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While cable news has become the medium du jour during Donald Trump’s presidency, with Fox News hosts cheering on a president who has battled CNN and MSNBC, even the most successful shows on those networks can’t draw as many viewers as the lowest-rated of the evening broadcast news shows. Cable also trails broadcast in another key metric: audience trust.
According to a new Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult survey of about 2,200 adults, NBC Nightly News host Lester Holt is the most trusted television news personality in America, trusted “a lot” by 32 percent of respondents and “some” by 30 percent. He’s trailed by two ABC News anchors: his evening news competitor David Muir (28 percent trust “a lot”) and Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts (28 percent).
Only one cable news host, CNN’s Anderson Cooper (29 percent), is considered exceedingly trustworthy by more than a quarter of Americans polled.
On the contrary, the 10 least-trusted television news personalities all work for cable networks: Fox News host Sean Hannity leads the way (30 percent say they don’t trust him “at all”) followed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (26 percent), CNN’s Don Lemon (25 percent) and MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski (23 percent).
Holt, Muir and CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor, who rarely editorialize or express political sentiments, are also seen as the three least-ideological news personalities.
“Trust is at the heart of what we do,” Holt tells THR. “The recent sustained attacks on the truth remind us how precious that is. To me, there is no higher honor than to have earned that trust.”
Overall, 31 percent of Americans trust the major television news networks “a lot,” compared to 27 percent for cable news. Cable news viewers also worry more than network news viewers (35 percent vs. 31 percent) about the accuracy of broadcasts.
“I’m not at all surprised that broadcast newscasters have more credibility than cable because cable has increasingly gone to the opinionated model over the last few years,” says Mark Feldstein, a University of Maryland broadcast journalism professor who has worked for both ABC News and CNN.
MSNBC anchor Brian Williams (24 percent) is the fifth-most-trusted news personality, less than four years after losing his Nightly News perch to Holt amid an embellishment scandal. (“I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers, and I’m determined to earn back their trust,” he said in June 2015.)
“One earns trust by having a long track record of being fair and getting the facts right,” says Greta Van Susteren, who anchored for all three major cable news networks.
Trust is distinct from likability, which television networks monitor through what’s known as a “Q Score.” According to the survey, 69 percent of respondents say that likability is a “very” or “somewhat important” factor when deciding where to watch news about politics, while only 23 percent say it’s not important. “I think credibility is what matters for news,” Feinstein says. “I don’t think likability matters much at all.”
Harris Faulkner, who worked in local television news before joining Fox News, is the network’s most-trusted personality (24 percent), but its opinion hosts are the most liked — Tucker Carlson leads the way (+31 net favorability among Republicans), followed by fellow primetime host Laura Ingraham (+26) and morning host Ainsley Earhardt (+25), who is also the most trusted of the Fox & Friends co-anchors.
Hannity and Carlson are seen by respondents as the most partisan television personalities, with just 8 and 9 percent respectively saying the two have “no lean.”
Overall, Holt (+35), Roberts (+32) and Muir (+27) have the largest net favorability among television personalities, while Hannity (-7), MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (-5) and Maddow (+1) have among the least.
“We all like to be liked, and it’s important that people feel comfortable with the person presenting the news,” Holt says. “If I could have likability and trust too, I’d be awfully happy. But I didn’t get into this business to be liked. I got into it to tell stories, to open eyes, and hold those in power accountable.”
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