It is hard for Americans to decipher between journalistic news and political commentary, not because Americans are dumb and cannot see the difference between fact and opinion, but because news outlets air commentary shows where anchors are expressing either their admiration or distaste in the current state of the country. The liberal and conservative news outlets mask the fact that their prime-time shows only consist of commentary and opinion by self-proclaiming to be “unbiased.” News media outlets need to disclose their opinion-based and commentary shows to its viewers.
Gallup has polled Americans’ trust in mass media since 1972 and has consecutively done so almost every year since 1997. Back in 1997, the percentage of people who said they trust the mass media a “great deal” or a “fair amount” was 53%, and in 2020, that percentage has dropped to 40%. Furthermore, according to Gallup, this year, six in ten Americans have “not very much” trust (27%) or “none at all” (33%) in the mass media. This is a problem.
Viewers are very loyal to the news outlet they politically identify with the most, and they put trust not only into the daytime journalists and reporters but the bigger name political commentators such as Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow. Carlson and Maddow’s shows are on during prime time, when most Americans are at home watching, and many viewers take their commentary as factual news when, in reality, it is just their opinion and commentary based on that day’s news cycle. A journalist’s job is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing, but news media channels air political commentary shows while simultaneously stating that their news outlet is unbiased and, as Fox News proclaims, “fair and balanced.” Journalists on these talk shows are subjective in their reporting because they are political commentators, not journalists, and this makes it difficult for citizens to know what information they should believe. This confusion continues to affect the citizen’s decision-making and overall understanding of the world around them.
Some may ask, what’s the harm in enjoying political commentary on my favorite news outlet? Many of us enjoy listening to people we agree with — and there is nothing wrong with enjoying these political commentary shows — but these shows should be properly labeled as what they are, which is commentary. It would be a great service to the American public if these shows were publicly labeled as commentary and entertainment, so they can be enjoyed as such.
Mixing political commentary and news is a slippery slope that Americans have been going down for quite some time, but if the news outlets become honest and clearly identify which programs are news and which are commentary, mass news media can gain trust back from the public.
Anna Moses is a fourth-year Media and Culture major. AM881817@wcupa.edu
Brenan, M. (2020). Americans Remain Distrustful of Mass Media. Gallup, (Brenan, 2020) https://news.gallup.com/poll/321116/americans-remain-distrustful-mass-media.aspx