Television news was once the leading way to glean information about the day’s major domestic and international events, with the three major networks battling it out for the lead in viewer numbers and demographic ratings supremacy. And, while those three networks are still battling it out, they’re reaching a far smaller and more negative audience. Each major broadcast network is now in direct competition with cable news outlets, which can largely be considered the tabloids of television news broadcasting. As these tabloids have stolen nightly news viewers and started driving the news cycle, America’s reporting has gone flaky, fickle, and exceptionally downhill.
Think I’m alone in this viewpoint? Consider the lead of a recent Gallup Poll story that judged the confidence of Americans in their television news outlets:
Just 21% of adults said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in TV news. That’s down a whopping 25% from 1993, when Gallup began the poll.
In just under twenty years, America has gone from having a plurality of confidence in its television news sources to largely distrusting any information that comes to them from an anchor, pundit, or bottom-of-the-screen news ticker. Further, this lack of confidence is even more stark when compared to political affiliation:
The survey showed an interesting political split. Overall, Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to trust TV news (34 percent versus 17 percent.) But self-identified liberals were the most disenchanted of all groups, with just 19 percent expressing confidence in the medium.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Republicans, after all, are the party of conspiracies and the Red Scare. They strongly believe that everyone is out to get them, including news outlets that are not owned and operated by Rupert Murdoch or one of his children. They believe that the news is firmly biased against their cause, despite statistical evidence to the contrary, and they’re relatively certain that any news contradicting their own viewpoint is inaccurate and not trustowrthy. Conversely, Democrats and liberals are confronted every day with the conservative bias of Fox News, driving down their confidence in the news quite appropriately.
And then, of course, there are the ongoing celebrity headlines that are often deemed more important than the major news of the day. Despite being locked in the last four months of the 2012 electoral cycle, Obama’s poll numbers recently took a backseat to reporting about the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Whitney Houston’s death was a week-long news story during the Republican Party’s primary season, and Kim Kardashian’s fraud of a marriage got more coverage than the fight for gay marriage ever has in the United States.
Perhaps the decline in confidence isn’t attributable to any party affiliation at all. Perhaps this is actually a source of unity: Both Republicans and Democrats have lost faith in a medium that is far more concerned with daily fluff than global reporting. Tom Cruise reigns supreme, while the crisis in the Eurozone is never mentioned. An election rages on as a subplot, while the Kardashian family gets above-the-fold coverage.
America’s news isn’t just bad or lackluster, it’s embarrassing. This, after all, is the country that invented the free press and ardently believes in it as an institution responsible for keeping officials accountable. Instead, all our news sources have been doing for the past two decades is keeping celebrities accountable for needing rehab. Maybe that’s why our lawmakers think they can get away with anything — because, thanks to our pathetic press, they now can.