If you're a Republican, take a few minutes tonight and watch the talking heads at MSNBC spew forth about politics. Lawrence O'Donnell, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, take your pick.
Take your blood pressure before the show. Take it again afterward. We bet your numbers will rise. (This is probably a good time to mention you shouldn't do this if you have a heart condition or take high blood pressure medication).
Now, if you're a Democrat, try tuning into Fox News for a while. Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Greta Van Susteren. It doesn't matter. Or, while sipping your morning latte and eating granola, watch "Fox & Friends" as they yuck it up while criticizing President Barack Obama.
Again, we bet your blood pressure will rise.
But it will help explain why Americans trust their media less than they ever have in history.
Gallup says that only 40 percent of Americans trust the media a fair amount or a great deal. It's the lowest number since Gallup has been collecting such data. Slightly more than 60 percent of Americans, on the other hand, don't trust the media very much or not at all.
The numbers have been trending this way since 2004.
It might be mere coincidence, but the distrust began rising just two years after Fox rose to No. 1 in cable ratings. In the modern era, it was the first channel dedicated to telling only one side of the news, and it has become a full-time anti-Obama propaganda machine.
In response, MSNBC, which was founded the same year as Fox (1996), became a full-time liberal cheerleader in about 2005. Now the two networks scream at each other nightly.
But given that there are 311 million Americans and the combined prime viewership for cable news is about 5 million, the distrust can't all be blamed on them.
Republicans have enjoyed great success by making the "lamestream" media a straw man for all of their woes. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has built a career on it. Here in Missouri, U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin even blamed the liberal media for his problems when other Republicans called on him to step down from his race against Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Missouri gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence, a Republican, got into the game last week during his debate with Democrat Jay Nixon. Mr. Spence blamed the state's largest newspapers, including us, for focusing on his negatives and not his positives.
Hey, if you say you got an "economics" degree and it turns out it was "home economics," that's not our fault.
The Gallup Poll is disheartening at a time when the media in various forms, through fact-checking, in-depth reporting and thoughtful analysis, are the only recourse for reasoned debate political campaigns hijacked by literally billions of dollars in campaign spending intended to create alternate realities.
But it's also a sign of the times: Americans have lost trust in their major national institutions.
"Yes, the numbers have been creeping up," points out St. Louis University political science professor Ken Warren, "but so have the critical ratings of most of our institutions from the church to Wall Street to our presidents. Americans are very angry today."
Indeed, Gallup reported this year that Americans trust both Congress and the Supreme Court less than ever before.
This is bad for democracy. And screaming at each other doesn't help.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.