Friday, November 11, 2016

After the Election - The Media

In my two previous posts I said nothing about gender. Yet the fact that the first female candidate for president of either major party was defeated by an overtly misogynistic candidate does highlight the different standard to which she was held, which naturally lead me to today's discussion of the appalling way that the mainstream media covered the campaign. (The perverse contribution of social media is another important area, which I will leave it to others to discuss.)

Not for the first time, the media covered not the election but the campaign. That is, the focus was almost entirely upon the "horse race" - reflected primarily in polls (which in the end were not even accurate). Like nuclear weapons, polls are now a part of the world's arsenal and cannot be wished away.  In fact, good polling might be sociologically informative and interesting. but it tells the voter nothing about who would make a better president. it gives the voter no useful information on which to base his or her vote. Yet that is exactly what voters need. They don't need (however interesting it may seem at the time) to know which candidate is more popular on some particular day months or weeks before the election, but they do need to know what difference it would make to choose one over the other.  

Along with this "horse race" obsession, the media tend to focus a lot on "inside Beltway" things that journalists like to care about - for example, changes in campaign managers and staffs - issues that again are not uninteresting or unimportant but which minimally assist voters in making their choices.

Worst of all, that "inside Beltway" mentality combined with a desire to make news leads to an obsession with missteps, "gaffes," and real or supposed scandals. So Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as Secretary of State, a relatively minor matter on which most voters had long ago formed their opinion one way or the other, remained a permanent obsession with the media, which could never let it go - an injustice both to her and to the voters.

The thing that was most unique to this race was, of course, Donald Trump himself. Early on, the media did not seem to take his candidacy as seriously as it deserved to be taken. That was bad enough, but the media also awarded him enormous free media time and focused on him way more than on the other primary candidates. The lust for sensationalism may have been a factor, but it is hard to escape the impression that Trump was good for ratings, and that that was also a major factor. When the Chairman of CSB said, back in February, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS," he confirmed what many of us suspected was a factor motivating the over-the-top coverage of Trump's candidacy. Once again, we see the sad consequence of the evolution of TV news which was once seen as a public service, but is now just another profit-making entity.

As always, journalists typically continued with their standard approach of "balance," treating Trump's lies and scandals and Hillary Clinton's occasional questionable statements and behavior as morally equivalent. But, since the public clearly did not hold Trump to such traditional standards, that only made Hillary seem to many to be as bad a character as Trump - or even worse. Late int he campaign, the media began to call  Trump's falsehoods what they really were - lies. But it was too little, too late.

The media's belated fact-checking of Trump also played into a narrative of media bias, which was further fueled by the Trump machine. Media Bias is a complicated concept to assess. What is undoubtedly clear, however, was - is - the media's cultural disconnect from at least half of the country - the half that voted for Trump. People in the media are largely educated and urban and apparently secular. Almost unreflectively they seem to take for granted the prejudices of their class - whether in support of the EU or of transgender bathrooms. The media seem oblivious to the real lives and serious concerns of downscale rural, "working class," and religious Americans and - intentionally or not - often seem contemptuous of them. The resulting disconnect was part of what fueled the resentment that so many have against "elites" - a resentment tht finally found a vehicle for effective expression in voting for Trump. Indeed the disconnect was so bad it seems to have blinded most of the media to the reality on the ground. Hence the almost universal shock and surprise at the election's outcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment