OK, before the representatives of CNN and Media Matters shoot me e-mails, and Keith Olbermann names me The Worst Person in the World: Yes, I wrote the headline, but I didn’t take the poll on which it is based. Public Policy Polling surveyed Americans on which TV news operations they trust most and found that Fox News is the only outfit trusted by more people than distrust it.
The complete poll results are here, and as you’d expect, politics come into play. In broad terms, conservatives and Republicans are more intense and united in their opinions of TV news than moderates and liberals. They trust Fox, and mistrust everyone else, more uniformly than the other groups mistrust Fox and trust everyone else. Likewise, in reverse, for news organizations other than Fox, which conservatives mistrust intensely and across the board. Conviction, passionate intensity, &c.
Because we are talking the media and politics, and this is the Internet, someone is probably about to ask if the poll is a conservative setup. PPP, in fact, is a mainly Democratic-affiliated polling firm. Its conclusions, however, do put a bit of a what-is-this-world-coming-to spin on the results:
A generation ago Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in the country because of his neutrality. Now people trust Fox the most precisely because of its lack of neutrality. It says a lot about where journalism is headed.
Without defending Fox News per se, I don’t think this is exactly right. (Likewise, I know some of you don’t think Cronkite was neutral, either. Leaving that aside.) Rather, I think the poll results are indicative of what we saw in a Pew poll about media bias from last year. In it, fans of Fox News were more likely to see some type of political bias in all TV news outlets.
I think what we’re seeing here is that Fox viewers are more likely to believe that all news outlets are biased—and either they don’t mind it, or they at least accept that such is the way of the world. And they either simply prefer to watch a channel they see as being biased in their direction, or they believe it is a necessary counterbalance to the (unacknowledged) liberal bias of all other TV news, or they believe other channels are hypocrites for denying being biased, or all of the above. Whereas the rest of the news audience either still sees neutrality as possible, or at least still values it as an ideal.
Which group is right? That’s a whole other blog post. But I trust that some of you have opinions.
[Update: For what it's worth, ABC News' director of polling takes exception to the results, which he says oversample Republicans and undersample young voters.]