What Did Exactly Go Wrong With Journalism During The US Presidential Elections?

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections, an on-going battle between Donald Trump and the mainstream media continues to withhold. A battle for which was thought to loosen tensions as soon as the elections came to an end but the crude results has proven otherwise.

Throughout the elections, Mr. Trump’s campaign shocked the journalistic system, leaving journalists to question themselves on the concept of objectivity within their own profession. Not only that, his campaign also insulted the press by calling it “disgusting,” “scums,” as well as the “lowest form of humanity.” In doing so many times, Mr. Trump defied the press, blaming each and every one for portraying biased, unfair coverage against his favor. And let’s not forget Mr. Trump promised to open up libel laws in order to sue media outlets, once in office. In response, many media outlets throughout the nation took a stand against Trump revealing his bumpy past and exposing many of his dirty little secrets. Still, Donald Trump won the elections despite all of his propaganda.

It seems now, in result of the aftermath, many within the mainstream media have taken a step back to reflect on what went wrong thus analyze how the U.S. came to such harsh conclusion; letting Donald Trump become the nation’s 45th president. Indeed, many journalists now speculate the mistakes he or she has made in failing to recognize certain important key aspects for which unexpectedly turned out to have played important roles towards the final results of the elections.

According to Professor Jeff Jarvis from the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism:

“I’ve said-to the horror of surprisingly few journalists I know-that the mere fact of Donald Trump’s candidacy is evidence of the failure of journalism to perform its prime function: informing the public.”

Such harsh words to hear but unfortunately, nothing but truth exist within the passage. I can agree with him that Journalism indeed failed to perform its primary function- reflect reality as it is by informing the public of the fascist they have elected. Yet, the question remains “What did exactly go wrong with journalism?”

On November 17, 2016, the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism held a two-hour panel session reflecting on what went wrong with the coverage of the presidential elections and what can be done to prevent it from occurring again in the future. There, a panel of experienced journalists gathered together in front of an audience in order to discuss the matter. As they discussed with formality, it became evident of the three most important key aspects journalism failed to recognize.

First and foremost, many media outlets failed to recognize the profound resentment coming from working-class Americans, especially from those living within industrial states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina.

All throughout the elections, Donald Trump’s campaign maintained prime focus on those particular areas of the U.S. where proximity to economic anxiety still exists. In an article published by The Wall Street Journal, small towns such as Hickory, North Carolina have been on the struggle for some time now due to economic turnovers occurring within the past decade. The increasing number of imported furniture coming into the U.S. has driven local factories in NC out of business, eliminating thousands of local jobs. Due to such outcome, majority favored Donald Trump because of his promise to bring back jobs to those struggling states.

During the panel discussion, this important key aspect was addressed by non-other than the Founder and Publisher of The Federalist Ben Domenech. According to him, many media outlets did not pay attention to those suffering industrial states as they should have. At one point, Ben Domenech mentioned having a conversation with James Hohmann, a national political correspondent for the Washington Post, about the matter. James Hohmann indicated that about a month before Election Day, majority of media outlets had accepted the idea Hillary Clinton was going to win. As a result, they stopped sending reporters out to critical states where Donald Trump had gained popularity. All, which left Mr. Hohmann feeling alone as far as going into those states to provide further coverage, went.

Ben Domenech also mentioned that along the way, James Hohmann noticed peculiar data points for which informed him of a different conclusion. For starters, Mr. Hohmann noticed many African-American voters in North Carolina demonstrating huge amounts of animosity towards Hillary Clinton. In Michigan, many white-working class voters felt excitement and advocacy towards the idea of Donald Trump becoming the next president. All which resulted to be pieces of a different storyline portraying in favor of Donald Trump. Even though James Hohmann talked about having these bits and pieces, he did not have the overview to put them together. According to Ben Domenech, James Hohmann said during their conversation:

“You know! I had the bits and pieces to a different storyline but I didn’t have the overview to put it all together because in retrospect, I live in Washington D.C. where Donald Trump got four percent of the vote. I’m surrounded by Republicans who aren’t supporting him and by leading people who are part of Never-Trump, who are informing the way that I view this race. What I should’ve been doing more is getting out there, getting into the field.”

Indeed, the media failed to look at other areas in the country where different views and perspectives, apart from the major cities, exist. Areas for which have not been able to fully recover from the economic downturn of ‘09. Overall, communities from the working-class are not thinking about the facts. Instead, they are thinking “What do I see? Vs. What the media tells me?” While the media may tell Americans from the working-class that things are getting better, they sure don’t feel that way because a different outcome is reflected within their own community.

According to a research study conducted by Gallup, only 32% of Americans say they have great deal of trust for the media. Compared from 2007 to 2015, it seems the trust for mass media has sunk to a new, all-time low. That means approximately 68% of Americans do not trust mass media. Their failure to engage with local communities has led many working-class individuals to this point. Perhaps if journalists had taken the time to provide further coverage of those critical states where Donald Trump had gained support, majority of working-class Americans living within those areas would not have lost that trust.

Another important point which came across during the panel: many media outlets failed to take Donald Trump’s campaign seriously from the beginning.

Ever since his announcement to run for president, many media outlets did not begin to take Donald Trump as a serious candidate until it became too late. In fact, many outlets took him as a joke, a side show and to top it all, the media provided Donald Trump’s campaign with thousandths of dollars in free publicity. For this matter, what the media should have done instead was provide further coverage of his burden past before the primary elections. Exposing Donald Trump for the charlatan he is early perhaps might have changed the final outcome of the presidential elections. As Borja Echevarria, Univison News’ VP of Digital, stated during the panel:

“I felt that it took [the media] too long to call the liar ‘a liar.’”

Doing so might have prevented Donald Trump from ever winning the primaries and becoming the Republican nominee. But to expose the liar for who he is would have required journalists to leave neutrality aside and challenge Donald Trump over his views and motives. Something many journalists failed to do during one-to-one interviews.

However, one journalist did take Mr. Trump seriously from the beginning. In fact, he saw Donald Trump as a potential threat towards minorities. Due to this, Jorge Ramos, of Fusion News, did not hesitate to take a stand against the republican candidate during a press conference back in August 2015. He stood among his peers to ask the harsh questions concerning Mr. Trump’s views on immigration. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump refused to answer with formality. His responses sounded arrogant as well illogic making no sense whatsoever. Even at one point, Donald Trump requested to kick Jorge Ramos out of the conference telling him to go back to Univision. Meanwhile, Mr. Ramos was only trying to carry out his journalistic duties; which are to ask the harsh questions. After the occurrence, many of Jorge Ramos’ colleagues along with other media outlets criticized him for filibustering and portraying activism when indeed they should have provided him with more support.

During an interview with The National, Jorge Ramos explained how if a candidate expresses his or her views through racial and sexist remarks (such as Donald Trump did), journalists cannot hide in the principle of neutrality and must take a stand to defy those ideals. He also mentioned how after being highly criticized by other mainstream media outlets, one year later they begin to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps if other outlets would have provided Jorge Ramos with more support early, journalists now would not be questioning themselves on what went wrong.

Aside from the previous aspects mentioned, the media also failed to raise awareness about the threat of “Fake News” roaming through different social networks online. Although this particular concern was barely brought up during the panel, its dire consequences are now starting to become relevant.

After the elections, many are now speculating that great amounts of misinformation throughout social media perhaps might have tainted public discourse in favor of Donald Trump. Although it has not been determined precisely how much discourse fake news has influenced, great awareness is being created in the aftermath towards the cause of eliminating it. While speaking at a ceremony held to recognize retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid, the former democratic candidate Hillary Clinton issued a warning about the dangers of the so-called fake news and how it can have real world consequences. According to her, the epidemic of fake news has become a threat to democracy and a danger for which must be addressed quickly. Moreover, in an article published by The Epoch Times, recent reports state that fake-news websites based in Macedonia have been deliberately pushing fabricated content to generate money. Specifically, these particular websites have been pushing pro-Trump content towards conservatives. And to top it all, the Federal Borough of Investigation along with the Department of Homeland Security recently denounced the Russian government for intervening in the elections through cyberespionage. Perhaps the Russian government is the culpable organization having to pay these individuals. Who knows? One thing is certain, fake-news farms do exist and thus a lot more is getting caught in the crosshairs of the fabricated content written by faraway individuals.

In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, approximately 64% of Americans believe fabricated news stories are causing a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. About 23% say they contributed to the spread of fake news by sharing the content online via social media. Moreover, 16% of Americans have shared the fabricated news inadvertently, only to discover later on it was fake, while 14% were aware the content was completely made up. Perhaps if the media had become further aware about the threat of fake news and had taken immediate action to help prevent it from tainting public discourse, the outcome of the presidential elections might have resulted differently.

Overall, these three important aspects for which the media failed to recognize leave us with the questions: “What can the media do to prevent this sort of thing from ever occurring again in the future?” as well as “Now that Donald Trump has become President of the United States, what are media outlets going to do?” Who knows what Mr. Trump will be capable of once he takes up office on January 20th? One thing is certain though, the rise of Donald Trump as president signifies the beginning of a dark new era for free press in America.

 

References

Barthel, Michael, Amy Mitchell, and Jesse Holcomb. “Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. Pew Research Center, 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. <http://www.journalism.org/2016/12/15/many-americans-believe-fake-news-is-sowing-confusion/&gt;.

Davis, Bob, and Jon Hilsenrath. “How the China Shock, Deep and Swift, Spurred the Rise of Trump.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 11 Aug. 2016. Web. 17 Jan. 2017. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-china-shock-deep-and-swift-spurred-the-rise-of-trump-1470929543&gt;.

Jarvis, Jeff. “Empathetic Journalism for the Right.” Blog post. BuzzMachine. WordPress.com, 13 Oct. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. <http://buzzmachine.com/2016/10/13/empathetic-journalism-right/&gt;.

Journalism: Where We Went Wrong and What We Can Do about It. Perf. Borja Echevarria and Ben Domenech. CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. YouTube, 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_SzPrd2RNw&gt;.

Phillips, Jack. “The Truth About Fake News.” The Epoch Times. Epoch Times, 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. <http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/2196173-analysis-hillary-clinton-slams-fake-news-but-what-is-it-really/&gt;.

Swift, Art. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low.” Gallup.com. Gallup, 14 Sept. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx&gt;.

Why Jorge Ramos Took on Trump. Perf. Jorge Ramos. The National. YouTube, 18 Oct. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yC1vhzm-itg&gt;.

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