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Bad news for journalists: Gallup poll reports 60 percent of Americans distrust the media

Bad news for journalists: Gallup poll reports 60 percent of Americans distrust the media

Dallas Morning News
The quote etched on the Dallas Morning News' building sets a high standard that 60 percent of the public doesn't believe the media achieves.  Courtesy of Dallas Morning News
Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh is arguably the most recognizable right-of-center television personality today. His show runs on the Fox News network.  Courtesy of Fox News
Bill Maher
Bill Maher hosts a popular left-of-center political show on MSNBC.  Courtesy of MSNBC
Dallas Morning News
Rush Limbaugh
Bill Maher

The media are some of America's favorite whipping boys, often blamed for promoting negative stories or focusing on extreme viewpoints. But a recent Gallup poll reveals that not only does the American public dislike the media, they don't trust us, either.

An astonishing 60 percent of people surveyed from September 6 to 9 told Gallup they have "little to no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly." That's the highest level of distrust since Gallup began polling Americans on this subject in the 1990s.

NBC's Brian Williams had a very timely report on a recent episode of Rock Center about the increasing polarization of the media, with a special emphasis on Fox News and MSNBC. The broadcast also featured New York Times media reporter David Carr, who referenced Fox network's $1 billion profit margin as the leading reason for the rise of opinion-based journalism. 

 Although there has always been a place for journalists to offer differing opinions, it used to be confined to the editorial page. Cable news networks blur the lines of objective reporting and commentary. 

Although there has always been a place for journalists to offer differing opinions, it used to be confined to the editorial page. Cable news networks blur the lines of objective reporting and commentary. 

Television personalities such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher make a living on inflammatory statements with little to no basis in fact. 

Confusingly, their shows are broadcast on networks that purport to be an objective source of news during a different time slot. Such is the conundrum of cable news stations. Although the model of shouting ridiculous statements loudly and frequently brings in droves of revenue, it destroys credibility at the same break-neck pace. 

Inevitably, journalists will have personal opinions. But is the mark of a good journalist to be able to pen an op-ed on gun control one day and turn around and present an objective profile on the head of the NRA the next? Or is the public unable to ever view a writer as "fair and balanced" once it finds out her personal preference on a subject?

I don't have an opinion on every story I've ever written, but I do, like any reasonable person will admit, have views on most major subjects of public debate. The challenge of my profession is to put aside my opinions when reporting the news and to articulate them clearly when I'm wearing my columnist hat. 

The most logical solution would be to never allow writers who've openly expressed an opinion on a subject to turn around and cover that same issue in straight-news reporting. But with newsrooms slashing budgets and staff, that sounds like a pipe dream.

So news organizations — broadcast and print alike — are left with a bit of a catch-22: churn out inflammatory, opinionated reporting to generate revenue but lose trust, or produce objective reporting that builds trust but loses money. Is it any wonder which way networks are leaning?