A new Monmouth University poll shows a majority of Americans see “fake news” not as an issue of facts, but an issue of opinion and editorial decisions.
More than 3-in-4 Americans believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report “fake news,” including 31% who believe this happens regularly and 46% who say it happens occasionally. The 77% who believe fake news reporting happens at least occasionally has increased significantly from 63% of the public who felt that way last year.
Just 25% say the term “fake news” applies only to stories where the facts are wrong. Most Americans (65%), on the other hand, say that “fake news” also applies to how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report.
“These findings are troubling, no matter how you define ‘fake news.’ Confidence in an independent fourth estate is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Ours appears to be headed for the intensive care unit,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The belief that major media outlets disseminate fake news at least occasionally has increased among every partisan group over the past year, including Republicans (89% up from 79% in 2017), independents (82% up from 66%), and Democrats (61% up from 43%). In addition to the fact that a clear majority of Democrats now believe that traditional media outlets report fake news at least occasionally, the poll also finds that a majority of Republicans (53%) feel this happens on a regular basis (up from 37% in 2017).
Okay, time out. Murray’s comments on confidence in the independent press heading to the ICU is only slightly hyperbolic, and completely misses the point regarding press history in the United States. I wrote multiple times last fall on press history and how the media has always been biased. The bias is something which pretty much always irked Americans and politicians one way or another. The key is how politicians have reacted to said bias. George Washington decided to delete this passage from his Farewell Address which shows how injured he was by press attacks (via MountVernon.org).
As this Address, Fellow citizens will be the last I shall ever make you, and as some of the Gazettes of the United States have teemed with all the Invective that disappointment, ignorance of facts, and malicious falsehoods could invent, to misrepresent my politics and affections; to wound my reputation and feelings; and to weaken, if not entirely destroy the confidence you had been pleased to repose in me; it might be expected at the parting scene of my public life that I should take some notice of such virulent abuse. But, as heretofore, I shall pass them over in utter silence…”
The fact Washington did remove the passage is proof of his wisdom, even if he didn’t necessarily follow the Constitution as much as his presidency should have. Abraham Lincoln did the opposite of Washington. He decided to shut down opposition newspapers who were frustrated with the Civil War, and wanted it to end. Via Newseum:
By mid-May 1864, Lincoln’s patience with the oppositional Copperhead press had begun to fray. What triggered Lincoln’s wrath was a bogus item that appeared in two Copperhead newspapers out of New York — the Journal of Commerce and the World. The papers ran a fake story that reported a presidential proclamation to the effect that the Lincoln administration was about to draft 400,000 men. According to Tedford and Herbeck, “Lincoln ordered the two newspapers closed and their owners arrested and imprisoned. The Independent Telegraph System, which had transmitted the story, was seized by the military and its transmissions stopped.”
Additionally, and as my colleague David L. Hudson Jr. has noted: Sometimes “people were arrested for wearing Confederate buttons and for singing Confederate songs. Editors were arrested, papers closed and correspondents were banned from the fields of battle. A military governor, with the approval of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, destroyed the office of the Washington, D.C., newspaper, the Sunday Chronicle.”
Let’s also not forget Walter Cronkite wasn’t exactly the pillar of journalistic integrity everyone wants to remember him as, and presented the news as he saw fit, and not “just the facts,” to steal a phrase from Joe Friday.
The press has always had some sort of bias, meaning there’s going to be opposition, whether it be in the government or in the public’s eye. It’s why the Internet is so fascinating, and the government should stay out of regulating it because it allows pretty much anyone with Internet access to create a blog discussing the issues and reporting them from a certain point of view. It’s rather exciting, and risky, because the norms have mostly been tossed out.
This also increases the danger of people falling prey to actual “fake news,” which contains lies. I’m not talking about news entities which issue incorrect reporting, then apologize for being wrong, but websites which promote stories like, “I was able to buy an AR-15 in five minutes” or some kind of fake celebrity quote. It’s why I’m a little disappointed to see the Monmouth poll suggested people thought fake news was more about things they didn’t agree with versus stories which didn’t contain facts.
People enjoy living in an ideological bubble. It’s a fact of life, despite being extremely disappointing. The echo chamber exists, and it’s hard to get out of it, especially when friends are promoting one viewpoint over another. There are still plenty of reasons to pay attention and understand what political opponents are saying because it gives people the chance to dispute the issue at hand. It’s why I make sure to get The Washington Times and The New York Times in my inbox each day, along with links from Reason and National Review. It’s important to see what each side is saying.
It would not be surprising to see the Monmouth poll used to promote some sort of government regulation on social media, as a way to tamp down on so-called “fake news.” Even Monmouth admitted the poll was conducted before the Cambridge Analytica allegations came forth. The problem is this government regulation push just gives the bureaucrats more power and allows the government to determine who gets to see what, instead of individuals. Yes, Google and Facebook have made plenty of mistakes in trying to make sure fake news doesn’t get out. People need to remember there are other options to do searches or connect with friends online. There’s no reason for the government to get involved in regulating what people can see or not, even if proponents believe it will crack down on “fake news.”