Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Erosion of Trust in the Media Results in a Dangerous Trend

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Erosion of Trust in the Media Results in a Dangerous Trend

Article excerpt

For the last 25 years, the news media have been increasingly unpopular and distrusted by the public.

That distrust is showing up in the courts and threatens to erode First Amendment protections, writes Bruce Sanford, one of the nation's leading press lawyers.

In his new book, Don't Shoot the Messenger, Sanford doesn't pull any punches:

"A canyon of disbelief and distrust has developed between the public and the news media. It darkens and frightens the media," Sanford writes. "It threatens not just the communications industry's enviable financial power but its special role in ordering American democracy. It is a canyon of terrifying proportions."

Critics of the news media are avoiding the usual legal channels of libel law and mining new legal claims that are more difficult for the news media to defend in court, such as trespass.

When Sanford enters courtrooms to defend his clients in the news media, he is more likely to find hostile juries and contemptuous judges. The public is partly at fault, he says.

"The public harbors some massive and fundamentally contradictory attitudes toward the media. People rate highly the news source they use the most and then lambaste the generic industry for behavior commonly found on the very outlets they watch or read."

Sanford says the news media are no more sensational or biased than they ever were.

"What has changed, and the public clearly detects this even if it cannot properly label it, is the fading perception that the media have a higher role to play in American life than simply business."

The public perceives less public service and more bottom-line pressures, he said. What's the impact? Records that should be open to the public are being closed. News organizations fearing litigation and turning away from investigations and toward puffy features. …

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