reporting.
During this project, we had examined numerous instances of this liberal bias. Examples include, but are not limited to, articles referring to pro-abortion individuals as “pro-choice activists” versus pro-life believers as “individuals with an anti-abortion agenda,” two years of stories and accusations of Russia collusion by Trump and his administration, accusations that Trump was a Russian agent, questioning Trump’s mental competence, reporting that Mueller didn’t exonerate without pointing out that no power or authority exists with the Special Counsel to exonerate, and people in the United States are presumed innocent until proven guilty, articles referring to slaughtered Christians as “Easter goers.” The list goes on. Many articles came with little or no evidence to support their claims. Many cited anonymous sources.
Additionally, I feel the real bias is not what the media prints and airs nightly; but rather what they don’t. Conservative viewpoints are ignored or slanted if it does not fit a liberal narrative. Even perceived hate crimes against a gay, Asian, conservative journalist (Andy Ngo), beaten by a liberal group, were sparsely covered. Had this been a liberal, gay, minority journalist beaten by a supposed right-wing group in the South, it would have been the headline of every media outlet.
The project put emphasis on defining the difference between hard news and opinion, further explaining programs such as “Hannity” or “Hardball” are opinion programs, not hard news. Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that opinion makes its way into hard news nightly. There lies the standard; is a news story based on facts, opinions or both? Shouldn’t journalists report facts and let readers determine their own conclusion? As an example, Trump’s purported “racist” tweets. Is this a fact or is it an opinion? Journalists ought to report what was tweeted and detail reasons why this could be viewed as racist and let the reader decide for themselves. Yet, numerous elite journalists, a large share living on the coasts, do not believe the average consumer in middle America has sufficient intellect to come to the journalist’s perceived conclusion, and as a result must inject their interpretation into the story.
The media plays an important role in our democracy. Given they decide what is reported, they should objectively report real news and inform viewers based on facts without bias while keeping government, private enterprise and powerful individuals accountable to the masses. They are a perceived watchdog and it is critical our trust in them not continue to erode. Until such time that journalists (including the panelists who attended the forum) have the courage to raise their hand when asked if they agree that liberal bias exists in the media, and are willing to hold themselves accountable for biased/inaccurate reporting, the media will not regain public confidence, and the 32 percent trust number will only continue to decline.