10/02/2012 04:38 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2012

Fox News and the Journalism Trust Deficit: Is Mainstream Media a Threat to Our Democracy?

Mistrust of the media hit a new high this year, according to a recent Gallup poll. I blame Rupert Murdoch. Here's why you should too.

From Gallup:

Americans' distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60 percent saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004.

The report goes on to say:

This year's decline in media trust is driven by independents and Republicans. The 31 percent and 26 percent, respectively, who express a great deal or fair amount of trust are record lows and are down significantly from last year. Republicans' level of trust this year is similar to what they expressed in the fall of 2008, implying that they are especially critical of election coverage.

Independents are sharply more negative compared with 2008, suggesting the group that ismost closely divided between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney is quite dissatisfied with its ability to get fair and accurate news coverage of this election.

More broadly, Republicans continue to express the least trust in the media, while Democrats express the most. Independents' trust fell below the majority level in 2004 and has continued to steadily decline.

Republicans express the least trust, while Democrats express the most. Hold that in your head for a second while we break down the numbers on news consumption.

The Pew Research Center confirms that Fox News viewers are comprised of 16 percentage points more Republican and 11 points less Democratic than the general public. (The results are based on a national survey in which 36 percent of respondents identified as Democrats, 29 percent as Independents and 25 percent as Republicans.) CNN's viewership, by comparison, was rated at just 4 points more Democratic and 10 points less Republican than the general public.

These viewership profiles taken together illustrate that Republicans are migrating en masse to Fox, and Rupert Murdoch has leveraged every iota of his estimated $5 billion dollar net worth to make sure they feel that every other network leans left. Republicans and Independents are more solidly affiliated as consumers of Fox News -- and Republicans and Independents express the least trust in the "lame stream" media. But does the general public share this opinion?


From the Pew Research center:

There is no public consensus when it comes to how the presidential candidates are being covered by the news media. Nearly half (46 percent) say the coverage of Romney has been fair, while among those who see a bias as many say the press has been too easy on the GOP nominee (20 percent) as too tough on him (21 percent). The same percentage (46 percent) says coverage of Obama has also twice as many say press coverage of the president has been too easy (28 percent) than too tough (15 percent).

Data from the flip side of that coin is much more certain: Fox News is anything but fair and balanced, as the above viewer profile statistics clearly suggest.

But for the 65 percent of Americans who don't identify themselves as Republican, the number of studies and articles discussing the "information problem" at Fox is deeply troubling. It's routinely argued that Fox News viewers are generally less informed than those who watch no news at all. One wonders how this multi-billion dollar enterprise can stay afloat under such scrutiny. Particularly when satirical skewerist Jon Stewart swaggers into the salle.

Proving to a Foxbot that Fox News fraudulently promotes unbiased journalism is a lesson in frustration. One would imagine it should be obvious. Still, fans like to insist that it only seems offensively biased by comparison to everyone else. That's the argument for Fox:

It only seems offensively biased by comparison to everyone else.

It"s "us" versus "them." In the "them" category is every network but Fox. The argument promotes the notion that the whole country has swallowed a lie and Fox News alone holds the truthful antidote. Try making a statement like that to a shrink and you might wake up in a padded cell.

If every network but Fox can't be trusted, and mainstream journalists are "bordering on criminal activity," then the reality accepted by the rest of us, the greater majority of Americans, becomes a lie. That's textbook insanity. It constitutes an inability to "distinguish fantasy from reality." Further, it's classic persecutory delusional disorder.

Sowing the seeds of paranoia and mistrust makes for fantastic ratings at Fox while crippling the country with irrationality and bitter partisanship.

The problem is confounded when the objectivity of fact checkers is called into question, as many on the far right have done recently. But, contrary to what Joseph Goebbels would have you believe, repeating a lie often enough does not, in fact, make it true. The Big Lie, in this case, is the vast left-wing conspiracy in the media, but we've seen that there is no public consensus that this is true.

Worse, Fox's viewership is naturally pulled further right as it strives to slap back any ideology but its own. In fact, even when Fox News has the same story as everyone else, they still reinforce the notion that you can't trust the story unless you get it from them. Recently Fox has been whining about the liberal media oversampling Democrats in national polls, for instance, but as CNN's Wolf Blitzer pointed out, Fox's polling showthe same results.

Fox's truth problem seems resultant from its lusting for ratings and cash. Murdoch's $5 billion enterprise delights in network news schadenfreude because it's good for business. It reinforces your mistrust. The greater his viewers' mistrust of other networks, the more they return to his. It's how the propaganda-crack dealer gets richer. Yes, it's propaganda, but we'll address that in just a sec.

Why isn't the general public on board with his boogeyman other guy theory? It might have something to do with the fact that there are no clear lines in the way Murdoch wants you to think there are. Network news is a little more complicated and untangling the "person" behind the curtain at NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, MSNBC etc., can't easily be done.

One narrative over at Fox is that George Soros is the boogeyman. They cite his "ties" to "over 30 major news organizations." The problem with Murdoch making an argument like this (yes, Murdoch -- because he is Fox,) is that it's an apples to oranges argument.

The apple: George Soros.

Soros is one shareholder. He's one charitable patron. He's one Super Pac creator. He's one among a pantheon of wealthy folks in our country doing exactly the same thing on both sides of the political aisle. He doesn't own or actively manage the direction of 30 news networks -- but you're given to mistrust his shady "ties." There are other shareholders, after all -- many of them also very wealthy and influential. Many of them with vastly different politics. All of them have "shady" "ties" also -- but there are more of "them" than one man.

Further, there is autonomy between other networks. True, some are absorbed into others, now and then, but raising the specter of one boogeyman who controls everything just won't hold water, no matter how hard you try. Unless you're writing comic books.

The orange: Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch, by contrast, is in the news business. He owns Fox News. (And a variety of other "news" properties.)

His brand is designed to deliberately spread right-wing ideas, widely, to harm what he believes to be the liberal agenda. That's literally the textbook definition of propaganda, and that's why Fox is so vilified by those who can't swallow that pill. Unlike Soros, Murdoch is in direct control of his network empire. He isn't a single shareholder -- he's the company, and his propaganda war is polluting our nation's perception of journalism.


Against the rising tide of Fox News, we have seen one clear opposition network pop up. But while MSNBC has tried to position itself as the mirror image of Fox News, it's a comparatively awkward relationship for Comcast Corporation's self-interest. Comcast Co. owns a variety of other enterprises that could easily be jeopardized in the wake of a large enough MSNBC political scandal. Comcast Co. isn't exclusively in the propaganda business, like Murdoch. They can't afford to put as much skin in the game. In that sense, the country has no direct counterpart to Mr. Murdoch's propaganda machine.

As I write this, Fox is advancing its tired conspiracy theory yet again: Mainstream media isthreatening our country's future. Sorry, Mr. Murdoch, the only threat I see is you.

I'll sign off with a sampling of Fox's recommended articles offered to me at the end of the article I've linked above. Do these look fair and balanced? They report, you decide!

Recommended articles: