Faux Provincialism

Here’s a story that’ll make the media wonks on NPR’s On The Media knit their brows with academic exasperation:  Fox News is the most trusted news net:

A Public Policy Polling nationwide survey of 1,151 registered voters Jan. 18-19 found that 49 percent of Americans trusted Fox News, 10 percentage points more than any other network.

Thirty-seven percent said they didn’t trust Fox, also the lowest level of distrust that any of the networks recorded.

I could jump up and down and invoke Berg’s Seventh Law (when liberals defame conservatives, it’s pretty much always pre-emptive projection), but this story actually brings up a much more interesting question.

The numbers hint at that question, being split among ideological lines:

There was a strong partisan split among those who said they trusted Fox — with 74 percent of Republicans saying they trusted the network, while only 30 percent of Democrats said they did.

CNN was the second-most-trusted network, getting the trust of 39 percent of those polled. Forty-one percent said they didn’t trust CNN.

Each of the three major networks was trusted by less than 40 percent of those surveyed, with NBC ranking highest at 35 percent. Forty-four percent said they did not trust NBC, which was combined with its sister cable station MSNBC.

Thirty-two percent of respondents said they trusted CBS, while 31 percent trusted ABC. Both CBS and ABC were not trusted by 46 percent of those polled.

Of course, the wonk class – hanging out at the cocktail parties as they do with their pet media figures – are “deeply concerned”, and chalk it up to some form of defect among the hoi polloi:

“A generation ago you would have expected Americans to place their trust in the most neutral and unbiased conveyors of news,” said PPP President Dean Debnam in his analysis of the poll.

Which, neither he nor apologists for the American media will tell you, is actually an anomaly worldwide.  In most of the world’s nations, press outlets have an overlying political orientation; The Times and The Frankfurter Allgemeine are center-right, Die Zeit and Le Monde are center-left, The Guardian is neo-socialist.  Like Fox, they report the news basically straight – but they are honest about their papers’ political worldviews.

The purported American media tradition says, on the other hand, that reporters and news outlets are to be not only completely detached – which violates several laws of human nature.  And this detachment – some of them persist in calling it “objectivity” – is enforced by nothing more than their more-or-less earnest say-so.

There’s a longer discussion about the nature of the “objective” American media, and how it’s not necessarily a huge conspiracy that they trend left-of-center while strenuously denying any bias.

But the main point is this; the European system works – provided that one believes that the news consumer is well-informed enough to account for his/her news outlets’ institutional biases.

The real question is “why does the American media and wonk establishment find this idea – that the people can do their own filtering without needing to trust to the dubious “objectivity” of “gatekeepers” to do it for them – so threatening?

Debnam:

“But the media landscape has really changed, and now they’re turning more toward the outlets that tell them what they want to hear.”

Debnam echoes the line that regional media wonks – and institutional media “criticism” shows like NPR’s On The Media (which is more of a labored weekly apologetic for the media’s excesses and liberal slant than anything) – will likely use in discussing the news; that bias about which the media is forthcoming is worse than unstated, denied bias is not only a bad thing, but a symptom of some deeper pathology among the simpletons who bypass the elites’ gatekeepers.

It’s a line that sounds, more and more, like “the peasants are revolting”.

(Disclosure: I haven’t watched a network newscast from any network, barring the odd emergency special report, in years and years).

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