Deaf electorate or media in a bubble?

BY SEEMA SIROHI| IN Opinion | 12/11/2016
The demolition of Trump – an honorable enterprise for editorial writers -- occupied the media more than investigative reporting on the people.
SEEMA SIROHI in Washington DC

Did they misreport or fail to listen to the electorate enough?

 

Everyone got this US election wrong, including the Republicans. Even Donald Trump must have been surprised since he had booked only a small ballroom for the “after party”  -- more suited to a concession than an acceptance speech. 

Most polls had consistently shown Hillary Clinton in the lead with varying margins, the pundits had convinced themselves of her victory based on the polls, and the reporters brought information from the ground that seemed to support the assumption. Yet, the media and the pollsters missed something, somewhere – they failed to quantify the depth of discontent.

Were they sitting in their echo chambers, not getting out enough to talk to real people or were they so contemptuous of Trump supporters, they failed to make an honest assessment of what really was going on, especially in the heartland of America? The two liberal coasts do not a country make.

Trump didn’t make it easy for the media with his constant bullying and inciting of supporters against journalists. He purposely put the media in a pen – like animals on display – as his supporters booed and hissed at them at rallies. It was hard and sometimes dangerous work.

"Charges are flying thick and fast about journalists reporting their own biases and not the people’s voices."

But the day after is even harder and full of what ifs. American media is going through an intense phase of introspection, even self-flagellation to understand why voters didn’t see the truth as they saw it – that Trump was unfit to be president and Clinton was better qualified. Charges are flying thick and fast about journalists reporting their own biases and not the people’s voices.

To be fair, US media reported on the negatives of both candidates in detail. Trump’s tax evasion, his “charity” foundation that took more and gave less, his multiple bankruptcies, and finally the allegations of sexual assault by multiple women, were front-page news.

There was plenty of reporting on Clinton’s shortcomings, her expensive speaking fees, her penchant for secrecy, and her private email server. The weekly bombardment from Wikileaks ensured that her misdemeanors were never far from sight. Voters knew about the“pay for play” allegations that she accepted huge donations for the Clinton Foundation from foreign governments while she was secretary of state. 

Shoe-leather reporting that requires resources, grit and time was in abundance, especially between the two great pillars of print journalism – The New York Times and The Washington Post. There were many others with local scoops and scooplets on the candidates. USA Today examined 3,500 legal filings by and against Trump to get to the bottom of his legal entanglements.

It seemed newspapers – the real deal in the vast media landscape – were back in business this election cycle with reports of their death having been greatly exaggerated. Yet, their eagle eye missed the big picture.

One possible explanation is that key newspapers – the ones that set the tone and content for 24x7 news channels – focused on the flaws of the candidates and not enough on the people and the hunger for “change.”

The hunger was so great, voters were prepared to ignore the tragic irony of embracing a demagogue billionaire to be their champion – something the big media didn’t understand, couldn’t accept and therefore didn’t report to the extent needed.

There were many honorable exceptions such as The New Yorker’s George Packer who wrote arguably the best long piece about the pain and discontent of Americans left out by the new economy, of quiet towns in the industrial belt where factories had stopped humming and the dream had died.

It was a complex, nuanced reflection on the people’s state of mind, the Democratic Party and the wall in between. Somehow, the white working class, once a bastion of the Dems, was now enthralled by a faux Republican who simply wanted to break things. The question was why and the answer was delivered on Tuesday.

But such reporting doesn’t translate well on crowded TV panels where checking a box is more important – one Democrat, one Republican, one black, two whites, one Hispanic and a couple of house reporters.

"The Washington Post was so outraged, it published seven editorials on consecutive days in October picking Trump apart issue by issue."

The dominant and easier narrative was about Clinton’s experience, her accomplishments and her innate ability to handle a complex world. Trump, on the other hand, was a man too gauche for comfort. The Ku Klux Klan’s official newspaper had endorsed him. He would surely be unacceptable to fair minded Americans.

Since the educated, elite class couldn’t stomach the idea of Trump in the White House, they precluded others who could. The Washington Post was so outraged, it published seven editorials on consecutive days in October picking Trump apart issue by issue.

It would appear the demolition of Trump – an honorable enterprise for editorial writers -- occupied the media more than investigative reporting on the people.

One of the most damning memories from this election will remain the “live” election forecast needle of The New York Times. For weeks it gave Clinton between 80 to 90% chance of victory but on election day, it had shifted to 50-50 in the evening and by 10 pm it was swinging 90% for Trump. It exemplified “The Missing” like none other.

 

 

The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring. Your support is vital for this website. Click here to make a contribution.
Subscribe To The Newsletter

In observance of National Press Day today Rajasthan Patrika carried  a blank editorial saying that it was a day meant to celebrate independent  and responsible journalism. But in Rajasthan this was endangered by the black law the state government was seeking to introduce. It said it opposed a law which amounted to the murder of democracy.                                        

 Zee News has rolled up its sleeves  to do battle on behalf of the BJP as the Gujarat elections approach.  On Nov 14 they played the Hardik Patel CD at prime time,  and when it showed precious little that was incriminating the voice over said the channel was not playing some parts of the tape because it was not fit to telecast.  On Nov 15 Sudhir Chaudhary was doing one of his endless piece-to-cameras on the history of the Ayodhya dispute.                                  

View More