Ben Shapiro’s conservative news website The Daily Wire has trounced every other publisher on Facebook in 2021, in terms of engagement metrics such as likes and comments that legacy news sites don’t come anywhere close to matching. TV ratings for August, meanwhile, show Fox News once again beating its cable network rivals like CNN. And Substack is proving a durable publishing platform for right-leaning media figures like Glenn Greenwald, who no longer have to find a way to operate within the strictures of a mainstream media ecosystem.
None of this, of course, is happening in a vacuum. New data from the Pew Research Center shows that trust in the mainstream media among Republicans continues to essentially fall off a cliff. And it’s not as though those disaffected news consumers don’t have anywhere to turn, in search of alternatives that are more palatable to them.
Against the backdrop of having more news and opinion than ever now presented through an avowedly partisan lens, the results of the new Pew Research Center survey show, among other things:
- That in the years since 2016 — does anyone even need to be reminded why that year is a benchmark? — the percentage of Republicans who say they have at least “some” trust in national news organizations has plummeted from 70% that year to just 35% now. Even the decline from late 2019 until this year is precipitous, and shows the percentage among Republicans dropping another 14 points, from 49%.
- On the other side of the equation, no surprise, trust in media among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents remains strong. Almost eight in 10 Democrats, as well as independents who claim to lean Democratic, say they have either “a lot” or “some” trust in information from national news organizations.
The partisan spread between these two groups (35% among Republicans, compared to 78% among Democrats who say they trust the national news) is the largest it’s been since the Pew researchers have asked this question over the last five years. The gap gets even wider when the partisan dial is turned up even more. Among liberal Democrats compared to the most conservative Republicans?
No surprise, even fewer of the latter say they have faith in the national news media (just 30%) compared to 83% for the former.
“Overall,” according to Pew, “about six-in-ten U.S. adults (58%) say they have at least some trust in the information that comes from national news organizations. While still a majority, this is the smallest share over the past five years this question was asked.
“When it was last asked in late 2019, 65% expressed at least some trust. And far fewer (12%) express that they have ‘a lot’ of trust in the information that comes from national news organizations.”
By way of putting all this into some historical context: This phenomenon can also be weighed against the backdrop of a specific news narrative that will be increasingly prevalent in the coming days. Specifically, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Already, there’s been a predictability to the news coverage timed to this sobering milestone moment. Which marks two decades having passed since hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center as well as the Pentagon, killing almost 3,000 Americans that day. It cannot go unmentioned, for example, that the abrupt and chaotic departure of the US from Afghanistan in recent days marks a dramatic turnaround from the military response that was launched 20 years ago. Nor should the controversial surveillance apparatus that was stood up in the wake of 9/11 be forgotten.
The major streamers, like Netflix and Apple TV+, have released slickly packaged and compelling deep dives into that tragic day in the US and the events surrounding it. Like Netflix’s Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror — a 5-episode limited series that not only unpacks the events of the day itself but also probes world events that set the stage for it, as well as the aftermath.
The results of the Pew survey, meanwhile, suggest a profound transformation in the US of today, compared to the one that existed on 9/11.
Consider, for example, that there have been multiple days in the US this year when the country has seen a level of death from COVID-19 equivalent to the loss of life on 9/11. And yet, the country remains fractured and somewhat regional in its response to the pandemic, with nowhere near the national unity on display in the immediate wake of 9/11. There is pervasive mistrust of authority figures, such as White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci. And a not insignificant slice of the country regards agencies like the CDC as craven affiliates of a political operation, rather than a source of experts dispensing sound and scientific advice. And, of course, trust in the national mainstream media is nowhere near what it once was.
The part of this story about trust that the mainstream media almost never grapples with, however, is its own culpability herein. Let’s take Rolling Stone magazine’s story in recent days about supposed ivermectin overdoses causing chaos in a hospital as just one example.
In the lead-up to its publication, this anti-parasitic drug has been championed in right wing circles, presumably as a way to obviate the need for a coronavirus vaccine. Even though the FDA and CDC have urged Americans that ivermectin is not an acceptable treatment for COVID-19. “People are purchasing various highly concentrated animal ivermectin drug formulations such as ‘pour-on,’ injectable, paste and ‘drench’ that are intended for horses, cattle and sheep, and taking these drugs has made some people very sick,” the FDA warned in a letter to veterinarians and other recipients.
Nevertheless, it has champions such as comedian and podcast host Joe Rogan, who disclosed his own positive case of COVID-19 a few days ago. In a social media post to his followers, he added that he’d been given a mix of drugs to fight off the virus, including ivermectin. And that he now feels much better.
This brings us to the Rolling Stone story. On Friday, the magazine ran a story that went viral about Oklahoma hospitals being overwhelmed with ivermectin overdose cases. And that the volume of patients was so bad, it was causing other patients to get backed up in their own wait for treatment. The story relied on testimony from Dr. Jason McElyea, who’d given some comments to a local news station.
Other mainstream outlets that picked up this story included Newsweek, The Guardian and Insider. Rolling Stone, however, has since attached an “update” to the story that basically undercuts the whole thing — and has given conservatives the opportunity to have a field day with what it sees as another example of media bias. The update reads, in part:
“One hospital has denied Dr. Jason McElyea’s claim that ivermectin overdoses are causing emergency room backlogs and delays in medical care in rural Oklahoma, and Rolling Stone has been unable to independently verify any such cases as of the time of this update … Following widespread publication of his statements, one hospital that the doctor’s group serves, NHS Sequoyah, said its ER has not treated any ivermectin overdoses and that it has not had to turn away anyone seeking care.”
One bad story, it should go without saying, doesn’t implicate the entirety of the mainstream media. But it’s a virtual certainty that examples like this one, over and over again, will keep sending news consumers fleeing for alternative information channels, complaining all the while of bias and untrustworthiness in the mainstream media. With the only thing likely to change in any meaningful way is that this problem will just keep getting worse.