A general loss of trust in government and media weighs heavy on the world, particularly in the US; yet no sincere effort to restore trust is in sight.
January 25, 2021
By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP
The proportions aren’t the same for everyone who subscribe to this. Cynics are likely more fear driven, while those who identify as more patriotic are likewise more faith driven. Then there’s everything between.
I see the right lean heavily into legality. Their faith is in law and order, while their fear is the absence of this.
I see the left lean heavily into taxes. Their faith is in entitlements, while their fear is the absence of this.
It’s said: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It’s from the Book of Hebrews. You don’t have to be religious to accept the definition.
People do ascribe, if not project, a tangible quality to things hoped for and things not yet seen. And it’s especially true in politics.
Remember “Hope and Change” under Obama? Ask anyone what that meant and you’d get vastly different feedback. Some thought less war. Others thought better and more welfare. Others still thought racial harmony and ecological revitalization. It was whatever they wanted it to be.
If we take that definition, what happens when something goes amiss? What happens when the “substance” and “evidence” proves to be weak if not a fiction?
The world is about to find out either by living through it or watching it unfold.
I’m generally skeptical of everything. But my skepticism has always marginalized me… until recently. According to Edleman’s recent trust barometer:
Fewer than half of all Americans have trust in traditional media, according to data from Edelman’s annual trust barometer shared exclusively with Axios. Trust in social media has hit an all-time low of 27%.
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.”
When Edelman re-polled Americans after the election, the figures had deteriorated even further, with 57% of Democrats trusting the media and only 18% of Republicans.
Axios goes on to share that:
A majority of people around the world believe that journalists, government leaders and business leaders are all purposely trying to mislead people by spreading misinformation.
This precipitous drop in faith aligns with congressional approval rating which is at an all time low. Congressional approval rating is at 15%. Incredible how approval ratings always fall into the teens and yet the same relics keep getting reelected.
The study suggests that people are not equipped with proper facts. They don’t do the research. But if they are met with questionable sources everywhere they go in pursuit of facts, then how is that their fault? Shouldn’t some blame be put on the shoulders of those sources for not doing their due diligence to bring facts to the public?
Either way, the people’s trust has been shaken. This isn’t a sudden realization. It’s been slowly deteriorating for years. But the press turns to tabloid and the government into an irrelevant cult when the illusion faith once provided are lost.
If you’ve ever watched the show “Amazing Stories” back in the eighties, there was one episode called “The Mission”. It was about a fighter pilot who was an aspiring cartoonist, and it was his imagination that landed that plane safely. Were it not for his imagination, the main character would’ve died.
It’s neat when it’s a story or some form of entertainment, it’s another when it is real life. It’s society’s collective imaginations that prop up government and press. When people stop believing, the illusion begins to collapse.
I’m not against such a thing, but I also have my popcorn on standby for it, so I won’t be caught by surprise either.
Plenty of examples of misrepresentation are out there. An Ivy League study found the majority of US news coverage of the pandemic was negative and fearful, while not nearly as much in the rest of the world:
Ninety-one percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty-four percent for non-U.S. major sources and sixty-five percent for scientific journals.
The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials. Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining.
The trend toward pessimistic news coverage was so acute, James Freeman noted in the Wall Street Journal, that the media mostly missed the amazing vaccine development story that took place right under their nose.
Regardless of your personal feelings toward a vaccine, the fact remains that there were positive developments cropping up left and right that received no coverage whatsoever. Economist, Antony Davies, did a wonderful breakdown of the data demonstrating that things are actually getting much better despite what we are being told.
It’s not that taxes, regulations, and inflation are fine. It’s that despite those things, people find a way to still advance. There is good news beyond that of kitten videos. But there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for it.
I would suggest that in some cases, the reason why people are reluctant to admit things are improving is because there are still less fortunate people and it’s insensitive. Others still might be reticent because that would mean acknowledging that something good happened under a political administration they hate.
In the end, the trust is gone and that sort of capital is difficult if not impossible to regain. The effort to restore trust in media is worse than what got them there in the first place!
“Fact Checking” and censoring or filtering out messages that don’t tow a line isn’t how you restore trust in an institution ostensibly built on free speech and the free exchange of ideas. Rationing information is the exact opposite of what they should be doing.
While the media tries to sanitize the messaging, law makers are still pulling some underhanded stuff. The 2020 election didn’t help, but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In general, the approval the EU has for all its policies and programs is not much better than what the US has among its constituents.
But how do you restore trust, by considering a law that promotes distrust? Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is now being debated in congress.
Tulsi Gabbard was vocal about her concerns toward the broad strokes this bill has. How does one describe “extremist”? Is this going after religious groups? If so, what constitutes extremism there? Is this going after anyone who says they love “liberty” since part of this was squarely aimed at libertarians?
This bill was introduced in light of the run on the capitol on January 6th. But surveillance initiatives on nearly half the US population because they are Biden dissenters is hardly going to curry any favor.
While Representative Gabbard fears for the civil liberties of every individual by enacting such a law, Representative Brad Schneinder from Illinois sees things differently:
“Unlike after 9/11, the threat that reared its ugly head on January 6th is from domestic terror groups and extremists, often racially-motivated violent individuals,” Representative Brad Schneider (D., Ill.) said in a statement announcing the bipartisan legislation.
That he likened what happened at the capitol to that of 9/11 is already hyperbole. The same sort of mischaracterization of events people have grown to resent about the US Congress.
If the institutions of government or the press intend to regain trust, they are doing a piss-poor job so far. The most perfect and almost trite analogy is Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football. There will never be a time where Lucy doesn’t pull the ball out. No matter how many times she promises. There’s no reason for us to be the figurative Charlie Brown.
There are ways to opt out that don’t require you to become some feral hill person in the Appalachian Mountains. Now is a good time to consider your options before those, too, dwindle away.
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