Gallup: Fifty Percent of Americans Believe Media Lies to Promote Agenda

by | Feb 18, 2023


I will be speaking today in Colorado on the “Rise and Fall of the American Fourth Estate.” The speech explores the legal and political history of the free press in our democracy — and its rapid decline in the age of advocacy journalism. This week, a poll was released that shows just how much ground has been lost by this generation of journalists. Gallup and the Knight Foundation found that 50 percent of Americans believe that the news media lies in order to promote an agenda. Only 25 percent of Americans reject that premise.

The poll also shows that 52 percent of Americans disagree with the statement that “In general, most national news organization care about the best interests of their readers, views, and listeners.” Only 23 percent agree with that proposition.

The view of bias and untrustworthiness increased across the political spectrum, including among Democrats who usually favor the media given the liberal bent of the coverage.

It is also striking that the media is losing young viewers and readers with its current approach to journalism.

This poll is consistent with other polls showing that people are rejecting mainstream media in growing numbers. In 2021, a survey by the global communications firm Edelman (via Axios) found only 46 percent of Americans trust traditional media. That mirrors earlier polls by Gallup showing an even lower level of trust. Now this poll shows overwhelming distrust in the media.

I wrote a column a couple years ago asking how the media expects to survive while rejecting half of the country with overwhelmingly liberal coverage. Most news outlets seem to have written off conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans.

We have often discussed the increasing bias and advocacy in major media in the United States. While cable networks have long catered to political audiences on the left or right, mainstream newspapers and networks now openly frame news to fit a political narrative. With the exception of Fox and a couple of other smaller news outlets, that slant is heavily to the left. What is most striking about this universal shift toward advocacy journalism (including at journalism schools) is that there is no evidence that it is a sustainable approach for the media as an industry. While outfits like NPR allow reporters to actually participate in protests and the New York Times sheds conservative opinions, the new poll shows a sharp and worrisome division in trust in the media. Not surprisingly given the heavy slant of American media, Democrats are largely happy with and trusting of the media. Conversely, Republicans and independents are not. The question is whether the mainstream media can survive and flourish by writing off over half of the country.

A 2021 study from the non-partisan Pew Research Center showed a massive decline in trust among Republicans. Five years ago, 70 percent of Republicans said they had at least some trust in national news organizations. In 2021, that trust was down to just 35 percent. Conversely, and not surprisingly, 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents saying they have “a lot” or “some” trust in the media. When you just ask liberal Democrats, it jumps to 83 percent.

This latest poll shows that the problem is only getting more acute for the media. Yet, publishers and editors are still pandering to the mob in calling for more advocacy and less objectivity. For individual media figures, these woke policies protect them personally from backlash or criticism even as they undermine their respective publications or media outlets.

For example, we recently discussed the release of the results of interviews with over 75 media leaders by former executive editor for The Washington Post Leonard Downie Jr. and former CBS News President Andrew Heyward. They concluded that objectivity is now considered reactionary and even harmful. Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, editor-in-chief at the San Francisco Chronicle said it plainly: “Objectivity has got to go.”

Saying that “Objectivity has got to go” is, of course, liberating. You can dispense with the necessities of neutrality and balance. You can cater to your “base” like columnists and opinion writers. Sharing the opposing view is now dismissed as “bothsidesism.” Done. No need to give credence to opposing views. It is a familiar reality for those of us in higher education, which has been increasingly intolerant of opposing or dissenting views.

Downie recounts how news leaders today…

…believe that pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading “bothsidesism” in covering stories about race, the treatment of women, LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality, climate change and many other subjects. And, in today’s diversifying newsrooms, they feel it negates many of their own identities, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.

There was a time when all journalists shared a common “identity” as professionals who were able to separate their own bias and values from the reporting of the news.

Now, objectivity is virtually synonymous with prejudice. Kathleen Carroll, former executive editor at the Associated Press declared “It’s objective by whose standard? … That standard seems to be White, educated, and fairly wealthy.”

This move away from objectivity has gained steam even as interview with The Stanford Daily, Stanford journalism professor, Ted Glasser, insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He rejected the notion that journalism is based on objectivity and said that he views “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about morality.” Thus, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.”

Lauren Wolfe, the fired freelance editor for the New York Times, has not only gone public to defend her pro-Biden tweet but published a piece titled “I’m a Biased Journalist and I’m Okay With That.” 

Former New York Times writer (and now Howard University Journalism Professor) Nikole Hannah-Jones is a leading voice for advocacy journalism.

Indeed, Hannah-Jones has declared “all journalism is activism.” Her 1619 Project has been challenged as deeply flawed and she has a long record as a journalist of intolerance, controversial positions on rioting, and fostering conspiracy theories. Hannah-Jones would later help lead the effort at the Times to get rid of an editor and apologize for publishing a column from Sen. Tom Cotten as inaccurate and inflammatory.

Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor Jennifer Rubin has also called for the media to abandon balance and impartiality. Rubin has become notorious due to her screeds against Republicans and even calling for the Republican Party to be burned to the ground. I have previously written about how her work has lacked of not just objectivity but accuracy.

All of these voices show a complete disconnect from readers and viewers who do not want advocacy journalism and no longer trust what they are reading in the media. Yet, these calls remain personally popular for writers and editors alike. It is reminiscent of how executives at companies like Disney have pursued woke policies to the detriment of their shareholders and the alienation of many of their customers. The same is true for the push for censorship on social media despite the clear preference of users for more free speech and fewer speech controls.

That is why the latest poll is unlikely to deter the movement of “new journalism” in abandoning objectivity and impartiality. As Downie explained “objectivity” is
“keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.” So they will do their job even when viewers and readers no longer are interested in their work. Perhaps the new media can find a way to exist not only without conservatives but customers in general. That type of vanity press will require increasing subsidies from billionaires like Jeff Bezos, but they may balk at a media that is increasing writing for itself.

Reprinted with permission from


  • Jonathan Turley

    Professor Jonathan Turley is a nationally recognized legal scholar who has written extensively in areas ranging from constitutional law to legal theory to tort law. He has written over three dozen academic articles that have appeared in a variety of leading law journals at Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and other schools.

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