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Poll: A majority of Americans believe the mainstream media publish fake news

A majority of Americans — 65 percent — believe the mainstream media publish fake news, according to new data from the Harvard-Harris Poll. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Don’t trust the mainstream media? Welcome to the club.

According to new Harvard-Harris Poll data, which was first obtained by The Hill, a majority of Americans — 65 percent — believe there is no shortage of fake news in the mainstream media.

That number includes a whopping 80 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents, and a surprising 53 percent of Democrats. President Donald Trump has long decried the media — and CNN, in particular — as “fake news,” and Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, has dubbed journalists the “opposition party.”

And it appears many Americans agree with Trump, at least on this issue. Eighty-four percent of the survey’s 2,006 respondents said it’s difficult to know what news to trust.

“Much of the media is now just another part of the partisan divide in the country with Republicans not trusting the ‘mainstream’ media and Democrats seeing them as reflecting their beliefs,” Mark Penn, co-director of the Harvard-Harris Poll, said. “Every major institution from the presidency to the courts is now seen as operating in a partisan fashion in one direction or the other.”

Conservatives fear the media have severely blurred the ethical lines that, during a more traditional administration, would bar them from relying so heavily on anonymous sourcing — a practice that has become commonplace for many members of the press corps since Trump took office in January.

This lack of trust in the media, however, is not new. In September 2016, a Gallup survey found that only 32 percent of Americans trusted the mainstream media to “report the news fully, accurately and fairly.”

And in a Gallup poll from April, 64 percent of respondents said the mass media favor Democrats while only 22 percent said reporters favor Republicans.

However, despite voters’ opinions about the fairness of the press, 60 percent of all respondents, according to the Harvard-Harris Poll, believe Trump is treating the media unfairly. By contrast, 48 percent said the media are treating Trump unfairly.

“Voters show concern about direct attacks on the media by the president even when they have questions about it,” Penn said.

Americans are also concerned about unauthorized leaks of classified information. In fact, 74 percent of voters — including 84 percent of Democrats — believe leaks are a serious matter and should be investigated.

“It is very clear in the poll that overwhelming majorities of the country take leaks and potential political unmasking of members of the Trump campaign in wiretapped conversations merit full and even independent investigation,” Penn said.

However, 62 percent of respondents said journalists who publish information, even if obtained illegally, should be safe from prosecution.

At hearings on Capitol Hill Tuesday, former CIA Director John Brennan said he is deeply concerned about the leaking of classified information to the media, which he said can be “very damaging.”

“I find them appalling and they need to be tracked down,” he said.

The Harvard-Harris Poll was conducted online between May 17-20. The partisan breakdown was 36 percent Democrat, 32 percent Republican, 29 percent independent, and 3 percent other.

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