With Malice toward All? The Media and Public Confidence in Democratic Institutions

With Malice toward All? The Media and Public Confidence in Democratic Institutions

With Malice toward All? The Media and Public Confidence in Democratic Institutions

With Malice toward All? The Media and Public Confidence in Democratic Institutions

Synopsis

Public opinion polls point to a continuing decline in confidence in the Presidency, court system, Congress, the news media, state government, public education, and other key institutions. Moy and Pfau analyze the reasons for this crisis of confidence, with particular attention to the role of the media.

Excerpt

The great problem for American democracy . . . is that people barely trust elected leaders or the entire legislative system to accomplish anything of value.

Journalist James Fallows (1996, p. 7)

When skepticism gives way to cynicism, a self-destructive dynamic is created.

Communication scholars Joseph Cappella and Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1997, p. 237)

Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, American confidence in key democratic institutions plummeted. A synthesis of public opinion polls points to a pattern of declining confidence in the presidency, Congress, state governments, public schools, the court system, the news media, and a host of other institutions. This pattern accelerated during the 1970s, abated somewhat in the early 1980s, then resumed its downward spiral in the late 1980s, and has continued into the 1990s. The problem appears pervasive in nature, crossing most all population cohorts and impacting virtually all democratic institutions. This pervasiveness led Joseph Nye to conclude, Cynicism about government has become the new conventional wisdom (1997, p. 6).

This development is not without consequences that can be dangerous in a democratic society. Nye, Philip Zelikow, and David King predict that cynicism may reduce participation, thereby undermining democratic values. Michael Robinson warns: "In the long run, democratic systems . . .

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