Former President Barack Obama said he’s worried about the effects of the politically divided news media in the U.S.
In an interview with CBS News published Tuesday, Obama was asked what keeps him up at night since leaving the White House and he spoke about a lack of shared facts and concerns Americans have over conservative and liberal media.
“The thing that I’m most worried about is the degree to which we now have a divided conversation in part because we have a divided media,” Obama said.
He said the situation today is different than the simpler media environment of the past.
“When I was coming up you had three TV stations and people were getting a similar sense of what is true and what isn’t, what was real and what was not,” he said. “Today, what I’m most concerned about is the fact that because of the splintering of the media, we almost occupy different realities.”
In the past when an event occurred, “everybody could say, ‘All right, we may disagree on how to solve it, but at least we all agree that, yeah, that’s an issue.’” Obama said. “Now people will say, ‘Well, that didn’t happen,’ or, ‘I don’t believe that,’ or, ‘I don’t care about the science,’ or, ‘I’m not concerned about these experts, you know, ’cause they’re just all liberals’ or, you know, ‘That’s just conservative propaganda.’”
Many Americans seem to agree with Obama when it comes to concerns about polarization in the news media. U.S. adults view partisan outlets as the least trustworthy, according to a YouGov poll of U.S. adults released last week that found the Daily Caller, Breitbart News and HuffPost were among the least trusted outlets.
The most trusted news outlet was a network that only covers the weather, the Weather Channel, followed by two news brands on opposite sides of the Atlantic that both receive some public funding: PBS and the BBC. They were followed by The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Associated Press, and a trio of news brands with wide, mainstream appeal: ABC, USA Today and CBS.
Gallup polling released last October found the percentage of Americans who say they trust the mass media a great deal or fair amount dropped from 36% to 34% in a year, falling below those who said they have no confidence in the media at all (38%) for the first time since the pollster began asking in 1972.
Obama said one of the goals of his post-presidency and of the Obama Foundation is to find answers to questions like, “how do we return to that common conversation, how can we have a common set of facts?” He mentioned combating gun violence as an example of an issue Americans might disagree about how to handle, but that all sides have to acknowledge the data.
“We may disagree on gun violence in terms of what the best prescriptions are, but we can’t deny the data that says the United States has levels of gun violence that are 5, 10, 15 times more than other countries,” he said.