We will see lots of what I call “media culpa” in the days and weeks ahead. So called journalism experts asking what did we do wrong during the presidential campaign? The Economist today was pondering that. Other media have begun.
I shake my head when I hear that question because the answer is so painfully obvious.
News organizations are obsessed with polls. In part because many editors and journalists don’t understand mathematics. But they believe in the scientific infallibility of numbers. By now you would think the news media would realize their misguided faith.
Worse still is that publishing poll results, as if they were newsworthy, is a lazy excuse for not leaving the newsroom and actually talking with people to learn what they think.
Decades of academic research shows that survey respondents often don’t tell the truth. They say what they think the questioners want to hear.
Yes, many Donald Trump supporters are willing to speak truthfully. But other voters, who would be embarrassed to admit they were going to support a candidate the media had dismissed as an unqualified buffoon, would speak candidly.
Media not Trustworthy
I think many journalists try to do a good job, but given today’s 24/7 pressure to publish constantly and across multiple platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.), there is too little time to seriously analyze issues before writing about them. Again, too many journalists choose the fastest, easiest way to satisfy their bosses expectations to be first with the news.
It really is “shoot first and ask questions later.” No surprise then that the percentage of error-filled stories has increased and public trust in the media now is at a historic low.
This is especially apparent among the national media confined to their ideological cocoons along the East Coast. Even a cursory examination of campaign stories reveals a liberal distaste for anything that smacks of conservatism. In a phrase, Hillary Trump must win; Donald Trump must lose. And that belief dictated the campaign narrative from almost Day One.
I’m not optimistic the media will change its current practices. In fact, the narrative that many news organizations adopted for the campaign will be their model applied to the Donald Trump presidency.
Trump, according to the storyline, is a bigoted, misogynistic, anti-establishment figure who most certainly will further divide our nation by trying to implement many of the promises he made during his campaign. He attacked Muslims, denigrated women, pledged to build a wall to stop illegal immigration, scrap the Affordable Care Act and tear up the Iran Nuclear Deal.
These and other assertions will inspire many media to frame the Donald Trump presidency accordingly. Journalists will quickly publish any hints that the President-elect will move in that direction after he is sworn into office January 20.
Quite simply it’s easier to seek confirmation of your belief than it is to exercise neutrality, balance and report objectively what actually happens. The latter requires commitment to truth. A commodity in short supply today
The media culpa will be short lived. Today’s soul searching will dissipate before the new year. Then it will be back to the same routine. Little learned and nothing changed.