Most Americans have little or no trust in mass media, and the highest distrust of newspapers, TV and radio of any time since Gallup started keeping track.
Who's to blame? You can start with the news, itself. Sometimes, bad news breeds distrust, which explains why the high-water mark for media trust came in the late '90s, and the peaks in distrust came during the most violent parts of the Iraq war and the recession. You can also blame the fragmentation of media, which is siphoning viewers off into their respective ideological corners. Today, you can incubate in hyper-conservative medialand or the super-socialist blogosphere and ignore the middle in a way you couldn't when there were only three TV networks and blog was not a word.
But I also blame journalists.* On the one hand, you can make the good case that we are in a golden age of journalism, where technology and innovation are enriching story-telling and creating a kind of infinite buffet that serves every interest and proclivity of the American audience. On the other hand, mainstream media voices increasingly distinguish themselves by telling us not to trust the rest of the mainstream media.
Think about all of the mass media today that tells us how stupid mass media is. Bill O'Reilly is the most watched person on cable news, and he regularly complains about the stranglehold of liberals on the news cycle. Fox News and MSNBC attract a good deal of attention by identifying (or sometimes fabricating) media strawmen to slay with a quip. Glenn Beck is the most ascendant figure in modern media, and his central message is: Don't trust anybody. Jon Stewart is the most trusted figure in media, and his central message is: Don't trust Glenn Beck. The former treats media as a conspiracy. The latter treats media as a joke.