Does media's credibility gap rub off on advertisers' pitches?

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If readers and viewers believe the media get it wrong most of the time in their news reporting (be-cause they make mistakes, don't know enough or are biased), can those negative feelings rub off on advertising? Advertising has a tough enough time regis-tering with consumers when conditions are ideal. So do advertisers go to the plate with two strikes against them if they run their ad next to editorial material consumers know isn't true, or that has been distorted?

This has gotten virtually no attention but is surely worthy of debate. Is the media's declining credibility giving less credibility to advertising as well? When viewers feel they're misled by a news report, will they also feel misled by the commercial that follows?

Former CBS reporter/producer Bernard Goldberg jolted the establishment with the "shocking" news that the media have a liberal bias. He writes in his new book "Bias" that the TV networks are losing viewers "by the truckload" because "fewer and fewer viewers trust them anymore." He details how the networks exaggerate the extent of problems like AIDS and the homeless (but only when a Republican is president), and charges that, because it soothes reporters' liberal sensitivi-ties, they don't mind being dupes of lobbies that push the idea that AIDS is fast spreading to the heterosexual community, or that the homeless aren't just junkies and the deranged, but regular people down on their luck.

"More than ever, journalists on the left define themselves by their compassion," Mr. Goldberg argues. "They might as well wear big red buttons on their lapels that say, `We care."' There's nothing wrong with caring, but not if it means distorting facts. Mr. Goldberg's contention is distortion, and ridicule of political ideas that reporters don't favor, is turning off viewers. In an earlier op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Goldberg recounted how a CBS News segment ridiculed Steve Forbes' flat-tax proposal by concluding with a David Letterman-style listing: "Forbes No. 1 Wackiest Flat Tax Promise."'

If journalists lost credibility by letting a liberal bias show, they apparently haven't regained it during the Afghan war. Time after time they reported the war was going from bad to worse. "The errors in judgment are the reason U.S. news organizations, almost alone among American institutions, have seen their reputation slide since Sept. 11," the Journal reported. The newspaper cited a study by the Pew Research Center showing that, in mid-November, only 30% of those surveyed thought coverage of the war on terrorism was excellent, down from 56% in mid-September.

Some columnists who said the war effort was being bungled admitted to the Journal they didn't know what they were talking about. National Public Radio's Daniel Schorr said he "had to eat a little crow" about his gloomy prognostications. "I know nothing about Pashtuns and the rest of it," he said.

How does being wrong so often and so arrogantly affect advertising? Are advertisers tarnished by the same brush as the often-erroneous material that surrounds advertising? Declining viewership and readership numbers are one thing, but the bigger question is how receptive are the consumers that have stuck around?

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