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Poll: Mainstream media continues to lose the public's trust

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) -- While many mainstream media outlets have cried foul over Donald Trump targeting outlets as "failing" or peddling "fake news," that sentiment is largely shared by a majority of Americans.

In its annual confidence poll, Gallup found that Americans' trust in the mass media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly" reached its lowest level in polling history, with only 32 percent saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. Trust in the establishment media did not begin with the contentious 2016 election and Donald Trump taking the stage, but after a steady decline over the past 20 years, it took its deepest dive yet, led by Republicans deep distrust of mass media.

On the campaign trail, Trump maintained a combative relationship with the press, but received roaring applause from his supporters when he referred to the "dishonest media," and sniped at the anchors, pundits, reporters and editorial boards who he said were treating him "very unfairly."

In order to skirt the criticism and the tough questions, Trump took advantage of Twitter, the most effective tools he has used to circumvent the media and communicate directly with his base.

In one of his first stops after taking office, Trump addressed intelligence professionals at CIA headquarters, using the occasion to address his "running war with the media." He received laughter and applause when referring to the press as "among the most dishonest human beings on earth."

Only a week earlier, Trump shut out CNN's Jim Acosta to the delight of his supporters, denying a question to the mainstay of cable news during his first press conference after winning the election.

Today, after less than a month in the White House, Trump continues to transform the relationship with the mainstream media. Reporters who were traditionally the first to be called on by previous press secretaries have been edged out by Sean Spicer. In place of the Associated Press, CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times, Spicer has brought in outside voices.

In his first briefings, Spicer called on the New York Post, Breitbart, LifeZette, One America News Network, and Newsmax. Rather than staying in the traditional press secretary's comfort zone of the first two rows of the briefing room, Spicer has introduced local news outlets from across the country questioning the White House via Skype.

"The point is, there are voices and issues that the mainstream media sometimes doesn't capture, and its important for those issues to get as much prominence as some of the mainstream ones," Spicer told Fox News in January.

Bringing in more non-traditional media outlets is by design Spicer explained. "Over and over again we are seeing people gravitate towards sites because they recognize the mainstream media isn't the only game in town," he said.

While some larger media outlets have complained that the new White House briefing format is crowding out the more hard-nosed critical reporters with Trump cronies, Spicer has also brought in a handful of local media outlets, who enjoy one advantage over the national establishment media: more trust.

According to a 2016 Pew Research study, 22 percent of respondents had "a lot" of trust in local news organizations, compared to 18 percent who trust national outlets. In total, local news coverage enjoyed a six-point advantage over national stations.

The shake-up of the national media giants in favor of local stations or new media outlets has raised the ire of those who previously enjoyed having their questions at the front of the queue.

During the Monday joint press briefing with Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sinclair Broadcasting Group's reporter, Scott Thuman was called on to ask the first question. Thuman asked the two North American leaders whether either had decided to "alter or amend" their very different approaches to immigration, terrorism, and trade. Trump also took a question from the Daily Caller.

CNN reported that other reporters were "outraged" that they weren't called on and that neither Sinclair or Daily Caller asked about the fate of National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, who announced his resignation from the administration just hours after the press conference. The Washington Post and New York Times both alleged that Trump had intentionally called on "friendly" media outlets to avoid harsh questioning. Fox News and AP directly confronted the two reporters who got their questions answered, alleging their questions had been planted by the White House.

Sinclair Broadcast Group's Vice President of News, Scott Livingston defended the reporter for working "to go beyond inside the beltway chatter and get to the heart of the issues that are relevant to all Americans ... The question wasn’t pre-set, screened nor suggested by the White House. We stand by Scott’s judgement and reporting."

That wasn't the end of the media infighting on Monday, as the New York Times led a pack of news outlets taking aim at the Wall Street Journal, whose editor-in-chief Gerard Baker insisted on keeping coverage of Trump objective. One individual attending the Monday town-hall style meeting described the Journal's lack of criticism of the president as "neutral to the point of being absurd."

Baker defending the publication's stance in a statement after the meeting saying, "If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable."

Last week Emerson College political communications professor Spencer Kimball published a poll comparing the public's trust in main stream media to the public's trust in Donald Trump. The poll was shared the next day by President Trump himself under the headline, "Trump administration seen as more truthful than news media."

The poll found that 49 percent of voters consider Trump to be truthful, versus 48 person of voters who find him untruthful. The researchers then compared that confidence rating to trust in the news media, which 53 percent of voters considered to be untruthful, a 14-point gap. A key finding of the poll shows that voters find the Trump administration to be more truthful than the news media.

The partisan split was obvious, with the overwhelming majority of Republicans saying Trump is truthful and 88 percent considering the media untruthful. Democrats overwhelmingly found Trump untruthful and 62 percent found the media to be truthful.

Tens of thousands of people saw the poll when it was tweeted out by the president, leading to an outpouring of responses for Spencer Kimball.

"It was very intense," Kimball said of the response. "I would say the negative comments were three to one, at least in emails I received or phone calls I received from people who were upset about the poll results."

Trump's approval ratings are hovering around 49 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics average. While that's certainly nothing to brag about in the so-called honeymoon period after the election, it matches up pretty well with the Emerson poll on the president's truthfulness.

Kimball defended his work and had to explain to critics "This is how people are really thinking. It's not ten percent of the country that trusts Trump, maybe it's 45 percent and not 49 percent, but it's right up there."

What is most concerning, though was less the reaction to the particular poll, but a growing tendency by media consumers to only read or watch those things that confirm their preexisting biases or ideologies.

"It's scary," Kimball said. "If you report something and people don't like it they will refer to it as 'fake news.'" The back and forth accusations over fake news come from both the left and the right, from Democrats and from President Trump who has routinely denounced unfavorable polls or critical coverage as fake news.

The tendency for media consumers across the ideological spectrum to engage in selective exposure and confirmation bias is a worrying trend. "Both sides are using this as a way to dismiss credible information," Kimball warned.

With more than 60 percent of American adults getting their news from social media, and about half getting their news from only one source, it is easier than every to personalize both the sources of information and the facts themselves.

"We're in a very politicized environment and we are now in a situation where a lot of people try to get the news from a politically congenial echo chamber," said Cathy Young, contributing editor at Reason magazine.

The days of the big three networks winning over large viewing audiences is over, and as the sources of information increase, the main stream media has experienced a loss of status.

Young noted that the main stream media could potentially regain trust through their head to head clash with Trump. "The fact that he has positioned the mainstream media as the sort of opposition party could actually give the mainstream media more stature and more credibility in the eyes of a large segment of the public."

But it is not likely to help their confidence ratings among Republicans and Independents, the groups who have most notably turned their backs on the mainstream media in recent polls.

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