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America’s Most Trusted News Source Not So Trustworthy

Memo Pad Politics

America’s Most Trusted News Source Not So Trustworthy


You can’t handle the truth.

There is a temptation to take that line from Jack Nicholson — snarled at Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men — as the moral of the story, the lesson to be learned from a new study on trustworthiness and the news media.

The study, conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, informs us that America’s least-trusted news source is conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, rated unreliable by almost 40 percent of all Americans. The also conservative Fox “News” follows closely at 37 percent. So America’s least-trusted news sources are also its most popular; Limbaugh hosts the number-one show on radio and Fox is the highest-rated cable news outlet.

It gets better. Pew tells us America’s most trusted news source is CNN; the network that eschews any ideological identifier is considered reliable by 54 percent of us. Yet for as much as we supposedly trust it, we don’t seem to like it very much. Its ratings — despite a mild resurgence in recent months — are but a fraction of Fox’s and it is undergoing massive layoffs.

For what it’s worth, there’s evidence to support America’s perception of who is and is not trustworthy. PunditFact, an offshoot of PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website, has issued a report card on the truthfulness of broadcast pundits by network. It’s an imperfect measure, but the results are still compelling. Over 60 percent of Fox pundit statements rated by PunditFact have been found to be some flavor of false.

CNN? Just 22 percent.

If all this sounds like a commercial for the network of holograms and missing plane obsessions, it isn’t. Rather, it’s a lament for the closing of the American mind.

There is an axiom that he who builds the best mousetrap enjoys the greatest success. But if that’s true, how is it the greatest successes in a business measured by trustworthiness are those entities judged least trustworthy of all? Maybe the answer is that conservative hardliners are more rabid in support of those who validate their views than the rest of us are in pursuit of simple truth.

In a nation where political discourse is increasingly a facts-optional exercise and reality now comes in shades of red and blue, that’s hardly reassuring.

Two years ago, at the request of yours truly, the people at Nielsen crunched some numbers. They found that in times of major breaking news — the examples used were the Columbine shooting, the Sept. 11 attacks, the commencement of the Iraq War, the Japanese tsunami and the death of Michael Jackson — ratings for all three cable news outlets tend to rise. But, almost without exception, the most dramatic spikes on a percentage basis are enjoyed by CNN. The week of Sept. 11, its ratings rose by 800 percent. No other network came close.

In other words, when something big has happened and people need to know what’s going on, they know where to go. They go where they can trust.

But on a routine day, many Americans, for as much as they will say otherwise, really don’t want to be informed so much as to be confirmed in their political biases, in the partisan version of truth that explains the world to them while making the fewest demands on intellect — and conscience. They need the “death panels” and “anchor” babies, the birther controversies and supposedly rampant voter fraud, the “threats” of sharia law and Obama-caused Ebola, the whole rickety structure of falsehood and fear upon which conservatism has built its alternate reality. That’s the whole reason Fox exists — and CNN barely does.

And it’s why Nicholson’s quote, tempting as it is, provides no proper moral for this story.

It’s not that we can’t handle the truth. It’s that some of us prefer the lie.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: Ayush via Flickr

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Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. Eleanore Whitaker November 3, 2014

    Buying and owning the media is crucial to buying and owning the government.

    1. kenndeb November 3, 2014

      Yes, and that is why the liberals and the regime control most of the media. If the Emperor had his wish, he would have censors in each and every newsroom in the country, making sure only what he wanted his peons to believe was reported. Welcome to the liberal run world where all is lies and deceit.

      1. annienoel November 3, 2014

        In what universe are you living? The media is owned by major corporations whose interests are purely republican. Faux news??? Every study shows the people who watch that drivel have less factual knowledge than people who watch Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert. Tests have shown that Faux regularly lies. Grow up.

        1. kenndeb November 3, 2014

          And just where did I say that Fox news was accurate? I don’t trust any news media for anything that resembles the truth, but I do know better that to believe the propaganda spewed by all the liberal controlled media, which encompasses most of the main stream media.

          1. elw November 3, 2014

            That is not what you said, you did not even mention Fox News; do actually consider Fox news liberal?

          2. MichelleRose3 November 3, 2014

            Hello, right-wing ideologue! Has your Party made you filthy rich yet or are you still at the apprentice stage where you must shill for them before they will let you play? Why DID you become a fascist? Did they promise you that you could sleep with Sarah Palin when she becomes President-for-Life? Silly boy, there’s such a looong line! Did they require your shrine to Ayn Rand for membership or did you do that all by yourself? (nice flowers, btw. All dead and blackened. Madame Rosenbaum would have approved)

            Listen up, insect. The financial credits you receive for posts like this are merely another sham by your corporate masters. Did you really think they would pay you fairly and credit you properly for your work? Then you are indeed naive and deserving of the bullet to the back of the head they will give you when you ask them for more. But you’re in too deep and cannot back out now, can you? Besides, they might be telling you the truth and that mansion with slaves might still be yours if you can just assist a little more in provoking another Civil War.

            A silly boy indeed. Didn’t you know that inherited wealth is all that matters to your masters? You’ll never become rich doing this, insect. However, you WILL become familiar with the collar and the lash, just like the slaves you dream of owning someday. Dream on, insect, dream on.

          3. ralphkr November 3, 2014

            “Liberal controlled media”?!?! Really, kenndeb, you remind me of the morons I used to work with many decades ago in Southern California. They complained bitterly about the the major newspapers being ultra-liberal. Their criteria: the one socialist mouthpiece had 4 pages of right wing editorials and most of one page of centrist to left wing. The other socialist mouthpiece had 2 pages of right wing editorials and ONE column from time to time of centrist to left editorial. Both of those socialist liberal newspapers endorsed EVERY Republican candidate for EVERY election. Of course, by today’s Republican standards all those Republicans in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, & 80s such as Eisenhower (appeaser of Russia), Nixon (a lover of Chinese Commies), Goldwater (Commie symp), Reagan (Socialist promoting) were borderline Commies.

      2. DAVE in VA November 3, 2014

        This s some good info on how biahttp://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/w/White-House-Media-Relations-052013.htm#.VFetWex0yvEs the news is.

    2. CPAinNewYork November 4, 2014

      Actually, the American Jewish community controls the media. That’s why our self-destructive poilcies in the Middle east never change.

      The American Jewish community controls the media and that’s why our media are solidly behind Israel. We should have left that Middle East hellhole thirty years ago. But instead, we remain, shedding American blood and treasure, all to protect Israel.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker November 4, 2014

        Well, well, well…something we can actually agree on. In my view, Israel and some in Americans Jewry are oblivious to their own self-destruction.

        Their biggest problem isn’t “anti-semitism.” It’s the inability to accept that the rest of the world doesn’t hold to the same religious belief that there actually is a “chosen” people or a “promised” land. It’s those two word “chosen” and “promised” that cause their lack of credibility.

        The claim that the world “blames” Jews for everything is inaccurate. The word “blame” and “victim” are synonymous with an inbred operative that seeks to insure that some individuals are more worthy than others. In other words, superiority complexes.

        Certainly, there are numerous Jews in the world who absolutely and without question deserve credit for their accomplishments.

        However, as a casual observer to the underpinnings of the Jewish culture, there seems to be an inability to think as individuals and not as a bloc culture impervious to outside influence. Therein, lies the sources of their problems.

        The only other culture that seems all too “tightly knit” are the ancient Gypsies who cling to each other for strength, rather than for culture. Not even the Middle Eastern Arabic, Egyptian, Turkish or Persian cultures are this impervious.

        There are many things Americans can be. But, they can never ever be foreigners in their own country that results from foreigners trying to impose their cultures on the rest of us. Blend their cultures? Fine. Impose it as the ruling culture? Not going to happen.

        There’s no reason to hate Jews. Hating the things they sometimes do is a whole other ball of wax. Particularly, when they refuse to act as unbiased individuals.

        I find that their victim card is beginning to wear. Especially since the number of dead Palestinians are growing all too close to the entire population of Israel. That’s math that no Israeli can EVER justify without another word, “extermination” being lobbed directly at them.

  2. Dominick Vila November 3, 2014

    What the PEW results tell me is that conservatives are much more energized, and more inclined to search for ways to justify their positions, regardless of how unreliable their sources may be, than Democrats are.
    One of the worst problems impacting the ability to pursue progressive goals is the Democrats’ lack of party discipline, the ideological diversity of the party, and a tendency to ignore midterm elections. Lack of party discipline, and ideological differences within the party, contribute to our strength and our ability to govern effectively, but they are also the reason a party with a record as dismal as the GOP’s is, and a vision that starts and ends with obstructionism and childish rhetoric, remains viable.
    Considering these circumstances, it is not too difficult to discern why far right media is so popular, and why centrist media, such as CNN, has such low ratings. Those prone to strident rhetoric and facile metaphors are much more likely to listen to people like Rush, Glenn, and the rest of the gang, than Democrats who seldom watch TV, and rely on the Internet for information, or simply ignore the entire process.

  3. EaglesGlen November 3, 2014

    First error is your claim of “nonpartisan Pew Research Center” is BS. Remaining article is BS from BS. CNN accuracy is so bad I tried to contact them and found it almost impossible, and then I knew why. I’ll take your propaganda accuracy against Media Resource Center documentation of facts and see who wins.

  4. itsfun November 3, 2014

    Are any of the news media trustworthy? They seem to be more interested in making news, then in reporting it. As long as there is more than idea on how to do something, then we will have news media and politicians telling us the other side is wrong, mean, terrible, haters, etc. I try to watch both MSNBC and FOX, then figure the truth is someone in between.

    1. mah101 November 3, 2014

      I don’t watch any of them, they are all pablum coated variations of insipid ignorance adorned in meaningless graphics and cerebrally vacuous “pundits” pontificating on some version of alternate reality to sell products for their sponsors.

  5. elw November 3, 2014

    The worse thing that ever happen to the news was cable and the switch to providing it 24/7. The simple truth is the only way you can fill that much news time is to repeat it as many ways as possible and try to make it look fresh, which lead to misinformation. Add in news going from being a department that loses money but is considered a public service to being station dedicated to news only which is owned by large, for profit Corporations that are trying to gain profit from it, and you get the disaster that the News has become: untrustworthy, rather silly, and a lot of time talking about stupid things. No matter how hard anyone tries, news is not suppose to be entertaining; it is suppose to educational and a provider of public information. The sad thing is the mistrust that the public has towards the people who provide their news is dangerous. It is dangerous because one day when people really need to know what they have to do to protect themselves from a real epidemic or natural disaster they will not know who to believe and people will die because they chose the wrong talking head to believe. I personally think that is happening already.

  6. ExRadioGuy15 November 3, 2014

    I was a regular CNN watcher until February 2012, when the channel took a hard-right turn from neutral to Fox “News” Lite.
    Earlier this year, the channel turned more “tabloid” with a change in President. They’re still too much like Fox “News” for the tastes of those of us who possess intelligence and sanity. I truly miss the days when CNN truly was the most trusted name in news.

  7. Whatmeworry November 3, 2014

    The Pew foundation a left wing radical rag. CNN is referred to affectionally as the Clinton News Network and Communist News Network so its obvious that no one holds them with any type of credence

  8. Daniel Jones November 4, 2014

    “Most human beings only think they want freedom. In truth, they yearn for the bondage of social order, rigid laws, and materialism. The only freedom man really wants is the freedom to be comfortable.”–John Teller, in the character’s unpublished novel about the rise and moral descent of SAMCRO in *Sons of Anarchy*.
    Why am I quoting this? Because when it comes to opinions, facts, or information, the comforting nuggets are the only pieces acquired, desired, or required.


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