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Trust in the media – and a reporter – gets body-slammed

Posted at 12:47 AM, May 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-26 00:47:37-04

In my 30-plus years of reporting in this pretty tough town, I've only had to duck a couple of punches and run for it just a few times. There was also a time or two when I almost got shot, but that was on the street, not interviewing a politician.

I remember the day when reporters were respected, even admired. You may recall that early superheroes like Superman and Spiderman were journalists. (Uh, try not to remember that Batman was a one-percenter.)

But now, many dislike us and distrust us - even consider us the villains.

Almost every year a new poll shows trust in the media has sunk to an all-time low.

Greg Gianforte

Which is why it's not much of a surprise that a politician allegedly went pro-wrestling on a pesky reporter who jabbed a mic in his face Wednesday in Montana.

Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for Montana's lone U.S. House, seat is charged with simple assault.

He was leading in the polls and the majority of Montanans had already voted before the body slam heard 'round the world.

But my guess is he may have even got extra votes for roughing up the press, something as rare as hen's teeth and traditionally fatal to a political career.

But that's where we are, friends. A politician can smack down a reporter and still win an election.

The same day Gianforte got frisky, a new Harvard-Harris poll was published saying the vast majority of Americans distrust the media. It reported 80 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of Independents and 53 percent of Democrats believe the media is pushing fake news.

The study concluded, in essence, that much of the media is now just another "part of the partisan divide in the country with Republicans not trusting the mainstream media and the Democrats seeing them as reflecting their beliefs."

Ben Jacobs (Reporter)

Another Harvard study published the week before compared media coverage of recent presidents, saying the percentage of negative coverage of Trump has been more than any modern president and nearly double that of Obama.

That negative coverage, the report concluded, has done nothing to change anyone's mind, except increase the perception of media bias.

That perception, the study said, "reduces the press's watchdog role."

Friends, we are in a scary place.

As I pointed out two weeks ago, the often vicious and partisan political and social media discourse now looks like pro-wrestling.

And we apparently now have had an actual body slam! What's next, folding chairs?

It's an absolutely scary thought that, lacking a trusted press, we could be without a national foundation of the facts of where we are; the truth about the issues, about the threats and challenges and successes and our leaders' role in them.

We are lost if we continue this battling of narratives and cheap shots where honesty and collective understanding gets knocked out and the only thing that counts is winning the belt.

Our founding fathers knew a free press is absolutely crucial to this nation. My guess is, they would not be pleased.

There's no doubt we in the media - particularly the national media - must tighten up and re-earn the respect of our readers and viewers. I've never seen my brothers and sisters in such a frenzy.

But all of us are in the ring now with our posts, our anger, and our partisanship.

More and more, we are like Gianforte, political grenades with our pins pulled, ready to blow up in the midst of our outrages of the week.

Where is this going to end up if all of us don't dial it down?

Somewhere there is a middle in this grand divide that has widened dangerously and threatens to swallow us all.

Can we find it before it is too late?