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Blurring lines between opinion and news content explains some loss of trust in the media

One possible explanation for an overall decline in trust is that parts of the media, especially TV, have blurred the distinction between opinion and straight news reporting. If some people dislike certain commentators, or tire of pundits’ speculations, that may drag down their opinion of otherwise trustworthy news reporting.

The survey probed the degree to which people believe they can distinguish between opinion and news reporting in the media they encounter.

In the media generally, a majority of people say they find it at least “somewhat” easy to know the difference between news and opinion (21 percent say “very” easy and 33 percent “somewhat”). Those numbers rise slightly when people are asked about the news media they rely on most (to 26 percent saying “very” easy and 36 percent saying “somewhat,” for a total of 62 percent).

But the question still identifies a fair amount of doubt in both groups. For the media in general, a third (32 percent) say they find it very or somewhat difficult to tell the difference between news and opinion. Another 14 percent say they do not care about that distinction.

For those asked about the media they rely on most, 25 percent say they find it at least somewhat difficult to distinguish between news and opinion. Once again, 14 percent say the distinction doesn’t matter to them.

Interestingly, age does not make an enormous difference on this issue. Both for adults under 4o and those 40 and over, 56 percent and 53 percent, respectively, say they think they can fairly easily distinguish between news and opinion. If people are asked about the news they rely on most, the number grows to 65 percent for those 40 and above.

Party identification affects answers more markedly. Republicans are more likely to find it hard to distinguish between news and opinion in the news media in general. Nearly half of Republicans say it is at least somewhat difficult (36 percent “somewhat” and 12 percent “very”), compared to just one in five Democrats (18 percent “somewhat” and 3 percent “very”). Independents are in the middle, with 31 percent saying it is difficult (22 percent “somewhat” and 9 percent “very”).

Democrats Independents Republicans
"The news media" 22% 31% 48%
"The news media you use most often" 22% 26% 26%

Data Source: Question: Many news organizations produce opinion content as well as report the news. How easy or difficult is it for you to tell the difference between the opinion content and news reporting in [the news media/the news media you use most often], or does it not matter to you?

Media Insight Project

The differences by party identification in this question are less pronounced when people consider the news media they regularly consult. Just 26 percent of Republicans say it is difficult to tell reporting from opinion content among these sources, a number that is the same for independents. A similar number of Democrats find it at least somewhat difficult (22 percent).

On the other side of this question, about 6 in 10 Democrats say they feel they fairly easily distinguish between news and opinion (34 percent “somewhat” and 30 percent “very”) in the news media they use. That is the same as the numbers for Republicans (40 percent “somewhat” easily and 24 percent “very”), and similar to the numbers for independents (34 percent “somewhat” and 23 percent “very”).

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