Donald Trump might have coined the term “fake news,” but the concept existed long before he descended his golden escalator all those years ago. Since at least the Reagan era, conservatives and many members of media have had a fraught relationship with neither side incredibly trusting nor liking the other.
Now, with President Joe Biden firmly ensconced in the White House, the question is whether some work can be done to repair the incredible lack of trust and respect between Republicans and the media.
The Iowa Field Report would like to examine this problem over the course of two posts. The first will attempt to show the chasm between the two sides and why it is this way. The second will offer suggestions for how Iowa Republicans and reporters can repair some of the ongoing damage.
No Love Lost
The first step toward healing and reconciliation is for Republicans and the press to admit that we both have a problem. Republicans don’t get a fair shake in most local and national coverage, which hinders electoral chances up and down the ballot. By writing off a massive percentage of Americans, reporters and media organizations radically shrink their audience and undermine public confidence in reporting. This significantly impacts those working for legacy media outlets like the Des Moines Register, which can’t afford to bleed any more readers.
Research bears out that declining trust. Gallup tracks civic trust in various institutions and reports that people having a great deal or fair amount of trust in mass media has tumbled from 68% in 1972 to just 41% today. And before Trump gets the blame (or praise?), this number has been remarkably steady since at least 2005 when it first dipped below 50%. Why has it dropped? Almost all of the change has been driven by cratering trust from self-identified Republicans. In 2019, only 15% of Republicans reported having a great deal of trust in mass media.
Axios reported a few days that trust in the media had hit a new low. Look at these tragic stats from that article.
- 56% of Americans agree with the statement that “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”
- 58% think that “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.
You don’t have to look far to understand why Republicans don’t trust the media. For decades, mass media has peed on the heads of Republicans, insisted it was raining, and then blamed the rain on Republicans.
As far back as the 90s, the Washington City Paper surveyed 47 Washington Post editors and found zero total Republicans. More recently, the University of Indiana Journalism School found that just 7% of journalists are Republicans.
In addition to the apparent lack of representation, there’s also something of an unholy revolving door between media organizations and the Democratic Party.
It’s a situation we’ve dealt with right here in Iowa, most famously when the Des Moines Register Chief Political Reporter Jason Noble quit his reporting job to become a Democratic political operative. After years of whispers and eyebrow wiggles when Jason would walk into a room or call, the suspicions were confirmed: Jason Noble is a True Blue Liberal Democrat. After a brief stint with Democrat Jason Kander (presumably hoping he would run for president or some higher office), Jason joined Elizabeth Warren’s campaign as her press secretary in Iowa. Then later jumped aboard Abby Finkenauer’s (now derailed) train. All of those off the record chats, confidences exchanged, curtain-pull-backer coffee talks with Jason in his time as a reporter are now being used against the Republicans who were dumb enough – it turns out – to trust him.
The real victim of Jason’s actions aren’t Republicans, though they certainly have reason to be piqued. No, the victim is the Des Moines Register, which had its credibility with the dominant political group in its own state further damaged when he departed from its top reporting slot.
Jason’s the most well-known example of this unholy two-way street between Democratic operations and the media, but far from the only. Others include:
- Paige Godden was a writer for the far-left blog “Iowa Starting Line,” but she reported on central Iowa cities for the Register, Record-Herald, and Tribune for over five years. She most recently went on to work in Congresswoman Cindy Axne’s (D-IA) office.
- Gavin Aronsen was a reporter at the Ames Tribune, reporting on Iowa politics. He’s now a writer at the Iowa Informer, a far left-wing liberal blog. He also runs a Twitter account trolling and attacking Republicans from around the country.
- Lynn Hicks was a longtime editor at the Des Moines Register. Today, Hicks carries water for Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller, one of the state’s highest-profile Democrats.
Those are just a few examples.
This problem exists nationally as well. John Allen with NBC formerly ran Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s PAC. Glen Johnson covered the 2012 presidential campaign for the Boston Globe and then worked for the Obama administration in 2013. Jay Carney reported on politics for Time Magazine, then became press secretary for President Obama. George Stephanopolous made a career in Democratic politics and now claims to be an impartial moderator of our civics.
This politico-journo revolving door has done serious damage to the media’s credibility, with fault belonging to that institution’s members. But Is there is fault to be given to Republicans as well? Yes, but not as much as some may think. Occasionally Republicans expect the worst and assign the worst motives to members of the press corp, and then are surprised when coverage runs negative. In a separate post, we’ll take a look at where responsibility lies within the Republican Party and ways for both Republicans and members of the media to address the issue. Perhaps give the opportunity to slap, at least, a band-aid on this burning bridge of a relationship.