Has the Media Stolen the Election?
There have been many accusations, particularly by the Trump camp, that the media is biased and stealing the election. I find his commentary ironic in that the media both made and is in the process of unmaking him. It is not the coverage that bothers me, it is that opinion has crept into the news in a substantive way that now threatens the ability to create the informed electorate so necessary for a functioning democracy.
The media propelled Donald Trump into the Republican nomination for President. The Atlantic Magazine’s Daily Media Tracker, which tallies television mentions of the candidates during the Primary season showed that as of March 2016, Donald Trump dominated the coverage and according to an analysis by quantMedia, he received the equivalent of about $2 billion in free media.
When the primaries first began, Trump’s out of the box comments made everyone uncomfortable, but they also put issues like trade and immigration that had been taboo subjects by the tacit acquiescence of all the candidates, back on the table. Issues that were important and real to much of mainstream America were finally going to be addressed. Or, were they?
Trump soon discovered that after initial attention on him, his coverage began to slip as other candidates became engaged on those, previously undiscussed, topics. His response was to make ever more radical comments. Rather than staying attentive to the issues, the media does what it does best, focus on the spectacle, the salacious and inflammatory commentary.
This is what drove us to such programming masterpieces as Naked Dating and Married at First Sight. Or even the show that “made” Donald Trump into a success: The Apprentice.
In the end, the substantive candidates didn’t have a chance although they likewise ratcheted up their rhetoric. However, none could match the bombastic performance of “The Donald.” In effect, the media had turned our electoral system into Reality TV.
Once the paradigm was in place, the media could not reverse course. The entertainment had to continue, lest interest and revenues fade. In this process, Donald and Hillary are complicit.
Consequently, the media has now lost all objectivity and is in the process of vilifying Trump and driving Clinton into the White House.
While there certainly is still impartial reporting occurring, by in large, the media’s bias against Trump is both overwhelming and grossly one-sided. This is readily apparent to the electorate, regardless of your choice of candidate. The only difference is whether or not you feel it justified.
In a recent article for USA Today, Michael Wolff stated, “Never in modern history has the news media been so united in its condemnation of a presidential candidate and in its determination to use its influence to prevent his election.” This was sadly obvious when the New York Times called Donald Trump a liar, not in the editorial section, but in its reporting of the news.
In an interview on NPR, the paper’s executive editor, Dan Baquet, stated about Trump, “Politicians often exaggerate their records, obfuscate, when they say they did something great…In the last few weeks, he’s sort of crossed a little bit of a line (about the Obama’s birthplace). That is not an obfuscation; that is not an exaggeration. I think that was a demonstrable lie…”
In saying that something Baquet “thinks” is true should be reported as fact is editorial-ism and belongs on the opinion page not in the news section.
In the same interview, when asked whether the paper had also said that Hillary Clinton had lied, the response was, “I don’t think Hillary Clinton, to be honest, has crossed the line the way Donald Trump did…” Again, what the editor “thinks” is presented as fact. The decision not to use the same word for Clintons commentary and behavior creates the extreme prejudice of their reporting.
The media has done a huge disservice to this country. I won’t say to “their” country because many of the journalists seem to want to pretend that they stand above simple patriotic feeling and jingoism where the “truth” lies. They have now lost that high ground. In Wolff’s words, “The media’s sense of civic duty…is not about protecting the public, but about orchestrating the claims of people and media institutions who think they can protect it.”
The media is no longer the Fourth Estate, “the fourth branch of government that monitors the political process in order to ensure that political players don’t abuse the democratic process.” They are now so deeply a part of the process and its outcomes that they are no longer able to dispassionately report the facts. When what they “think to be true” is pawned off as the objective truth, we are simply unable to evaluate its veracity.
This allows each side to pick its, more radicalized, version of the truth. It is clear that in promoting such division, the media has made it harder yet to reach any meaningful level of compromise once the counting of votes is complete. Trump has already stated that he may not accept the outcome of the election, unless he wins that is, a line drawn in the sand.
The media is big business, one under significant financial stress. The interjection of personal opinion into the news in the drive for ratings and readership has blurred the line between journalism and entertainment to the point that it is virtually impossible from the reporting to distinguish reality from “Reality.”
We have crossed a very important line and I fear we are on a slippery slope. What are we to believe from the news? Simply what our preconceived notions tell us? What is now the difference between reporting the news and political propaganda?
Has the media stolen the election? No, but it has very likely changed the outcome. And, that is my “opinion.”