IT IS long-standing Republican tradition to deride the national media for its liberal tendencies. Despite that, the words of Lamar Smith, a Republican representative from Texas, delivered four days into Donald Trump’s presidency on the floor of the House of Representatives, managed to stand out. “Better to get your news directly from the president,” he told his colleagues. “In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” Across the country, Republicans seem to be taking the edict to heart.
The Economist asked YouGov, our pollster, to survey 1,500 Americans about the trust they placed in the president compared with national media outlets. When Republicans were asked whether they trusted Mr Trump more than the New York Times, the Washington Post or CNN, at least 70% sided with the president each time. Less than 15% chose the media outlet (the rest were unsure).
Republicans also preferred Trump truths over the Weekly Standard and the National Review, conservative magazines with impressive intellectual pedigrees. Only with Fox News, the administration’s preferred outlet were Republicans somewhat torn: 23% said they trusted the network more, compared with 54% who stuck with Mr Trump.
Media trust was not high among Republicans, to begin with. But YouGov also polled Americans in mid-October about their preferences, making it possible to measure how much their trust has eroded since Mr Trump’s election. Distrust in the Washington Post and New York Times, the papers that have served up the most calorific scoops during the Trump presidency, is up by seven and nine points respectively among Republicans. The numbers for Fox News, the only outlet trusted by a majority of Republicans, were unchanged.
Much of that may be the work of Mr Trump’s constant hammering and be haranguing. The president, who reportedly watches hours of television a day, offers his 35m followers on Twitter a running media commentary, praising his flatterers and bashing his critics. Since becoming president, Mr Trump has tweeted approvingly about Fox News or its hosts 87 times—devoting as much Twitter time to the network as he has to Republican lawmakers’ efforts to overhaul America’s health-care system
Many of Mr Trump’s most enduring catchphrases are swipes at media companies. There have been 79 gripes about “fake news” since Mr Trump took office. He has used the insult “failing New York Times” verbatim 21 times. (“Amazon Washington Post”, his latest sloganeering attempt, seems to be fizzling.)
Republicans now loathe mainstream media outlets so much that many say they would stoop to unconstitutional means to silence them. When YouGov asked whether courts should be allowed to “shut down news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased and inaccurate”, 45% of Republicans were in favour, compared with 20% who opposed the measure. More than half thought it acceptable to fine an offending news outlet (and 40% thought it would not violate the First Amendment to do so).