Can you believe the media?

A New York Times article today explores the issue of media credibility. Can you really believe what you hear on TV and read in the newspapers? Only 12% of Americans have high confidence in the (mainstream) news media, according to a 2005 Harris poll. And the problem looks like it is getting worse, not better.

Almost like clockwork, each new month seems to usher in a new controversy over journalistic competence or integrity ‘ the latest being the retracted May 9 article in Newsweek, about a report that American interrogators flushed a Koran down the toilet, that has been linked by the White House to at least 17 deaths during anti-American protests that followed.

You can’t believe Dan Rather, you can’t believe Newsweek, what’s left? You can’t believe everything on the Internet either, but it’s become far more reliable than the traditional media in reporting actual facts. I’ve also seen far better coverage of the U.S. from foreign media such as the BBC.

Perhaps an even more dire forecast came in another Pew [Research Center] report, Trends 2005, which found 45 percent of Americans saying they believed little or nothing of what they read in their daily newspapers, up from 16 percent two decades ago.

And here’s another choice cut from that New York Times article, the last two paragraphs:

Analysts say that the political partisans who are most likely to be critical of the press are also among the most reliable and hungry consumers of the news.

Maybe therein is a silver lining: if the people who distrust you the most are also many of your most devoted customers, perhaps survival is assured. They have accepted flaws as part of the bargain of following the news.

Uh huh. Those reliable and hungry consumers of the news are critical of the mainstream media because of its flaws, not in spite of them. Once again, I can’t believe the media.