The day before the November 8 election I thought “the election would either be over at 8:03 PM when California’s 55 electoral votes go to Hillary” – as we all knew they would – “or it will be a very long night”.
What made me think the latter possible? It was just a feeling that it would be closer than the media polling suggested. http://www.reimagineamerica.org/poll-counts-election-day/
It Started with Florida
On Election Day I waited to turn on the TV until the polls closed in Western Florida – 4:30 PM in California.
I was monitoring the computer as the first returns came in. Mr. Trump had a small but sustained lead.
Wait a minute, I thought, “These are the early votes and mail-in votes.” The media had shown long lines of early voters the previous week — reporting Hillary Clinton was “banking” these votes.
“These numbers do not include any of Western Florida – the “red neck Riviera”—heavily Republican.
Something is happening here.”
I turned off the computer, moved to the living room and there I remained – transfixed – until I sent my son a text during President Elect Trump’s acceptance speech reading simply – “I’m STUNNED”. He replied – “I know, I am watching it”
Main Stream Media Stunned
As I sat down, the major network anchors were cheerfully reporting — despite early vote counts in Florida and North Carolina — “battleground states” – Hillary had a “comfortable lead” based on exit polls. Turns out the polls had no resemblance to reality.
The main stream media was so certain of Hillary Clinton’s victory that they lost their objectivity – reporting what they wished and expected rather than acknowledging and examining what was happening.
How many potential voters outside the Eastern Time Zone believed the media pronouncements and decided they didn’t need to bother to vote – i.e. outcome was already certain?
Only the elder statesman of the establishment media, Tom Brokaw, cautioned the media needed to wait for the American people to vote before declaring the era of the first woman President of the United States.
Role of the Media
It is the job of the media to inform the electorate not to inflame or manipulate it.
I watch three nightly news programs every day — NBC Nightly News, ABC Nightly News and Fox’s Special Report.
Some days, I appear to be living in three separate countries.
What each network considers the “news of the day” is vastly different.
- Sometimes they don’t cover the same stories.
- Other nights the priority each network gives to the same story is vastly different.
- Often the “facts” reported are substantively different.
On a normal night, to figure out what’s really happening, I have to compare the reports to glean the factoids. I define a factoid as a “fact” that remains consistent over two or more reports.
The rest is opinion, editorial bias and just plain hype – the stuff that drives ratings. Ratings drive advertising revenue but they do very little to improve our democracy.
Proliferation of Tribal Media
The proliferation of news media – including cable television, social media, and the “old grey ladies” of the print newspaper and magazine world – has allowed viewers and readers to tailor their consumption to only the news they want to read or hear.
We’ve transformed our media into a whole host of parallel echo chambers – philosophic tribes to use the vernacular of the last two weeks.
Too often, reporters — consciously or unconsciously – censor themselves by selecting the facts they report and – in so doing surrender their journalistic integrity to the network’s chosen narrative.
When a federal civil rights law suit filed in San Jose, California, and Wikileaks revealed that many of the “protesters” at Trump rallies were – in fact – Democratic “dirty tricks” operatives – only Fox Network covered the news.
The narrative was that Trump supporters were violent racists. They initiated a riot that police could not control.
The video introduced in the law suit – and later showed on local TV — shows the opposite. The Trump supporters walking out of SAP Arena were met by a mob punching men and women indiscriminately, kicking them, throwing eggs and other missiles while the San Jose Police Department stood by and watched.
The facts of violence against Trump supporters did not agree with the major networks’ narrative of Trump supporters as violent racists – so they hushed up the facts.
Recommit to the Basics of Journalism
It is time the press recommits to the basics of journalism: reporting the facts of the case (who, what, where, when, why and how).
Facts are verifiable, documented events, comments, and actions.
Facts are objective, black and white – not what the reporter may wish them to be.
It’s, also, part of a reporter’s responsibility to opine — but only after they’ve reported the facts and with a clear statement of delineation between the two.
The traditional role of the media to engage in healthy debate, questioning authority, is vital to the functioning of a healthy democracy.
An Inquiring Press
America needs a free, independent, unbiased press corps more today than ever before.
If we can’t trust our politicians – then we must be able to trust our press to be the ever vigilant guardians of our freedom.
Guarding our liberty begins with objective reporting that the citizen of any persuasion can rely on.
Only after there is agreement on what the facts actually are — can the citizen begin to take seriously the debate between competing solutions.
“If I am not sure what the problem is – how can I evaluate the potential solutions? How can I participate in the public debate, counsel my representatives or vote smartly?”
Until that lesson is internalized by the press – the average American will continue to despair of “politics as usual” — an unholy alliance between political partisans and media elites more interested in their own success than ours.
The consequence of the status quo: an erosion of confidence in the fundamental institutions of our republic.
Graphic Courtesy of the Washington Post