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Older viewers distrust TV news — except Fox News

Posted by Mark Leccese  January 20, 2011 12:08 PM

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Public Policy Polling released its second annual News Trust Poll yesterday, and what little coverage it received emphasized that Fox News is now America’s most distrusted TV news source and PBS the most trusted.

The polling company itself played up that angle in its blog.

A year ago a plurality of Americans said they trusted Fox News. Now a plurality of them don’t. Conservatives haven’t moved all that much — 75% said they trusted it last year and 72% still do this time around.

But moderates and liberals have both had a strong increase in their level of distrust for the network — a 12 point gain from 48% to 60% for moderates and a 16 point gain from 66% to 82% for liberals.

Take a look at the crosstabs, though, and an interesting tendency emerges: the older the age group polled, the more they distrust all TV news — except Fox News. People 65 and older distrust ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and PBS more than any other age group, and they trust Fox News more than any other age group.

Older viewers especially distrust CNN and PBS, as you can see from these charts I made from the polling data.

600PBS.jpg

600CNN.jpg

600Fox.jpg

The poll of 632 voters, with a margin of error of plus of minus 3.9%, also scientifically demonstrates the obvious.

Democrats trust everything but Fox. Republicans don’t trust anything but Fox. And independents don’t trust much of anything. For Democrats 73% trust PBS, 64% NBC, 61% CBS, 60% CNN, 56% ABC, and 22% Fox. For Republicans 67% trust Fox, 29% PBS, 22% CNN, 21% NBC, 17% ABC, and 15% CBS. For independents 44% trust PBS, 36% Fox, 34% CNN, 33% NBC, 27% CBS, and 26% ABC.

Here are the percentages of viewers of all ages who trust or distrust each news network.

Most Trusted
PBS: 50%
Fox: 42%
NBC: 41%
CNN: 40%
CBS: 36%
ABC: 35%

Most Distrusted
Fox: 46%
ABC: 43%
CBS: 43%
CNN: 43%
NBC: 41%
PBS: 30%

Three things to note:

  • While Fox News ranks as the most distrusted (and the percentage is within the margin of error), it is also the second-most trusted.
  • Except for PBS, the percentages of viewers who distrust a particular news network cluster within the margin of error, so we can probably assume that slightly more than 40% of viewers distrust all the news networks.
  • The trust and distrust percentages stand outside the margin of error, so it is fair to say that PBS is the most trusted (and least distrusted) named in news.

The pollsters offer no reason why distrust of Fox News rose from last year to this year, but Jed Lewison at DailyKos.com, a progressive blog, offers this analysis:

What seems to be going on is that while Fox continues to be trusted by conservatives, moderates and liberals have soured on the channel. Last year, 48% of moderates and 66% of liberals distrusted FNC. This year, 60% of moderates and 82% of liberals distrust the network, so Fox’s declining trustworthiness rating reflects shifting attitudes among moderates and liberals.

I can’t quantify this, but it seems to me that the deeper we go in an Obama presidency, the more strident Fox News becomes. Perhaps that turns off the self-identified moderates and liberals, although liberals have always hated Fox News. And maybe it aligns Fox News more closely with older voters, who are more resistant to the bushel of new laws enacted by Obama and a Democratic Congress.

That Fox News is the most distrusted news network and the second-most trusted news network just underlines, with the thick pencil, American’s sharp decade-long partisan split.

But if Fox News is the most distrusted new network, why is it by far the most watched?

Primetime Viewership Average, Cable News Networks, 2010
Fox: 2,024,000
MSNBC: 764,000
CNN: 591,000

That’s an easy question, and you can answer it by watching the commercial on any TV newscast: older people watch more TV news than any other age group. That means Fox News will be Number 1 in the ratings, if not in trust, for the foreseeable future.

Follow Mark Leccese on Twitter at @mleccese.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mark Leccese, a journalism professor at Emerson College, covered Massachusetts politics, business and the arts for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and magazine writer. He has More »

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