In a stunning rejection of network news and nightly news anchors, cable news, driven by the Fox News Channel and mouthy Bill O'Reilly, is now the top most trusted source—by a mile.
In a new poll from Boston's Suffolk University, more than a quarter of the nation says Fox is tops when it comes to who they trust the most and O'Reilly is the most believable.
"This poll shows two things: first, the network news have completely lost their brand. Second, the only network with any intensity is Fox News," says Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center. "Bottom line: the more they attack Fox, the stronger it is getting," he adds.
But at the liberal Media Matters, Executive Vice President Ari Rabin-Havt says the public's trust in Fox is disturbing. A regular Fox critic, he says the poll reveals that "Fox News viewers trust the information that Fox gives them."
The key finding in the telephone poll of 1,070 likely voters is that network news is dying. Some 28 percent say that they trust Fox News the most, followed by CNN at 18 percent. After that, the trust in TV news nose dives. NBC was third, at 10 percent, MSNBC fourth at 7 percent, CBS and ABC tied at fifth with just 6 percent.
"In short, American's TV news preferences have come a long way from the sainted Walter Cronkite telling us, 'That's the way it is,' or Huntley saying good night to Brinkley, or Dan Rather," says Stephen Hess, the presidency and media scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Suffolk offered 28 different TV news personalities for poll takers to decide from on the trust question. As a result, the results were in single digits.
But of the top 10 most trusted new sources, O'Reilly is king, at 9 percent. CNN's Anderson Cooper followed at 6 percent, Fox's Mike Huckabee at 4 percent, Fox's Sean Hannity at 4 percent, Wolf Blitzer was sixth at 3 percent, followed by MSNBC's Chris Matthews at 3 percent, NBC newsman Tom Brokaw at 3 percent, CBS anchor Katie Couric at 3 percent and ABC's Diane Sawyer at 3 percent.
Being in the middle of the Top 10 was good for Blitzer, host The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. He tells us, "Happy to be Number Six. It's a very nice number—always has been one of my favorites."
Media Matters' Rabin-Havt added that it was encouraging that at least Cooper was second behind O'Reilly. "That's a very good sign," he says. "That would give me hope."
There was tie for last on the list. CNN's Elliot Spitzer and NBC Meet the Press host David Gregory each were the pick of just two of the 1,070 poll takers.
Hess, author of the newly updated American Political Cartoons: The Evolution of National Identity, 1754-2010, says the domination of cable over network news was big news of the poll. [See the month's best political cartoons.]
"Most interesting are not the tiny percentages for individuals, but rather the contrast of Broadcast vs. Cable," he tells Whispers. "ABC-CBS-NBC together nets 22 percent on the most trusted compared to 53 percent for CNN-MSNBC-Fox. The three broadcast network anchors combined only get 10%, compare to O'Reilly alone who gets 9 percent and CNN's Wolf-Anderson 9 percent," he adds.