If there is one lesson that has already been learned from the 2016 election, it is that the media does actually matter . . . just not in the way that we had hoped. There has been a pronounced and rising bias against Donald Trump in the media. Some of the negative stories can be laid at the candidate’s own feet for controversial statements and actions. However, it has taken me back how consistent and aggressive the anti-Trump coverage has been in the mainstream media. It is as if Trump was declared the sole exception to the cherished media neutrality rules in this country. However, there has been an interesting response from the public, which views the mainstream media as a critical part of the “establishment.” The more the media drumbeat the call to defeat Trump, the more the public seems to swing toward the candidate. At the end of this election, the media needs to seriously examine its conduct in coverages, including the many Wikileaks emails showing both bias and coordination in favor of the Clinton campaign. One start would be something that I have long advocated: the media must stop endorsing political candidates.
Media endorsements have long been problematic for me. Reporters and editors insist that they are honest brokers of the news and neutral in their treatment. They then come out and advocate for one to win — often with little surprise to readers given their past coverage. The media endorsement is based on a belief that the media is in a unique position to tell voters which is the best candidate. It is a conceit that undermines their credibility and fuels the type of bias that we have seen in this election.
This is not an indictment of all reporters. I write and work with journalists and the vast majority take serious efforts to maintain their objectivity even when they do not like a candidate like Trump. It can take a lot of effort with a candidate singling you out in a massive crowd for name calling and derision. Most do an incredible job in overcoming their natural feelings toward someone who is relentless in his attacks. Yet, Trump is right about the overwhelming tenor of coverage and the comparison of the coverage given Clinton.
Media endorsements blur what should be a bright-line rule of neutrality. The media should inform not direct the public. There has been too much of the latter in this election.
The “great ones” like Edward R. Murrow were honored for their integrity and honesty. The public clearly see little of that in contemporary coverage. It is wrong about the media. There is plenty of both values. There are plenty of honest reporters. However, this is a self-inflicted wound. The response of the public is not just a rejection of the establishment but a clear signal that the public no longer trusts the media. It is the establishment. The more that the media portrays Trump as threatening the stability of Washington or the country, the more some voters are drawn to him. Many want change at any cost and, for better or worse, Trump is viewed as change. The media has much work to do to convince the public that it is not just the handmaiden to the establishment. Dropping media endorsements would be a significant, if largely symbolic, start.
What do you think?