OPINION | Has the media learned its lesson?
If the most stunning night in political history taught us anything about traditional media’s coverage of this election, which spanned nearly 600 days, it’s this:
It doesn’t remotely have the influence it thinks it does.
In piously dismissing public sentiment when it comes to the entire premise of Donald Trump‘s fed-up outsider campaign, the vaunted media proved it just ain’t what it used to be in the eyes in the public.
You’ve probably read the numbers in this space before. And they’re horrifying:
Media approval rating: 19 percent (NBC News/Wall Street Journal)
Americans with high confidence in the media: 6 percent (Associated Press)
Suffolk University/USA Today poll question: “Who do you think the media, including major newspapers and TV stations, would like to see elected president: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?” A full 75.9 percent answered Clinton, while just 7.9 percent picked Trump. That’s about a 10-to-1 ratio of Americans who feel the media was actually for one candidate against another.
And, finally, there’s the major newspaper endorsement count, per The Hill’s Reid Wilson: Clinton 57, Trump 2 — a ratio of more than 28-to-1.
The election results are still coming in, but from all appearances Trump could still break 300 electoral votes, which would be the most of any Republican candidate in nearly 30 years (George H.W. Bush, 1988).
Trump repeatedly said throughout this general election that the media was rigged against him.
The elites, the ones so out of touch living in their safe Manhattan bubble, where the national media calls home, declared he was engaging in conspiracy theory, just blowing more hot air.
But WikiLeaks revelations proved otherwise.
From just one single email account — that of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta — we saw that quote approval by Clinton campaign sources did happen. Sharing stories in advance with Clinton campaign officials did happen. Collusion via sharing debate questions in advance with Clinton senior aides did happen. Reporters advising and/or cheering on campaigns with guys like Podesta did happen.
And these weren’t small-time bloggers or pundits or anchors committing these journalistic no-nos, either. These were major names at major organizations. And none of them will even extend the professional courtesy of an apology. Instead, it’s the usual condescending defiance.
Even Clinton supporters agree in a recent AP-GfK poll that the media was biased against Trump, by a 4-to-1 margin.
Yup, even Clinton supporters even saw the media pile-on from a mile away.
Suffice to say, the polling and numbers gurus should not be so breathlessly relied upon in 2020 and beyond. A special shout-out goes to the Hufington Post, whose polling outfit gave Hillary Clinton a 98.2 percent of winning going into last night.
In fact, news organizations should simply treat these predictions like online polls: a fun mention here and there, but not anything to hang a hat on day after day, and certainly nothing to be treated as “BREAKING NEWS.” Deal?
On the pundit front, MSNBC election night anchor Rachel Maddow encapsulated a perfect example of the kind of elitism Americans are showing to increasingly loathe when it comes to being spoken down to like peasants:
“Well, it is what it is,” Maddow said after Trump’s victory was apparent on Wednesday morning. “People go into this eyes wide open. If you vote for somebody who can’t win for president, it means that you don’t care who wins for president.”
Yup. Tell people how they should vote because your candidate didn’t win. That’ll go over well.
On CNN, Van Jones — formerly of the Obama administration — played the “How will I explain this to my kids?” card, which many publications have picked up on since, making it go viral.
“People have talked about a miracle. I’m hearing about a nightmare,” Jones said early Wednesday morning, fighting back tears. “You tell your kids: Don’t be a bully … don’t be a bigot … do your homework and be prepared. And then you have this outcome.”
Does doing your homework and being prepared also mean getting debate questions sent in advance?
“You have people putting children to bed tonight, and they’re afraid of breakfast. They’re afraid of ‘How do I explain this to my children?'”
The premise here appears to be that the candidate who didn’t win — Hillary Clinton — is someone Jones and his kids could be proud of. It’s the kind of predictable, one-way analysis we get far too often from former administration officials serving as pundits.
Speaking of curious, Karl Rove, formerly of the Bush administration, tried to make an argument that Trump partially owed his victory in Wisconsin to Speaker Paul Ryan, who couldn’t run away faster from Trump on the campaign trail if he tried.
Rove is an establishment guy, of course, so what you hear is what you get.
As for media coverage of voters, half of Trump’s supporters were called a “basket of deplorables” by Clinton on the campaign trail. Many in the media — particularly those on the left — embraced the former first lady’s characterization as fact and ran with the narrative.
Many also chalked up Trump’s loss as automatic, and riots and violence in the street an almost-certainty afterward.
Those folks should be ashamed of themselves. They can attack the candidate, have at it. But label 30 million Americans as racist xenophobes? Have fun sleeping in that bed you made.
And finally, the Chicago Daily Tribune Award for most ill-advised headline going into Trump’s big win last night goes to New York Magazine, simply branding Trump a “loser.”
The Chicago Daily Tribune, of course, was responsible for the infamous Dewey/Truman cover.
Moving forward, the bright side for cable news outlets and publications both in print and online is they have a president who has proven to be a ratings cash cow like no other public figure before him. The profits will likely roll in for at least the next four years as a result.
But ratings and clicks are one thing. Integrity is quite another.
I’d like to write that traditional media undoubtedly has learned its lesson after embarrassing itself time and again during this long campaign. I truly would.
But without any hint of contrition or any attempt at accountability when sacred rules of journalism are broken, nothing changes. In fact, it will just keeping getting worse. Letting the inmates run the asylum will do that.
Self-importance is prevalent in this business. Self-awareness, not so much.
The good news for the consumer is, choices and alternatives are everywhere.
And to those who worry that the press will continue to pile on Trump throughout his presidency, take solace in knowing that this election result shows their days of major influence are a now a laughable thing of the past.