Fake News: What makes a news story truly trustworthy?

fake news

Fake News is the topic of our age. Pew recently ran a poll asking people this question and so it is perhaps worth mulling over the results that the poll reveals. As an insight into where I’m going with this, my argument here is that while Pew is a reliable polling organisation, this specific poll is seriously flawed.

What Exactly did this new Pew Poll do?

Like any good poll should do, they are very explicit about their methodology and document all the details.

Basically they used a nationally representative survey of 12,045 U.S. adults that was conducted between March 8 to March 14, 2021. They also utilised news coverage of the first 60 days of the Biden administration. They go into a great deal of detail, so much so, that if you have trouble sleeping at night, then reading their methodology is a potential remedy.

I have no problem with the methodology, it is wholly reasonable.

The types of questions they asked are exactly as you might anticipate them to be. Here are some samples …

  • How closely, if at all, have you been following news about… [and they randomly picked topics such as COVID or the Biden admin]
  • What news source do you turn to most often for political news? 
  • Thinking about your main news source you entered in the previous question, do you think that news source is part of the mainstream media?
  • Do you think your main news source presents the news in a different way from most media outlets?
  • etc…

If curious and the methodology did not finish you off, then here is their comprehensive question list along with the answers received.

Now let’s go for the findings. My angst here is how they correlate and present the data.

What does the new Poll Reveal?

Lots of stuff, but this bit really stands out …

Overall, broad majorities of U.S. adults say it is at least somewhat important to consider each of five surveyed factors when determining whether a news story is trustworthy or not: the news organization that publishes it (88%); the sources cited in it (86%); their gut instinct about it (77%); the person, if any, who shared it with them (68%); and the specific journalist who reported it (66%). Just 24% of adults say it’s at least somewhat important to consider a sixth factor included in the survey: whether the story has a lot of shares, comments or likes on social media.

On the surface this is perhaps rather encouraging. Rather large numbers of people appear to be making very sensible choices when considering news stories. Is the source of the story reliable and trustworthy? If your source is, to cite an obvious example, Alex Jones spouting some conspiracy claim on Prison Planet, then that’s not a credible source so in theory the 88% should quite rightly consider this observation.

But wait, something is clearly wrong here. Vast numbers of people, literally millions, are buying into the big lie, vaccine hesitancy, and also the lab leak conspiracy theory. It is all stuff that has no evidence, so what has gone wrong and how does that relate to the 88% ?

You do have to wonder what is actually being measured here. The problem is that if your foundation is flawed, then the entire poll is flawed.

Let’s briefly get into that.

Who is deemed “Trustworthy”?

If indeed identifying a news story as trustworthy is understanding if a “trustworthy” news organisation has published it, then my immediate though is to wonder about which organisations are being identified as “trustworthy”.

The raw data has those details, but Pew buried it.

They asked “What news source do you turn to most often for political news? Please list the name of the specific news organization or source.

Top of the list is CNN with 14%. Good answer. We might all quibble about some CNN stories, but overall they are a highly reputable media outlet that strives to present facts that have been validated, checked, and verified. If something is identified as wrong, then they will correct it.

Next on the list?

Oh come now, you can guess.

With 13% we have Fox News.

As most may appreciate, Fox News is not a reliable platform. Much of their output is political propaganda and a great deal is highly dubious. I’m being polite. There is nothing fair or balanced about an organisation that promote conspiracy theories as fact, and dismisses fact as fiction. They have vigorously promoted COVID-19 misinformation and also vigorously promoted the big lie concerning the 2020 election on the basis of no credible evidence as all. It is all part of their long history of gross distortions, outright lies, and fake news.

If individuals consider something to be “Trustworthy” because it is on Fox News, then they are being deceived.

There rests the key to the Fake News problem of our age.

Just Fox?

Nope, others that make the same list within that poll are: Newsmax, Facebook, YouTube, and OneAmerica News.


You should probably proceed to pace-palm about here. To quote the old phrase, “We are so Fucked”

Why did Pew not highlight this?

They are a non-partisan polling organization, so they ducked.

I do get it. Officially Fox is deemed to be News and so if they called it out for what it actually is, then they have stepped over a line that they really can’t cross. They simply compose questions, gather data, and then report the results as best they can in as neutral a manner as possible.

The raw data is there. They simply opted to not spotlight it.

The flaw here is the obvious one.

Those that consider Fox to be trustworthy and CNN to be dishonest, are not really considering the news source as a measure of something being trustworthy at all. Their grasp upon what is actually trustworthy and what is not, has been completely and totally compromised.

Feeding a vast chunk of the US population political propaganda and conspiracy theories that is at odds with reality is the elephant in the room. Until that is addressed, then polls such as this one will find it rather challenging to present a truly meaningful measure of what is really going on when it comes to trusting or doubting a news media story.

How should you determine if a News Story is credible?

Questions you can ask yourself include these …

  • Is this coming from a source that is widely recognised as reputable and trustworthy? (Hint; not Fox, not Facebook, not You Tube, etc…)
  • Where did the news outlet get the story from and is that a credible source?
  • Have other news outlets independently verified it?
  • Does reporting this news pander to some specific agenda or is it presented in an impartial manner?
  • Is what is being reported actual news or is it simply opinion or a reaction?
  • Is the main thrust of the news report verified by the evidence presented?

Doing the above requires individuals to be analytical. In an age where we get a raw feed that is unfiltered by an editor we now as individuals need to take on that role.

Sadly many don’t think like this. Instead they are positioned for hot buttons to be pressed and then respond to the raw emotion unleashed. Standing by ready to be offended is fast becoming a new profession for some.

The Appendix A Fake News reveal within the Pew Poll

Appendix A within the details made available by Pew is perhaps an eye opener here.

To actually find out just how out of sync with reality the right-leaning demographic is, you have appendix A of this poll

Outlet by ideological profile of audience

Well yes, I’d also love to know a bit more about the 9% of Democrats who say that the find Fox News to be appealing. The correct word there is “appalling”, not “appealing”.

We live in an age where literally millions digest Newsmax, Breitbart, Fox, and Sean Hannity as “truth” without asking any questions at all.

Until that changes, we will continue to endanger our health (vaccine opposition), and our democracy (the embrace of the big lie).

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