Collage of NBC, CBS, News Corp, and ABC headquarters. CBS building by Epicgenius, ABC news building by Jim Henderson, NBC building by HangSangYoon, News Corp building by Tdorante10
Collage of NBC, CBS, News Corp, and ABC headquarters. CBS building by Epicgenius, ABC news building by Jim Henderson, NBC building by HangSangYoon, News Corp building by Tdorante10
Annie Eason

Can We Trust Mainstream Media?

Media, more specifically mainstream media such as the radio and journalism, has always been a core part of many Americans’ lives. Often the main, and sometimes only source of information Americans have, mainstream media dominates the sphere of the sources of knowledge. While many often cite the mainstream media as reputable sources such as newspapers, that trust has been failing over the past years. Media trust has been declining since 1976, according to Gallup and Knight Foundations, with only 32% holding a fair or great amount of trust in the news in 2023. So, why do most Americans distrust the media, and does that distrust hold merit?

Why do people distrust the media?

The term ‘media’ can encompass many things, but most think of the news, radio stations, and social media. Senior Muna Ali said, “I use social media a lot. I’m too lazy to go on ABC News and like go on there.” Some also consume mainstream media, as sophomore Steven Scattergood said, “[I watch] mainly news on the TV and a couple of news articles here and there that I read.” 

However, some abstain from consuming mainstream news. An anonymous sophomore said, “I honestly don’t consume a lot of media because it stresses me out, so I try to not voice my opinion too much cause I’m not that well informed,” They continued, “I just think everyone should be very conscious of what they’re consuming. I hear mostly from my friends and from my parents and my friends usually get off of social media and my parents usually get it off the news.” 

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According to a study by the University of Oxford and Reuters Institute, 67% of those who do not trust the news believe that the elite use the news to push and achieve political and economic interests and goals. People in marginalized groups also tended to see the news as out of touch, opaque, according to another study by the University of Oxford and Reuters institute. In the study, they were criticized for withholding information, not covering prevalent lies, and creating false equivalencies of partisan opinions.

Some Robinson students also don’t trust the media, specifically news production. An anonymous sophomore said, rating their media trust from one to ten, with one being low trust and ten being high trust “It used to be a nine, but ever since, the Israeli Palestine conflict, it’s gone to a two or three because every single news source I’ve looked at and every single person I get information from contradicts each other, so it’s really difficult to find reliable information.” Ali also said, “I don’t trust the media. The news may be accurate, but I feel like a lot of the time, they cherry pick it. They specifically choose to put emphasis on certain things.”

One particular event that sowed distrust in the media was after 9/11, when iHeartMedia and other corporations began to stop playing music that they deemed was overly critical of America or insensitive, according to Kerrang and Far Out. The entire catalog of Rage Against the Machine, a rock band that had music criticizing America, was not allowed to be played on radio stations, despite the band also having songs with free speech messages. Many more were banned by iHeartMedia. iHeartMedia owns iHeartRadio, and according to their website, nine out of ten Americans listen to it every month. Songs that were anti-war were also banned, including Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, as America was getting ready to fight in the Iraq war. 

Happy songs were also banned, including What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, presumably because it was deemed as insensitive. While DJs were still able to play these songs, they were heavily discouraged. In total, approximately 165 songs were “banned” from being played on iHeartMedia, which owns over a thousand radio stations across America. 

Another event that may have sowed distrust was the coverage of the Iraq war, which followed the 9/11 attacks. George W. Bush falsely claimed that there were weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq that were being used against their citizens and other neighboring countries, according to Rolling Stone as a reasoning for why the US needed to invade Iraq. Coverage on the Iraq war by the media was generally supportive of the war, as many nightly news segments such as NBC’s Nightly News and ABC’s World News Tonight mostly interviewed government-affiliated or neutral officials of allied countries when covering the war. At MSNBC, some journalists were even fired for being skeptical about the war. 

Looking at the Gallup poll, in Sept. 2004, mass media trust was reported to have declined significantly from 40% of Americans trusting it with a fair amount in 2003 to 35%, and it has been steadily declining since.

A recent event has also caused people to distrust the media. Tamara Kharroub, researcher at Arab Center Washington DC, specializing in media and communications technology in Middle East politics, was interviewed by Mother Jones magazine. Kharroub spoke about various instances of media bias in the coverage of the Palestine-Israel conflict, stating that many news corporations do not give any historical context to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza at all, something that’s important to know in order to understand the conflict fully.

Moreover, according to FAIR, on political Sunday news channels such as ABC’s This Week, CBS’s Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox News Sunday, when talking about the Israel-Palestine conflict from Oct. 15 to Nov. 5, 2023, only one Palestinian appeared out of all 57 interviewees. Additionally, 48 were from the United States, five were Israeli civil servants, and three had different affiliations.

The interviews featured four congressmen who gained significant donations to their campaigns from military-affiliated corporations, five are or were board members of a military-affiliated corporation, and five were formerly senior military officials out of the eleven US guests. Eighteen had funding from pro-Israel donors, particularly from American Israeli Public Affiars Committee (AIPAC), which has its own PAC and super PAC. Only two people that called for a ceasefire were interviewed.

How does media bias work?

Media bias works in many different ways, according to Pressbooks. There are 5 types; bias by omission, bias by selection of sources, bias by story selection, bias by placement, and bias by labeling. While the inclusion of these biases in news sources do not necessarily mean that they are unreputable, it can affect how viewpoints are formed and made based upon biased news.

Information warfare, used by the military, has many tactics as well, according to an article by Global Issues. According to Maud S. Beelman, a veteran journalist, writes in his book The Dangers of Disinformation in the War on Terrorism in Winter, 2001, military spokespersons work in an extremely close relationship with military personnel who support battlefield operations to gather information to speak to the public through the media. Sometimes, information may not be truthful. The military can also organize media sessions, press briefings, plant stories, or provide managed access to war zones. 

Media bias can be seen in the exclusion of sources that criticized the Iraq war in 2003, in the exclusion of media that may have been critical of America on radios, in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and many more events. According to an article titled “How do we raise media bias awareness effectively? Effects of visualizations to communicate bias,” published in the National Library of Medicine, bias may affect political beliefs of the audiences watching the news source, party preferences and voting behavior. Group polarization, intolerance of dissent and political segregation are also some long-term consequences of exposure to biased information and furthermore, it can also affect collective decision-making. Media bias is often not noticeable either. 

It can also affect people personally. An anonymous sophomore said, “I’m Jewish and my best friend is Muslim, and we’ve both been receiving a kind of microaggressions from people from being Jewish and Muslim so it’s on both sides.” They continued, “A lot of my friends are queer and stuff that’s said, negative things about the queer community- that doesn’t help my friends. It makes them feel worse.” 

Corporate Ownership and the Media

Looking at economics, media bias in mass media can also be attributed to corporate ownership. The big six, Comcast, Walt Disney, AT&T, National Amusements, Sony and News Corp, according to WebFX, own much of mainstream media that many Americans watch daily. According to Motley Fool, 90% of all media is owned by them.  

Infographic of mainstream media owners (Annie Eason)

As a corporations’ only real goal is to make money to stay afloat, it can be problematic when mega corporations are involved in journalistic affairs, apparent in coverage of events in general. An article by Christopher J. Jollmeyer in the JSTOR journal, published in 2004, found that when covering economic problems, the Los Angeles Times magazine reported more on corporations than the general w

orkforce, as “the negative news about the economy disproportionately depicted events and problems affecting corporations and investors instead of the general workforce.”


Famously, reporting on celebrities brings in a lot of revenue, with the paparazzi and tabloid magazines. One can also very easily see hundreds of articles when one searches up “Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift,” all from major news sources. However, one cannot find many articles about the murders and rapes of people by M23 rebels backed by the Rwanda government in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When searching on the NBC website, one can only find one article on the crisis, written in 2023, but many different articles about Swift and Kelce’s relationship. 

Filter bubbles may also contribute to this as well. Filter bubbles, according to Oxford Languages, are “a situation in which an internet user encounters only information and opinions that conform to and reinforce their own beliefs, caused by algorithms that personalize an individual’s online experience.” Filter bubbles can be problematic in the sharing of media, as media is a form of expression, thus if media one sees is only reflective of their interests, they may not be exposed to other things that may challenge their perspectives, or even interests. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, once said regarding news feeds on Facebook, “A squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”

Social Media as a Source of Information

With all these examples of media biases, many turn to social media as their source of information instead. According to Pew Research Center, 43% of people who use TikTok get their news from there in 2023, compared to 22% in 2020. The same can be said about Instagram, with 28% in 2020 and 34% in 2023. While these are still low numbers, they are rising. More than half of Twitter users relied on Twitter as a news source in 2023.

Kharroub also said in her interview on Mother Jones that social media can provide spaces where stories can be seen and amplified, oftentimes stories that aren’t highlighted as much by the mass media. She also stated that there are some shortcomings, including disinformation and misinformation. 

For example, a year ago, according to the Guardian, Joe Rogan, along with Colorado congresswoman Lauren Boebert and Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, spread misinformation on social media, detailing a rumor about litter boxes in school bathrooms, installed for students who identified as furries. In an NBC news investigation  however, they found that this rumor was false. Many other conservative politicians perpetuated the rumor, and while some retracted their claims, it still circulated around the internet and in political spheres as talking points for supporting anti-LGBTQ legislation, specifically anti-trans legislation. 

However, social media is a very convenient way to get news. Ali said, “I know it’s not the best source of media, but I feel it’s just so on top of my finger? It’s so easy to access it, so I use social media. Maybe I shouldn’t use social media as much because social media can also be biased, but it’s just so convenient for me.” Furthermore, she said, “For me, on Tik Tok, [news] comes to you. It’s not like you actively search for it, but it actively comes to you… if it’s really interesting to me, then I will go research it on my own.” 

Some also talk to their friends about news on social media, as an anonymous junior said, “I don’t really use social media in general, but I talk to people online. We talk about news together. I don’t go on Twitter or Instagram or something to look for news itself.” Another sophomore also cited echo chambers as a problem of using social media as a reputable source for information.

While it may be hard to obtain sources that are unbiased, as it is virtually impossible to remove bias from journalism purely because of the nature of writing, there are some ways to improve one’s flow of information. There are many websites that check for misinformation or bias, one being Media Bias / Fact Check. Utilizing multiple sources, while exhausting, also works as well, allowing one to find events that perhaps other sources do not write about. It is also important to always hold some skepticism when reading articles as well; looking into things that may not look right. Supporting independent journalism can also work as well. While the media landscape may seem bleak with corporate and government influences, personal intake of information and the media can most certainly be improved by supporting independent journalists and utilizing multiple sources of information before taking a stance.