Sunday on "Full Measure," host Sharyl Attkisson discussed a new poll showing a plurality of Americans think political media is more biased than it was five years ago. She talks with pollster Scott Rasmussen, who said: "We asked about national political reporters, are they credible, are they reliable? And you know, a little more than one out of three people say yes. When we ask about Wikipedia, we get the exact same answer. So what's happening is we have a world where people look at journalists like they look at Wikipedia. Gee, that's an interesting fact. I better check it myself."
"The media has a huge credibility problem and it's always had the problem," he explained. "Oh, we talk about it differently today. Now we talk about it as a political bias. I think the issues have always been there. I mean, people were complaining about the bias of Walter Cronkite back in the 1960s."
He continued: "78% of voters say that what reporters do with political news is promote their agenda. They think they use incidents as props for their agenda rather than seeking accurately record what happened. Only 14% think that a journalist is actually reporting what happened... If a reporter found out something that would hurt their favorite candidate, only 36% of voters think that they would report that.
"So voters are looking at them as a political activist, not as a source of information," he concluded.
Transcript via "Full Measure":
SHARYL ATTKISSON: Today, we begin with a new Full Measure poll on the national news media. As you might expect: the results aren’t very good. For the media. Whether it’s coverage of the Russia investigation or the Covington High School kids, news consumers on all sides of the political spectrum report declining trust — in us. We turn to two experts to analyze the current Media Madness.
One need only sample lowlights from a single month to get a sense of the problem.
In January, a Seattle Fox affiliate aired a doctored video of President Trump.
President Trump: Some have suggested a barrier is immoral.
Buzzfeed: The comparison which shows Trump with an altered face and a looped licking of his lips
The same month, Special Counsel Robert Mueller refuted a BuzzFeed bombshell that falsely claimed Trump directed his ex-lawyer to lie to Congress.
And a January article about Melania Trump in the Telegraph was followed by seven corrections an apology and an undisclosed payment to Mrs. Trump. One-sided narratives presented virtually unchallenged. National news quoting anonymous sources that turn out to be wrong.
The headline contains the most devastating part: President Trump directed his attorney to lie to congress.
The same month, Special Counsel Robert Mueller refuted a Buzzfeed bombshell that falsely claimed Trump directed his ex-lawyer to lie to Congress.
The Washington Post took us “Inside the Battle Over Trump’s Immigration Order”— only to later admit the article misreported Trump’s actions, a reported meeting had not actually occurred, and a conference call hadn’t happened as described.
FBI Director James Comey debunked a New York Times article about supposed contacts between Trump campaign staff “senior Russian intelligence officials.”
And NBC News reported that Russian President Putin said he had compromising information about Trump. Actually, Putin said the opposite. It’s been a bad few years for media credibility.
A new Full Measure poll conducted for Full Measure by Scott Rasmussen finds: 42% of Americans believe national political news coverage is inaccurate and unreliable. Fewer— 38%—believe it’s accurate and reliable. And 52% say it’s worse compared to five years ago.
National political reporters also get poor scores. Only 26% of those polled say reporters carefully report the facts. 57% say reporters use news stories to promote their own ideological agenda.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen:
Rasmussen: We asked about national political reporters are, are they credible, are they reliable? And you know, a little more than one out of three people say yes. When we ask about Wikipedia, we get the exact same answer. So what's happening is we have a world where people look at journalists like they look at Wikipedia. “Gee, that's an interesting fact. I better check it myself.”
Sharyl: And what does that tell you?
Rasmussen: The media has a huge credibility problem and it's always had the problem. Oh, we talk about it differently today. Now we talk about it as a political bias. I think the issues have always been there. I mean, people were complaining about the bias of Walter Cronkite back in the 1960s.
Sharyl: People forget about that.
Walter Cronkite: For it seems now more certain then ever that the bloody experience in Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.
Sharyl: It is often argued that Donald Trump created this media environment where everybody hates the media. And then others say he simply understood that environment, and capitalized on it. Which is it you see?
Rasmussen: Oh, people have hated the media for a very long time
Trump: Fake news folks, fake news. Typical New York Times fake stories.
Rasmussen: Donald Trump capitalized on it. He understood it, but he's not the first to do so. The first President Bush when he was campaigning, he actually got kind of aggressive with, I think it was Dan Rather, during an interview because a lot of Republicans weren't sure he had the fire to, to be president.
President Bush 1: It's not fair to judge my whole career by a re-hash on Iran. How would you like it if I judge your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York? Would you like that?
Rasmussen: So he capitalized on that. But all you're doing is tapping into a sentiment that's already there and Donald Trump is playing the media but beautifully.
Rasmussen says his polling found a good recent example of how many today have come to regard— or disregard— the national media. The Covington High School pro-life students’ confrontation with a Native American activist at a Washington DC protest.
Rasmussen: When the story broke, of the students from Covington high school, we went out and polled right away when the story first broke and ask people what they thought. And as you would expect, liberals and conservatives had different views of whether the high school students acted inappropriately or somebody else did.
Sharyl: So to summarize, liberals probably thought the high school students who were pro-life behaved inappropriately and aggressively.
Sharyl: And Conservatives thought the Native American was the one who is inappropriate.
Rasmussen: Yes. And by the way, conservatives also thought the media was inappropriate.
ABC news: A group of teenagers, some Catholic high school students, seen wearing Make America Great Again hats, appearing to face off with Nathan Phillips – a 65 year old Native American.
Rasmussen: And then we had a week's full of coverage. And as you recall, there was a lot more coverage that came out, uh, about the incident. A lot more videos and a lot more information. And a week later, nobody's opinion changed.
Sharyl: I’m surprised by that because some reporters and in media even apologized that they had been too hard on the children at first or the high school students without knowing the full story.
Whoopi Goldberg: So many people admitted they made snap judgements before all these other facts came in.
Sharyl: But you're saying the public at large, didn't change their mind?
Rasmussen: That's correct. The public at large made up their mind. They knew their sources
Sharyl: But the most overwhelming results came when we asked about the motivation of political reporters.
Rasmussen: 78% of voters say that what reporters do with political news is promote their agenda. They think they use incidents as props for their agenda rather than seeking accurately record what happened. Only 14% think that a journalist is actually reporting what happened.
Sharyl: Most people also seem to think reporters cannot be fair when it comes to their chosen political candidate.
Rasmussen: if a reporter found out something that would hurt their favorite candidate, only 36% of voters think that they would report that.
Sharyl: So most people think the reporter would cover it up because they like the person?
Rasmussen: Right, exactly. So voters are looking at them as a political activist, not as a source of information.
Sesno: An actual report or professional reporter would yeah never do that.
Frank Sesno is a former CNN correspondent and bureau chief. As head of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, he routinely confronts declining public trust in the media.
Sesno: The public understands fundamentally what journalism should be. They don't understand how it's actually practiced. And that falls to news organizations in my view, to be more creative, more imaginative about how they're engaging with their publics, to both explain what they do to defend what they do when it's controversial and to be accountable for what they do if it's wrong.
Sharyl: After 2016 when so many of us got the election so wrong, we promised a period of self-reflection and correction, have we done it?
Sesno: No, not enough. If we had done the self-reflection and correction better and more deeply, there would be more reporters reporting from more places across the country talking to more diverse audiences. We would not be so in tiredly focused at least in certain media channels and places on the Trump administration and the outrage of the moment. That being said, there is so much news from this administration. It's kind of hard not to do that.
Trump: If we don’t get what we want, I will shut down the government.
Sharyl: In the era of the Trump presidency, can you point to a couple of things you think the media has done right
Sesno: I would start, actually, in the Trump era by calling out NPR. I think NPR has done an exceptional about getting outside of Washington and engaging other voices and people from different sides of the ideological divide to get their sense of what's happening. would call out the New York Times and the Washington Post for making remarkable use of multimedia. So there's a lot of good journalism and good media that's taking place also that, that extends beyond the Trump administration. There is such a thing as beyond the Trump administration.
It may not seem like it as we move quickly into campaign 2020.
Sharyl: I guess we should warn people, hang on to their seat belt with 2020 campaign coming. What do you foresee in terms of media?
Sesno: Yeah, so here's the next danger. The next is everybody for walks right off the cliff of coverage like they did last time. Obsessing over, you know, the, the candidate du jour, the moment, du jour. How will the media be able to arbitrate this mass of people who all want to be president so that the audience can follow it with some degree of clarity, and so that you neither fall into an oversimplified narrative, or a narrative that just revolves around the melodrama of who's up, who's down, and who's making the most noise or tweeting the most.