Media Buzz

Partisan Lens: Why so many Republicans, unlike Democrats, don't trust the media

Howard Kurtz

When it comes to trusting the media, Republicans are on Mars and Democrats are on Venus.

Those of us in the business get an increasing level of flak from both sides. The press is less popular now than at any point in my professional lifetime.

But the gap between people who identify as Rs or Ds has become a chasm.

It’s not a shock that this is heavily influenced by who’s living in the White House, but this is especially true in the Trump era.

With the president’s regular attacks on fake news, his supporters are more convinced than ever that the media are unfair and unbalanced.

Now comes a Pew Research Center survey with some eye-popping numbers on how public opinion has changed. And this goes to the heart of journalism’s mission.

On the watchdog role of the press, 89 percent of Democrats say news media criticism keeps leaders in line. Only 42 percent of Republicans see it that way.

Think about that. The study, out today, finds more than twice as many Democrats supportive of the media’s core function of holding politicians accountable.

Let’s contrast that with the situation in the early weeks of 2016, when the GOP primaries were just getting under way and Trump was one of 17 candidates.

There was an almost even split at the time, with 74 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans supporting the watchdog role. The president at the time: Barack Obama.

Other Pew questions underscore the shift. In 2016, Obama’s last year, Republicans were 20 points more likely than Democrats to say that the political press favors one side over the other. With Trump in office, GOPers are now 34 percent more likely than the Dems to see the coverage as one-sided.

On the fundamental question of confidence in the press, Democrats are 23 points more likely than Republicans to have a lot of trust in the information provided by the national media.

One encouraging sign for media types is that interest in national news has jumped, with four in 10 Americans saying they follow it closely, compared to a third at the start of 2016. This, in my view, is primarily due to the Trump effect, as people of all stripes are just more engaged politically. And the hyperactive pace of news, which ramped up during the campaign and hasn’t slowed down much, is a major factor.

But even here, Pew found a partisan coloration. The increase is mainly driven by Democrats, whose close engagement with national news jumped from 33 to 49 percent.

My theory is that Democrats opposed to Trump are trying to consume everything they can, especially negative stories about the president, to buttress their resistance, while some Republicans have turned away from the MSM because they view it as consistently anti-Trump.

It’s not a pretty picture when trust in the media, and even basic engagement, is so sharply divided along party lines. That should send a chilling message to the news business.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.