The Biggest Threat to the Media is the Media Itself

The media’s approval rating has been declining for a generation, but it entered freefall over the last year.

Among Republicans, confidence in the mainstream media is close to destroyed, with just 14 percent saying they have even a “fair amount” of trust in the press, according to Gallup. Democrats are significantly more trusting, at 51 percent, although that is down from 70 percent in 2005. Among independents, the figure is 30 percent, closer to Republican levels.

High levels of polarization and partisanship mean that most Republicans will take the president’s side and Democrats will take the media’s side in their ongoing wars of attrition. If the press is to continue to hold sway, it will need to win the confidence of independents, who don’t hold Donald Trump in particularly high regard (by historical standards) but who do not exactly have warm feelings for the media, either.

As Rutenberg says, high-level failures of judgment by major news organizations will continue to wear down the press’s approval ratings among this critical group. So will the ongoing perception of liberal bias, even if unintentional.

Maybe the critics are right that Trump will prosecute reporters and sue media organizations to protect himself from public accountability. But for now, it seems far more likely that if the Fourth Estate is diminished in the Trump era, it will have mostly itself to blame.