On Sunday morning, Donald Trump tweeted, “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with …”
That kind of characterization by the president helps explain a new Monmouth University Poll that shows 77 percent of people surveyed believe the mainstream media disseminates ‘fake news’ at least occasionally, and 42 percent think they do it ‘in order to push an agenda.’
Those numbers alarm Monmouth University Polling Institute’s director, Patrick Murray.
“I think it’s very dangerous. I mean, look, at the end of the day, the cornerstone of a healthy democracy is a public confidence in an independent fourth estate, an independent media. And right now, that confidence is so low, that we have to say that the health of our democracy is probably in the intensive care unit right now …,” said Murray.
The poll indicates 65 percent of people believe the term ‘fake news’ doesn’t just apply to errors, but also to how news outlets decide what to report. Murray says that comes straight from Trump, and tweets like, “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election …” or Trump’s response to CNN at his news conference last year in which he said, “Don’t be rude. No, I am not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”
“It’s not just false stories or stories with inaccurate pieces of information in them. It’s also the idea that a certain news outlet might have an editorial bias … that presents information in a way that you don’t particularly like. That’s what the president has been doing recently, and I think that’s been trickling down,” said Murray.
News executives also point to the pro-Trump Sinclair Broadcast Group allegedly instructing its news anchors to read from the same script that reads: “Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.”
Trump Monday tweeted, “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
“The strategy, I think, of folks who are trying to promote this idea of fake news is, they’re trying to undermine faith in the media. And that’s really dangerous,” said Murray.
“This constant questioning of ‘fake news’ is not good. On the other hand, the media has a responsibility, as well,” said Republican strategist Roger Bodman.
Bodman says Trump may not stop tweeting, but the news media bears some of the blame for public mistrust.
“We had issues with Dan Rather, we had issues with Brian Williams and other notables in the mainstream media that caused people to pause. Yes, the president created the phrase, ‘fake news,’ but credibility in my view, at least in some cases in regard to the mainstream media pre-dated that time,” said Bodman.
One last Monmouth poll item: more Americans trust cable news than they trust the president as a source of information, except for Republicans, who say they believe Donald Trump more than MSNBC, CNN or FOX News.