The One-Sided Media Cocoon

While I was in the car yesterday I turned to a conservative talk radio station, which I recommend all liberals do from time to time. The host, whom I didn't recognize, brought up some innocuous piece of news reporting that appeared in the Politico. As you know if you care about these things, the Politico is a complicated media entity. On one hand, they employ a lot of reporters and they sometimes break interesting stories. On the other hand, they're almost a parody of the inside dope-obsessed Washington media, which finds the question of whether Eric Cantor's press secretary and John Boehner's press secretary are feuding far more compelling than, say, the question of what effects cuts in Medicaid would have on struggling Americans. But when this conservative talk show host mentioned the Politico, he found it necessary to refer to it as "the left-wing rag the Politico."

Here in Washington, almost no one in either party is crazy enough to think that the Politico is actually a left-wing rag, an ideologically-motivated news outlet whose purpose is to advance the liberal cause. And whether this talk show host's listeners know or care much about it in particular isn't my point. My point is this: If you are a consumer of conservative media, you get constant reminders -- every day, multiple times a day -- that you absolutely must not believe anything you hear or read in any news outlet that is not explicitly conservative. Which brings us to this new poll from Public Policy Polling, where they asked people whether they trust a long list of news outlets:

-Democrats trust everything - except Fox News. NBC does the best with them at +50 (67/17), followed by PBS and CNN at +49 (66/17 and 65/16 respectively), ABC at +38 (57/19), CBS at +35 (58/23), MSNBC at +33 (56/23), and even Comedy Central at +4 (36/32). Fox News comes in at -36 (25/61).

-Republicans meanwhile don't trust anything except Fox News. PBS comes the closest to breaking even among non-Fox outlets, although not very close, at -30 (26/56). It's followed by CNN at -49 (18/67), MSNBC at -51 (18/69), NBC at -52 (17/69), CBS at -54 (17/71), ABC at -56 (14/70), and Comedy Central at -59 (12/71). But Fox News comes in at a stellar 73/17.

This is in line with other polling on the topic, and it shouldn't surprise anyone. For the last 40 years, conservatives have made hatred of the media a core component of their ideology, and it's reinforced constantly. But this gets mischaracterized all the time, so it's important to understand: Americans are not "polarized" when it comes to the media, because that implies that both sides have drifted apart to similar degrees. Conservatives and liberals are not equally prone to huddle within their self-reinforcing cocoons. It's the conservatives who refuse to believe anything that anyone but Fox or conservative talk-radio tells them. Yes, there are a few people on the left who are similarly distrustful of information they don't get from those who share their ideology. But there's just no comparison between that small proportion of liberals and the consensus on the right that every news outlet that isn't ideologically conservative must therefore be ideologically liberal. Just look at those numbers again.

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