Tuesday, April 12, 2005
In today's NYTimes, Nicholas Kristof notes the almost total lack of trust and confidence in the press:

A recent report from the Pew Research Center, "Trends 2005," is painful to read. The report says that 45 percent of Americans believe little or nothing in their daily newspapers, up from 16 percent two decades ago.

In this kind of environment, it's not surprising that journalists are headed for jail. The safety net for American journalism throughout history has been not so much the First Amendment - rather, it's been public approval of the role of the free press. Public approval is our life-support system, and it is now at risk.

Since 1973, the National Opinion Research Center has measured public confidence in 13 institutions, including the press. All of the other institutions have generally retained a good measure of public respect, but confidence in the press has fallen sharply since 1990.

Those of us in the press tend to get defensive about our dwindling credibility. We protest that we've been made scapegoats by partisan demagogues, particularly on the right, and I think that's true. But distrust for the news media, even if it's unfair, is the new reality - and we will have to work much, much harder to win back our credibility with the public.

In any case, it's not just right-wingers who distrust the media these days. The Pew Research Center found that while only 14 percent of Republicans believe all or most of what they read in The New York Times, even among Democrats the figure is only 31 percent. Other major news organizations face the same challenge. The Fox News Channel is considered credible by fewer than one-third of the Republicans - and an even smaller number of Democrats. Indeed, it's a rare news organization that is trusted by more than one-third of the people in either party: the one thing Democrats and Republicans agree on is that the news media are not trustworthy.

But Kristof, while suggesting reforms and improvements fails to accept these criticisms at face value. The fact is, as a collective group, the main stream media does tend to be arrogant. And more importantly, ignorant. Until that changes these numbers will never increase. Hiring the same type of people with different ideological viewpoints won't change that. And being more transparent about the process, and more willing to issue corrections won't change that.

The press needs to start researching stories thoroughly and writing them objectively and accurately in the first instance. And reporters cannot continue to search for stories that simply confirm their personal ideology (no matter what ideology that happens to be).

Frankly, until the press becomes dominated by non-partisans, people with no true party affiliation, trust will never really be restored in the press.
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I am an attorney in Chicago. Politically speaking, I am an indepedent that tends to lean conservative on fiscal issues and progressive on social issues. I try to remain as unbiased and open-minded as possible. Please email or post any comments, and especially criticisms. If something I say is wrong, or you disagree - let me know about it!



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