Journalists despise, or should despise, spin doctors. You’ve heard them or of them. They’re the people who come in after a political figure says something and tries to convince you that the person didn’t really say what he or she said, or certainly didn’t mean what they said and what they really said, or meant to say, was not nearly as silly as it came out. The Missourinet doesn’t usually give a lot of credence to (a) politicians who don’t mean what they say, good or bad, and (b) lackeys who trail along to convince us that their person really wasn’t so stupid as to say what we heard him or her say.
Sometimes our own industry descends into this practice, though. A couple of our broadcasting industry publications in the last couple of days topped articles with a headline like this:
POLL: AMERICANS HAVE MORE CONFIDENCE IN TV NEWS THAN
CONGRESS AND THREE OTHER GROUPS.
How embarrassing. Not that only four other groups are more disreputable than our television news colleagues (and we should note that the poll also lumped newspapers into this category). But because our own house organs have kept Max Factor working nights to apply enough makeup to put our best face forward in response. Good Lord.
Mediabistro sent us a story yesterday with that headline that also included the comforting fact that, “In a recent Gallup poll, TV News is showing a small gain in the number of Americans who have a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in the medium.” But after that spin line comes the real world: “23 percent of Americans polled expressed confidence in TV News this year, up from last year’s 21 percent.” Pardon us if we don’t run right out and shoot off a boatload of skyrockets because of that news.
Who is so bad that they are beneath us in public regard? Out of the 16 social institutions the poll asked about, television and newspapers were ranked above big business, organized labor, HMOs, and Congress.
Quite a vote of confidence to be listed as more trustworthy than that crowd, isn’t it?
We don’t know the exact questions that were asked. We imagine that the percentage would be more favorable if the survey asked about public confidence in the LOCAL television news or the LOCAL newspaper. Those of us who operate at that level suspect much of the public dissatisfaction is with the national news organizations, some of which are perceived as noticeably partisan and therefore less trustworthy than the local folks we identify with. But we don’t know if that’s the case. We just suspect it.
Will any of us bottom feeders, as industries or as institutions of society, do anything to rebuild that confidence?
We don’t have the answer to that question, but we suspect the answer is not in hiring more spin doctors.
Confidence in the electronic news media was never particularly high. Radio and TV have always been considered to be vehicles for entertainment. Their ranking in the hierarchy of the news industry had mainly to do with the ability to deliver breaking news faster than print media. But, now Twitter and blogs have won that crown. Our sweet Claire doesn’t have to wait for a nod from a news director anymore before she can release a news tidbit. She can simply tweet her support for Madame Clinton as a presidential candidate directly to the universe. Members of the younger generation – those whose eyes are constantly locked on their pads, tablets, phones, etc. – now can reach a conclusion about an event hours before it be “reported” over the airwaves by a bonafide broadcast news outfit.
There is an issue with public perception of the media though we fight hard to study and communicate the truth. Perhaps the fact so many news organizations at the national level have become activists for political polarity is the reason trust has rightfully declined.