Sorry, Rush (and other Rush).
  • Julie Smith/AP
  • Sorry, Rush (and other Rush).

Each generation alive today is tempted to think of itself as less ignorant than its successors—whose sources of information seem new, strange, and unreliable. For instance, a new Pew Research Center study shows that 60 percent of baby boomers, when asked for their sources of news about politics and government, listed local TV news; but only 46 percent of Gen Xers did the same and 37 percent of millennials. But 61 percent of the millennials named Facebook.

(Though to be fair, only 3 percent of the millennials said it was their main source—Pew describes news from Facebook as an “incidental experience.” And according to Pew, it’s the boomers who are most likely to silo themselves on Facebook, consorting only with “friends” who think the same way they do.)

The title of the Pew study poses a question: “Social Media—the Local TV for the Next Generation?” Boomers I know think they’re giving social media due credit when they allow that it’s blessed millennials with dozens of second-rate news sources. For instance, 14 percent of millennials listed Twitter and 23 percent YouTube as sources they’d tapped in the past week. (These sources were mentioned by roughly half as many Gen Xers and boomers.)

What kind of news report is even possible on Twitter? boomers want to know. And isn’t YouTube where you go to see clips of cute cats and dead singers? What goes around comes around. Baby boomers can remember the contempt once rained on them by their elders for watching news on TV as afternoon newspapers shriveled up and died—their elders, those who survive, being at this point a generation too irrelevant for Pew to even notice in its study.

But then, so are local newspapers. Pew asked roughly 3,000 Americans about 42 so-called sources of news and information, and although Drudge, Glenn Beck, and Ed Schultz were among them, the local daily was not. Pew was interested only in the media audience that goes online, and the domestic newspapers in its list were those who market their websites nationally—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today. The Times, the highest-scoring of the four, is read by 17 percent of the millennials, 12 percent of the boomers, but only 9 percent of the Gen Xers (which might means its marketing has missed a generation).

The meat of the report deals with familiarity and trust. For example, more than 80 per cent of each generation has heard of the New York Times; though the numbers who trust it range from 28 percent of the boomers to 41 percent of the millennials, the numbers who don’t are much fewer—20 percent of the boomers down to 11 percent of the millennials.

Because Fox News is so widely known—more than 90 percent of each generation had heard of it—it ranked high both as a trusted and as a distrusted news source. Among millennials it was the most suspect source of all—43 percent of them didn’t trust it. Yet 35 percent did, and more Gen Xers and boomers actually trusted it than didn’t. (It had been watched by 47 percent of the boomers in the past week, trailing only NBC News.)

In Rush Limbaugh’s case, notoriety far outran familiarity. Among Gen Xers and Boomers, Limbaugh was the least trusted source of all, and among millennials he ran second to Fox. But although 75 percent of the Gen Xers and 76 percent of the boomers (though just 47 percent of the millennials) had heard of Limbaugh, only 7 percent of the Gen Xers and 12 percent of the boomers (plus 3 percent of the millennials) had listened to him. Apparently judging Limbaugh by his reputation, 43 percent of the Gen Xers, 42 percent of the boomers, and 32 percent of the millennials said they don’t trust what he says.