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Jan. 24, 2020, 12:27 p.m.
Audience & Social

Republicans and Democrats live in “nearly inverse news media environments,” Pew finds

“In the more compact Republican media ecosystem, one outlet towers above all others: Fox News. It would be hard to overstate its connection as a trusted go-to source of political news for Republicans.”

No one news source is trusted by a majority of U.S. adults, and Republicans trust Fox News far more than any other news outlet, according to a report out Friday from Pew. Democrats trust CNN about as much as Republicans trust Fox News, Pew found, but the difference is that while “no other source comes close to rivaling Fox News’ appeal to Republicans, a number of sources other than CNN are also highly trusted and frequently used by Democrats.”

Pew surveyed 12,043 U.S. adults about their trust of 30 news sources in November and December 2019. It found that, for political and election news, “greater portions of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic express trust than distrust in 22 of 30 news sources asked about. More Republicans and Republican leaners distrust than trust 20 of the 30 sources.”

Republican distrust in news has also risen over time. When Pew conducted a similar study in 2014, Republicans still distrusted the majority of sources asked about — but over the past five years there’s been “notable growth in Republicans’ distrust of CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times,” which also tend to be Trump’s favorite news sources to bash. Democrats’ trust levels have shifted significantly less since 2014.

It’s worth noting, though, that not trusting a news source is not the same as not watching or reading it. A previous Pew study found that 14 percent of Americans say they get news from a source they distrust; among conservatives, that number is 26 percent. Scholars have their theories why. In this study, of the 24 percent of Republicans who said they’d gotten news from CNN in the past week, 39 percent nonetheless said they don’t trust it.

Here’s one thing that continues to stick out since 2014: members of both parties’ extreme distrust of BuzzFeed, one of only three outlets “distrusted by more in each party than trusted.” (The other two: the New York Post and the right-wing Washington Examiner.) BuzzFeed was a Pulitzer finalist in 2017 and 2018, is a member of the White House Press Corps, and has broken lots of nationally significant stories — but this data suggests it still hasn’t shaken its lolcats image among a broader group of Americans.

BuzzFeed was even the only news source that isn’t explicitly conservative that more Democrats distrusted than trusted. One potential factor: Pew’s survey asked for opinions about “BuzzFeed,” not “BuzzFeed News,” the slightly distinct brand the company has emphasized the past few years.

There’s often a question about the interplay of partisanship and ideology in news trust, and Pew’s data shows the combination amplifies the effect. Conservative Republicans trust media less than moderate Republicans, and liberal Democrats trust media more than moderate Democrats.

Pew found there were 11 news sources trusted by at least 40 percent of liberal Democrats: CNN, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, PBS, The New York Times, the BBC, MSNBC, The Washington Post, NPR, and Time.

Meanwhile, there were only 2 news sources trusted by at least 40 percent of conservative Republicans: Fox News and Sean Hannity’s radio show. (Rush Limbaugh was next at 38 percent.)

The full report is here. It’s part of a separate initiative that Pew is launching on Friday, the Election News Pathways project, which will look at “how Americans’ news habits and attitudes relate to what they hear, perceive and know about the 2020 U.S. presidential election.”

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     Jan. 24, 2020, 12:27 p.m.
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