Trump brings the crisis in journalism to a flashpoint

Summary: Campaign 2016 and the advent of Trump have brought the crisis in journalism to the front pages. Fake news, conflicts with the president, calls for advocacy journalism, loss of the public’s trust — together these are forcing journalists to reconsider the craft and their business. Failure to find solutions will mean a new information regime for America.

Lois Lane



  1. Watch journalists burn the news media.
  2. Do we trust journalists or Trump?
  3. Do we trust journalists?
  4. Jay Rosen explains the news.
  5. For More Information.

See journalist in Lois Lane in 1972…

(1) Watch journalists burn the news media to the ground

Their business relies on the public’s trust. I feel sad watching them burn their business to the ground. Their long decay has accelerated since the election of Trump.

16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won” by Daniel Payne at The Federalist “Journalists, media types, reporters, you have two choices: you can fix these problems, or you can watch your profession go down in flames.” Payne provides detailed documentation of sixteen fake new stories. None were well-researched. All received lavish attention from mainstream journalist. All proved false, with the retractions lightly reported.

A WaPo op-ed: “The media botched this Trump story last week — and that’s bad for everyone” by Jackson Diehl (Deputy Editor).

“The Trump administration has launched a raft of ill-considered, reckless and wrongheaded foreign policy initiatives in its first two weeks… One thing Trump has decidedly not done, however, is downgrade the participation of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the deliberations of the National Security Council. Opening…

“You may have heard and read otherwise, repeatedly. Therein lies an illustration of how communication between the executive and mainstream media, and with it coverage of the Trump administration, has already come unhinged. …Media organizations look less credible on the real Trump transgressions when they, inadvertently or otherwise, report the routine as scandalous. “

Emerson College Polling

(2)  Do we trust journalists or Trump?

Emerson College polled registered voters, asking who they consider trustworthy (report here).

“Do you believe the Trump administration has been generally truthful or generally untruthful?”

  • Truthful: 49% — including 89% of Republicans and 42% of independents.
  • Untruthful: 48% — including 77% of Democrats and 52% of independents.

“Do you believe the news media has been generally truthful or generally untruthful?”

  • Truthful: 39% — including 69% of Democrats and 45% of independents.
  • Untruthful: 53% — including 91% of Republicans and 47% of independents.

For a different perspective, Gallup asks if we believe journalists have been too tough or too easy on the Trump administration (report here).

Gallup - news coverage of Trump administration

(3)  Do we trust journalists?

Gallup’s annual polls also show the long slow deterioration of American’s confidence in the news media (report here). The fraction with “very little” or “no” confidence is at a record high; the fraction with “a great deal” or “a lot” is at a record low. For a business that relies on its readers’ confidence, this indicates an industry in terminal decline.

Gallup poll trust in newspapers

Now we have many news media, not just newspapers. How much confidence do we have in them as a group? Not much, but more than we have in newspapers. I find that odd. (Report here.)

Gallup: confidence in news media

How do the people in each party see the mass media?

Gallup poll: confidence in the news media, by party

Jay Rosen
CC BY-SA 3.0.

(4)  News Media expert Jay Rosen explains

Jay Rosen (prof of journalism at NYU; see Wikipedia) has written scores of articles about the on-going crisis in journalism. He identifies many problem, both internal and external to the press, both simple and complex. Five explanations from 2012. His banking theory of newsroom trust from 2015.

He confidently states that “our reporting is truthful“, but it is a matter of faith. His body of articles is too large to review, but I see no quality control measurements by his industry — nor research exploring the causes driving the public’s loss of trust (which is faster than our overall loss of confidence in institutions).  That’s odd, since this is an existential challenge to the industry.

I do not see that Rosen considers the obvious answer: we do not trust them because they do not do their job very well. Their coverage of the Trump administration has been inaccurate. The long record of inaccuracy by TV investigators on big stories (e.g., exploding cars). Their coverage of the 2015-16 El Nino limelighted extreme forecasts (often by amateurs) predicting a super monster Godzilla El Nino and gave little attention to the moderate forecasts by NOAA (which correctly predicted it would be roughly as strong as 1997-98 El Nino). There are journalists’ credulous repetition of doomster stories, which routinely prove false. Journalists’ innumeracy.

It is a long list. Perhaps journalists have gotten less skilled at their craft. Perhaps they have become more skilled, but our expectations have risen faster (after all, quality of most goods and services have improved).

Perhaps eventually desperation will force journalists to reconsider how they cover the news. Until then Rosen and his peers will ignore this problem, preferring to write self-justifying articles such as “Trump is no wizard of modern media. He just lacks a sense of shame.”

One thing Rosen does get right: the collapse of confidence in the media is bad for society. The public’s loss of confidence in journalists creates an opening for propagandists and charlatans.

(5)  For More Information

For more information about the business of journalism see Ken Doctor’s articles at Nieman Labs, such as  his article about the 2015 census by the Am Society of Newsroom Editors. Also see the ASNE survey. The Pew Research 2016 State of the News Media report is even grimmer reading.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about fake news, about information and disinformation, and especially these…

  1. Describing the problem: Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers.
  2. We live in an age of ignorance, but can decide to fix this – today.
  3. American politics is a fun parade of lies, for which we pay dearly.
  4. Ways to deal with those guilty of causing the fake news epidemic.
  5. The secret source of fake news. Its discovery will change America.
  6. A new year’s gift: two tools to help discover truth in the news.

30 thoughts on “Trump brings the crisis in journalism to a flashpoint”

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  2. “We do not trust them because they do not do their jobs very well.” I think some of the issue is that we’ve conflated news and entertainment together. Extended sprawling chatfests on AM radio on the Right, cable comedians on the Left (or Left-ish, anyway), incredibly lengthy youtube videos for… everyone, really.

    Another factor that seems stronger on the Right is the phenomenon Charlie Sykes has been talking about lately, perhaps, where an extended repetition of the concept that you can’t trust The Media has (surprise!) gotten a lot of people thinking on a fundamental basis that you Can’t Trust The Media, as an axiomatic statement rather than a practical admission of the reality of a limited system.

    1. Dana,

      “I think some of the issue is that we’ve conflated news and entertainment together.”

      That’s a feature of the news that Americans like, not a bug. See this for details.

      “stronger on the Right is …the concept that you can’t trust The Media”

      That’s logical, since many studies have shown a strong bias of the media towards the liberal world view. The media’s core world-view has shifted to the right over the past few generations, but the center of the right has also shifted — so that the news media find themselves even more opposed to Trump than they were to Nixon (whom they hated).

      But while true, this misses a deeper point. The foundation of the news media is the public’s trust in them as accurate reporters. Once they lose that anchor, they are just another set of folks, albeit with better hair, talking about events on the internet and youtube. Hence vulnerable to suspicion as political actors.

  3. The Federalist article is quite clear. His last two paragraphs come closest to a good summary. This is a cultural signpost. Again the Adults have left the room. Please stop calling this phenomenon “fake news”. It is lies and lying when it comes from the News Media. Retractions? Responsibility? Weak or hidden and rare. Add in a tablespoon of gullibility to the bowl and let it bake for awhile.
    Trust? …weakening.
    Social Cohesion? ….declining.
    Certainly another bad sign.


    1. Breton,

      “Please stop calling this phenomenon “fake news”.”

      Scores of posts have documented that there is a phenomenon of “fake news” — sometimes in the major media, most often spread virally by the Left or Right. In my experience, they are started most often by motivated reasoning, not Gobbels-like deliberate cunning. More important is that they spread due to Americans disinterest in the truth and preference for simple Good Guy-Bad Guy narratives that suit their biases.

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  5. As I wrote, this phenomena is a cultural signpost. Lying is too common and accepted. Thanks for reinforcing a quite obvious situation. I don’t agree that it is a Citizen disinterest. The perpetrators are the originators, liars. The press in this case and politicians now as a general trend. Gulf of Tonkin anyone? Weapons of Mass Destruction?


    1. Breton,

      “Lying is too common and accepted.”

      Read the media. Lies are not accepted. They’re applauded. The bigger the lie, the louder the applause.

      “I don’t agree that it is a Citizen disinterest. The perpetrators are the originators, liars.”

      You deny Americans their basic right of agency. This is a free market economy. People provide what we want to hear. Liars don’t become famous media players and politicians because they puts guns to each of our little heads and command us to cheer.

      But your pose as innocent victim is quite American (no matter your actual nationality), and shows our unwillingness to assume responsibility for our own actions — and that of the United States. Reform is impossible in America until that changes.

  6. I like the concept of “full stack” credibility since one of the things that has frustrated me about the outrage over #FakeNews is that I consider the media’s bias to have contributed to the slide of American’s trust in major new sources resulting in our turn toward less credible sources. Of course, the major sources are blowing it as well, but I do believe they at least try to verify the information they are presenting. What they just don’t seem to realize is that it is not enough to simply be accurate as that is not necessarily the whole truth. People can sense the bias because it contributes to what they report and how they report.

    E.g. Editor to young reporter who worships Senator Clinton: “Go look into these Wiki Leaks emails and find me a story.” Young reporter to editor: “No story there. Some unfortunate comments being blown out of proportion.” Editor: “Next…”

    When people feel that the media’s bias results in a product they no longer trust, they’ll turn to other sources who may be of even lower quality and even more biased, except biased in a more comfortable direction.

    My wife and I were faithful, daily readers of The Huntsville Times for the first 10-15 years of our marriage. I watched the quality of writing degrade over the years and that disturbed me, but it was the naked bias in their words and between the lines that eventually cause me to cancel our subscription. I turned to news magazines such as Time or U.S. News & World Report where I still held some reporters in high regard, but eventually left them as well.

    I feel that there are so few journalists left in the world; not just reporters, but journalists who cared to bury their own loyalties deep to follow the new wherever it led. Perhaps I’m just romanticizing the journalism of the past; perhaps the Edward R. Murrows wore their beliefs on their sleeve, but it sure didn’t seem so.

    1. Dell,

      I doubt that the quality of news has improved, but who can tell? It would take some serious money for researchers to determine that. As I said in the post, perhaps our standards have risen.

      Newspapers in the past were nakedly partisan, but quite open about it. In a town with only one people just lived with that. At least there was no hypocrisy about it. In cities there were multiple papers, so people could read what aligned with their tastes, if bias bothered them.

      Now the economics have changed so we have one paper in most cities, with the TV offering choice. But that doesn’t seem to have provided ideological diversity — until Fox arrived, initiating the current evolution to politicized broadcast media. But we’re not happy with that.

      Perhaps we should start paying for news. Then we’d be the customer, not the client, and would have a right to complain.

    1. [I could reply directly to you reply]

      //Their business relies on the public’s trust. I feel sad watching them burn their business to the ground. Their long decay has accelerated since the election of Trump.//

      I will attempt an elaboration, though I doubt you don’t understand.

      I was shocked to read “sad” in regards to the putative destruction–predictions of the demise of certain news outlets may be incorrect–of the subject news outlets. I never in my life have entertained the thought of this development, as I consider it a wild dream. By way of comparison, I thought I would go to the grave with the preposterous “certainty” of the effects of anthropogenic global warming.

      1. Scherado,

        “though I doubt you don’t understand.”

        You are incorrect. I did not understand the basis for your objection.

        “regards to the putative destruction – predictions of the demise of certain news outlets may be incorrect – of the subject news outlets.”

        “Destruction” and “demise” are incorrect. There will always be a news biz. But it is shrinking fast by several key metric, and has been for decades.

        (1) The survey’s I cite show a long-term deterioration of American’s trust in the news media. That’s their foundational asset.

        (2) The number of full-time journalists employed at US newspapers peaked At its top, newsroom employment hit 56,900 in 1990. In 2015 it was 32,900. There are jobs in other media, but (as usual in our economy) seldom unionized, seldom with such good salary and benefits, often contingent. Ken Doctor at Nieman Labs has a good series documenting the decay of journalism as a business. See his article about the 2015 survey; or you can review the ASNE survey.

        The Pew Research 2016 State of the News Media report is even grimmer reading.

        (3) The industry’s financial health has been deteriorating for decades. It’s in a vicious cycle: cutting expenses to maintain minimal profitability, the deterioration of quality reduces income, repeat.

        “I never in my life have entertained the thought of this development, as I consider it a wild dream.”

        Facts disagree with you.

      2. Thank you for the lengthy reply, though most of it was unneccessary. I don’t know to what attributed to me led you declare the several facts disagree. as I’m not sure I asserted anything in regards to anything other than my distaste for the outlets I have despised for 25 years. If you haven’t comprehended yet from what you’ve read that I am NOT SAD by whatever harm they accrue from their malpractice–I’m being kind–then….shame on you.

      3. scherado,

        “If you haven’t comprehended yet from what you’ve read that I am NOT SAD by whatever harm they accrue from their malpractice–I’m being kind–then….shame on you.”

        Wow. My comment explained why the decay of the news media is sad, in response to your comment (which I quoted). This isn’t complex.

        I suspect you are trolling. I’m moderating further comments.

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    1. Wayne,

      Without the news media — however imperfect — we have no reliable sources of information. We’re back to ancient times, relying on travelers’ tales. Which means we are weaker than those with reliable sources of information. Knowledge is power.

  9. This goes into a larger discussion about the mainstream media. The mainstream media really represent an elite interest and they serve those elite interests in a way that can be described as carrying out a function.

    If you want to understand the way some system works, you look at its institutional structure. How is organized? How is it controlled? How is it funded, and so on. The big question, of course, is: what kind of information do we get? Does it come from a diverse range of perspectives, or are some views dominant and others excluded?

    Of course there’s all this information out there, but only some of it gets through. Now, of course, the use of filtersis inevitable. The news has to select and edit information. But that filtering isn’t just a question of free journalistic judgment. It’s heavily influenced by a series of institutional pressures, such as who owns the media, the role of advertisers, the kinds of sources that are used, and a more direct form of pressure called “flack”. The key question is what makes it through the filters and what gets filtered out?

    Now, if you look at the agenda setting media, what are they? Well, in the first place, they’re huge corporations, parts of even bigger corporations. So they are sub-parts of huge concentrations of private power. We’re used thinking of these huge corporations that run the media as large faceless entities. But they’re actually run by people with opinions and a specific set of interests. And a few of them might be “Liberal” on some issues that don’t affect the bottom line, like abortion. But when it comes to the bulk of issues, they’re significantly elite.

    When we talk about media ownership and control, we’re talking about the ownership and control by very wealthy people who have interlocking directorships with many other corporations. Now very often they don’t intervene in a growth way, but, for an older example, Larry Grossman, who was president of NBC, in his autobiography, mentions that the GE chairman of the board, Jack Welch, pointed to him and said, “Remember you work for General Electric Corporation.” Now in the case of hands on owners, like Rupert Murdoch, they obviously come in and impose an overall policy on their subsidiaries. Policies and personnel change to reflect the owner’s politics.

    “When you are the monopoly supplier, you are inclined to dictate”
    — Rupert Murdoch, President and CEO, News Corporation.

    Example: When Rupert Murdoch took over the London Times and The Sun in London, and The New York Post, the policies change markedly. Editors are put in who meet Rupert Murdoch’s ideological biases. To use another older example, in England, there was another very powerful media entrepreneur named Conrad Black who controls 50% of the newspapers in Canada, and owns over 100 papers in the United States, including the Chicago Sun Times. Like Murdoch, he’s a very ideological man. Their power is so great, that when Tony Blair became head of the Labour Party, he actually went to Australia to visit Murdoch and to try to convince Murdoch that he had proper credentials. And he convinced Murdoch, and in the last election, Murdoch actually supported the Labour party and Tony Blair
    over the Conservative Party.

    In the 1997 British election Murdoch-owned papers endorsed Labour Party leader Tony Blair. Part of the reason for that was that, surprisingly enough, the Conservative Party had proposed some limit on a concentration in the British media and Murdoch was reportedly furious at this. Now the Labour Party had had an even more stringent proposal but at Blair’s insistence, it was dropped.

    Also curious to know what your take on Noam Chomsky’s books Manufacturing Consent and Necessary Illusions are.

  10. A few other quotes, Food for thought
    “The major media-particularly, the elite media that set the agenda that others generally follow-are corporations “selling” privileged audiences to other businesses. It would hardly come as a surprise if the picture of the world they present were to reflect the perspectives and interests of the sellers, the buyers, and the product. Concentration of ownership of the media is high and increasing. Furthermore, those who occupy managerial positions in the media, or gain status within them as commentators, belong to the same privileged elites, and might be expected to share the perceptions, aspirations, and attitudes of their associates, reflecting their own class interests as well. Journalists entering the system are unlikely to make their way unless they conform to these ideological pressures, generally by internalizing the values; it is not easy to say one thing and believe another, and those who fail to conform will tend to be weeded out by familiar mechanisms.”
    From Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies

    “If the media were honest, they would say, Look, here are the interests we represent and this is the framework within which we look at things. This is our set of beliefs and commitments. That’s what they would say, very much as their critics say. For example, I don’t try to hide my commitments, and the Washington Post and New York Times shouldn’t do it either. However, they must do it, because this mask of balance and objectivity is a crucial part of the propaganda function. In fact, they actually go beyond that. They try to present themselves as adversarial to power, as subversive, digging away at powerful institutions and undermining them. The academic profession plays along with this game.”
    From Lecture titled “Media, Knowledge, and Objectivity,” June 16, 1993

    “The public relations industry, which essentially runs the elections, is applying certain principles to undermine democracy which are the same as the principles that applies to undermine markets. The last thing that business wants is markets in the sense of economic theory. Take a course in economics, they tell you a market is based on informed consumers making rational choices. Anyone who’s ever looked at a TV ad knows that’s not true. In fact if we had a market system an ad say for General Motors would be a brief statement of the characteristics of the products for next year. That’s not what you see. You see some movie actress or a football hero or somebody driving a car up a mountain or something like that. And that’s true of all advertising. The goal is to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices and the business world spends huge efforts on that. The same is true when the same industry, the PR industry, turns to undermining democracy. It wants to construct elections in which uninformed voters will make irrational choices. It’s pretty reasonable and it’s so evident you can hardly miss it.”
    From lecture titled”The State-Corporate Complex:A Threat to Freedom and Survival,” at the The University of Toronto, April 7, 2011

    The Obama campaign greatly impressed the public relations industry, which named Obama ‘Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008,’ easily beating out Apple computers. A good predictor of the elections a few weeks later. The industry’s regular task is to create uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices, thus undermining markets as they are conceptualized in economic theory, but benefiting the masters of the economy. And it recognizes the benefits of undermining democracy in much the same way, creating uninformed voters who make often irrational choices between the factions of the business party that amass sufficient support from concentrated private capital to enter the electoral arena, then to dominate campaign propaganda.”
    From Hopes and Prospects

    “You don’t have any other society where the educated classes are so effectively indoctrinated and controlled by a subtle propaganda system – a private system including media, intellectual opinion forming magazines and the participation of the most highly educated sections of the population. Such people ought to be referred to as “Commissars” – for that is what their essential function is – to set up and maintain a system of doctrines and beliefs which will undermine independent thought and prevent a proper understanding and analysis of national and global institutions, issues, and policies.”
    From Language and Politics
    10. “Citizens of the democratic societies should undertake a course of intellectual self defense to protect themselves from manipulation and control, and to lay the basis for meaningful democracy.”
    From Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies

    Of course they occasionally lose and have setbacks , like with Trump. Mostly they are pretty effective from my understanding but I am open to seeing how I could be wrong false or only partially correct. Love your site btw. Always good food for thought.

  11. With respect to entry 4), those who want to be taken seriously within informal debating circles–and formal, I suspect–do not use the Wiki-pee-D-uh source…for your information.

    1. Scherado,

      Re: Wikipedia

      Wikipedia is a highly useful source of quick information. It’s primary value is in the links attached to each major fact, allowing one to evaluate its provenance. There is nothing available online that is remotely equivalent. It’s superior to the online Britannica.

      1. Scherado,

        For example, compare the Wikipedia article about the Oroville Dam with today’s NY Times article about its problems. The first gives a far superior summary of the situation and background — more logically laid out, more detail, with links for additional information.

        Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article is parasitical on the news media. We need some mechanism to fund both. Unfortunately, the middle class — stable, prosperous — that funded the news media is dying. Hence American’s increasing preference for pirated news, like pirated entertainment.

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