the following statement: “The traditional mass media have failed the American
public in the 2016 election.”
2016 was defined by the running of Donald
Trump for President in the 2016 elections. In the lead up to Trump’s election,
mass media coverage of the event was in demand and essential for the American
public to make their judgment on who should be elected President. Although
important, traditional media has been criticised for its partaking in an
uncritical coverage of Donald Trump, which not only aided Trump’s rise but
failed the American public as a result of a careful, neutral and balanced
stance from certain media outlets and journalists.
We will be exploring the extent to which
traditional media outlets (e.g. Newspapers, TV and radio) hid in the face of
neutrality, and did not portray the election in a light that would have
effectively informed the American public on candidates. Therefore, we will
answer whether traditional media failed the American public.
To begin with, all American media outlets aim
to report ‘impartially, without fear or favour’; in essence reporting without
bias. However, as a result of this many newspaper outlets failed to cover Trump
in true light for fear of principality, of neutrality being tampered with.
After the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the main stream media showed its inability
to cover Trump within the usual objective norms of journalism, without
normalising his overt sexism and racism. For example, criticism of the remarks
made by Trump were argued to not have been explored or reported in a way that
represented the enormity of his remarks. As a result of instances such as this,
traditional media outlets such as the BBC have been accused of failing the
American public, and being too neutral in the face of overt racism and sexism.
The main preposition in how the traditional
media failed the American public, is the way in which they aided Donald Trump’s
rise to presidency. In part, due to high media coverage of trump (The New York Times
reported in March 2016 that Trump had amassed up to $2 billion worth of
unearned (i.e. not paid) media coverage) and some may argue, the unwillingness of some outlets to report and
give attention to the policies that he would propose, as opposed to the public
gaffes and controversies that he created.
regards to media focus during the early stages of the 2016 presidential
campaign, Donald Trump was the centre of press attention. From the moment that
Donald Trump announced his candidacy, he was the most heavily covered
candidate. There was an imbalance of fair coverage by the press for
presidential candidates, this is because many outlets were fuelled more by
higher ratings/ views that would be gained from Donald’s notable controversy and
negativity compared to other candidates. Had there been a more equal press
coverage for candidates, it is arguable that results of the election may have
received 63 percent of the coverage during his campaign compared to the 37
percent for his most heavily covered rival. Sources have stated that Trump
gained more press attention than Clinton. Interestingly, Trump had more
opportunities to define Clinton, than she had to define him and when a candidate
on the news was seen talking about Clinton, the person speaking was typically
Trump instead of Clinton. However, when the message was about Trump, it was
more times than not, Donald Trump behind the message. For example, ‘make
America great again’1,
were heard more often than Clinton’s quotes such as ‘stronger together’2. The imbalance in coverage, is said to be due
to availability, by journalists. However, if that were so, smaller parties
would dominate coverage, as they are more in need for media exposure. The
dominant presence of Trump in the news, stemmed from the fact that his persona
and controversies were suited to journalists’ story needs. Trump delivered
material that was not expected, and so journalists covered his speeches with
more intensity than perhaps any presidential nominee beforehand. In
particular, traditional mass media gave the ‘oxygen of publicity’ – to borrow
the phrase Margaret Thatcher used to talk about British terrorism coverage– to
the early Trump campaign. Although the coverage was often critical of the
candidate, particularly for his statements about immigration, it arguably had
the effect of consolidating the Trump political brand Journalists
would be quick to point out that this coverage of Trump was generally aimed at
highlighting how people found his statements outrageous or upsetting. In this
sense, they were fulfilling the role of journalists as those who patrol the
boundaries of culture, signalling that public officials should not make false
or denigrating comments about social groups. But while this might have been the
message intended, the message received by much of America was that Trump was a
political force. This amplified his brand in a crowded primary in a far more
powerful way than a carefully constructed policy message or paid advertising.
When one observes the news coverage emphasis on scandals and threats – such as
Trump’s caginess about accepting the results – it suggests that Trump continued
to direct the narrative.
A further reason, as to why some argue the media failed the
American public, is to do with not just the neutral principles but the bias of
some media outlets. To clarify, the real bias of the press is not that it’s
liberal, but to do with the preference for negative coverage. Scholar Michael
Robinson noted, the news media appeared to work by this motto, “If you don’t
have anything bad to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”3
A New York Times columnist claimed that “the internet is distorting our
collective grasp on the truth.”4There
is accuracy in this claim, and not only this, but the mainstream press emphasises
on what is wrong with politics, without telling us what is right.
Traditional media needs to be prepared to change their
policies on coverage of scandals. Although, scandalous coverage may generate
high viewership in a short amount, the quality of credible reporting fails,
when there is a focus on scandals rather than factual information’s. For
example, the Daily mail reported that First Lady Melania Trump worked as an
escort. These claims could have damaged the First lady’s image to the public
during and after the election. However, the Daily mail were forced to pay
damages of up to three million dollars, stating there was no credible evidence to
support their published claim (Osbourne, 2017). When creating scandalous claims
become more important that facts, traditional news sources loses credibility
and lose trust from citizens.
to Dr. Dona-Gene Mitchell, the timing at which scandal is uncovered can make a
large difference as to how each candidate is viewed by voters (Mitchell 2014,
697). There are a number of general trends that are associated with this. A
candidate would most likely prefer to have a controversial story broken early
in the campaign, allowing an ample amount of time for the story to break down
and no longer exists in the voters’ minds (Mitchell 2014, 697-698). That said,
continuous coverage of scandalous activity can cause “scandal fatigue”, in
which voters become numb to the constant media questioning of a candidates’
values or actions (Thompson 2000, 117). More research is needed to
quantify scandalous coverage between Clinton and Trump since the results of the
election. The amount of exposure Trump received from traditional news media can
be based on his continuous controversial actions (Olshansky and Stelter 2015).
Trump likely benefitted from scandal fatigue by creating an unapologetic
persona in the media that left him appearing to be unflinching in the face of criticism.
To reiterate, less coverage on Trump controversies and more focus on his
policies, may have resulted in a different election outcome, in hindsight.
Another way, to look at how traditional
media filed the American public, is the fact that many traditional media
outlets failed to take Donald Trump seriously.
triumph of Donald Trump the 8th of November has been a huge
surprise, but possibly of an equal surprise for everyone. The results of the election
showed a disconnection between the traditional media and polls on one hand, and
the American electorate on the other. At the time, the media reported a closed
match with predictions based on polls/ surveys that indicated Hilary Clinton
has a clear lead in the popular vote as well as in swing states. It is argued
that the media misrepresented to a certain point the interpretation given to
polls data throughout the campaign. Overall, the outcome of single surveys were
incorrect and polling companies working for ABC, CBS, FOX News and The
Economist gave to Hilary Clinton a 4 point advantage. A few media outlets such
as the Los Angeles Times were suggesting that Trump could possibly win. From
this, one can gather that the media puts too much reliance on polls. The polls
failure to indicate the winner of the election, became the media’s failure as
they spent too much attention on the polls.
side of the argument is that the traditional media have not failed the American
public, rather global traditional media platforms demonstrated professionalism
to the American electorate.
In reference to McCombs and Shaw (1972) theoretical postulations that
“the more coverage an issue receives, the more important it is to people”, it
can be reiterated that the global media coverage of the US political events has
displayed a high level of professionalism, particularly when presenting certain
issues of global concern frequently and prominently with the result that large
segment of the American public began to see those issues as more significant
than others. For example, among the global media coverage via 60 different news
outlets in regions that represent over 1.5 million, the Chinese media focused regularly on both candidates’
weaknesses like Clinton’s email controversy and Trump’s sexual harassment
issues, but they still gave attention to the candidates’ policies on trade. The
Russian media criticized the electoral debates for the way the candidates have spent
most of the time talking about negative qualities of their opponents’ failure
and not presenting their vision for the development of the economy. The Arab
media frequently praised Clinton’s position that the Muslims are part of
America’s dream, but cast Trump’s anti-immigrant views negatively and qualified
his candidacy as a ‘sad scenario’ in Western democracy.5
In addition, an important component of successful journalism is the ability
to unearth and explain facts. The media did a good job finding out as much
information as possible about Trump and despite his best efforts; American
citizens know much more about him today than we did before the election started.
Not only this, but we know more about Hillary Clinton.
alternative to traditional media failing the American public is more
specifically the pre-electoral polls in indicating the winner for the primaries
and the general election. Polls, which have long been relied on during
presidential races, failed analysts and American citizens alike who relied on
the data. The polls failed for a number of reasons in the 2016 election. One of
the reasons why polling may have failed in predicting the Presidential winner
and thus failed the American public, is that many polls did not adjust their
weights for the over representation of university (college) graduates. In 2016,
there was a correlation between the presidential vote and education in main
states. Voters with higher education were more likely to vote for Clinton and
studies at the time indicated that people with more formal education were more
likely to participate in surveys than those with less education. Many states
level polls did not adjust their weights to correct the over representation of
college graduates in their surveys – thus leading to the over estimation of
support for Clinton. However, the national presidential polls in the 2016
election were highly accurate by historical standards and more accurate than
the 2012 national polls, resulting in small errors. They correctly indicated
that Hillary Clinton had a lead in the national popular vote, and did not to
the same extent fail the American public. .6
the traditional media did fail the American public during the elections. The
role of the press as Fourth Estate and as a forum for public discussion and
debate has been recognized in this essay. Today, despite the traditional mass
media’s tendency for sensationalism and superficiality, the notion of the media
as watchdog, as guardian of the public interest, and as a conduit between
governors and the governed remains deeply ingrained. The reality, however, is
that the traditional mass media in new and restored democracy does not always
live up to the ideal, as explored.
Many Americans were influenced by
the traditional mass media, who gave a lot of coverage to certain issues on the
two presidential candidates. As a result, their votes were potentially swayed
by the media’s coverage not just on traditional platforms (i.e. television,
newspapers, radios etc.) but via social media and the internet.
errors made by mass media in the run up to and during the elections, indicate
that the principality of neutrality and objectivity was not followed my many
media outlets, in particular national news corporations such as Fox news.
Therefore, a large number of citizens made decisions that they may have not
otherwise made based on biased information propagated by mass media.
there are reason for which traditional mass media did not fail the American
public, for instance the fact that global traditional mass media outlets
presented to citizens an effective coverage of the election as opposed to US
traditional mass media itself.
polls being another factor which failed the American public. However the mass
media did use polls to indicate incorrectly who would win the elections, adding
on to the other host of failures made by traditional mass media.
1 Keith, T. (2017). How ‘Stronger Together’ Became Clinton’s
Response To ‘Make America Great Again’. online NPR.org. Available at: http://www.npr.org/2016/08/08/489138602/trump-comment-gives-clinton-a-campaign-slogan-with-layered-meaning
Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
2 Keith, T. (2017). How ‘Stronger Together’ Became Clinton’s
Response To ‘Make America Great Again’. online NPR.org. Available at:
Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Quoted in Thomas Patterson, “More Style Than Substance,” Political
Communication and Persuasion 8 (1991): 157.
Manjoo, “How the Internet Is Loosening Our Grip on the Truth,” New York Times,
Nov. 2, 2016.
McCombs, M.E. and Shaw, D.L. (1972) The Agenda-setting function of Mass Media
The Opinion Quarterly 36 (2) 176-187