O’Reilly scandal deals a new blow to US media’s credibility

By Liu Jianxi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/25 0:13:39

Talk show host Bill O'Reilly was officially fired by the Fox News Channel last week amid a sea of sexual harassment allegations. His show, The O'Reilly Factor, with nearly 4 million viewers a night on average, made him one of the most popular cable news hosts in the US. But it all ended after The New York Times exposed that O'Reilly and Fox had paid over $13 million in settlements to five women who accused O'Reilly of sexually harassing them in the workplace.

O'Reilly's scandal reflects the decreasing credibility of the US media. Americans' confidence and trust in the mass media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly" has dropped to the lowest in history, with only 32 percent saying they have "a great deal" or "a fair amount" of trust in the media, according to polls conducted by Gallup last year.

The US media has a great global impact and used to be a significant part of US soft power. However, as trust in it declines, it is increasingly disliked by global public opinion, and has less weight in "commenting" on other countries' internal affairs.  

As the Fourth Estate, the press is supposed to function as a watchdog. However, American media outlets are actually controlled by a few consortiums. 21st Century Fox, with Fox Entertainment Group, Star TV and Sky plc as its assets, is controlled by the Murdoch family. The New York Times is owned by the Ochs-Sulzberger family. The Washington Post was controlled by the Graham family before being sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. US media companies have been subject to active acquisition in recent years, and this has made media resources become more centralized in the hands of a few interest groups. After the exposure of O'Reilly's scandal, the women concerned requested anonymity for fear of O'Reilly's media clout, and it has taken 10 years to end the case.

The US media has often adopted double standards in coverage, and this has largely eroded its credibility. For instance, when reporting terrorist activities in China, US media outlets always point fingers at China's ethnic polices and even describe terrorists as "the oppressed." In addition, while the press should be unbiased, the US media has clear political leanings. The unbalanced coverage of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two main US presidential candidates of last year, has further eroded the US media's credibility.

The media's declining credibility reflects the widening gap between the US elites and the public. The problems are a result of the current US systems and have lasted for a long time. The media's declining credibility results from the US system, and in turn erodes the system's credibility, further dividing the US society.

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