Editorial: Did the media fail in their job during the U.S. election?

 

By Stephanie LI Yingliang

Nov. 26, 2016

 

When CBS Chairman Les Moonves said: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS…The money’s rolling in and this is fun [1],” reporters were still eager to ridicule Donald Trump and his supporters by maximizing the coverage about him and his incredibly controversial comments on sensitive issues. But the game has changed since Trump rose to victory earlier this November.

According to a study by mediaQuant [2], Trump gained from the equivalent of $5.2 billion-worth of free airtime from media. However, the highly commercial TV channels in the United States would never give their prime time show for free.  They enjoyed a massive ratings spike in return.

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist of The Washington Post concluded that “during the primaries, cable news—in particular CNN and Fox, and to some extent MSNBC—gave Trump unhealthily generous, inflated coverage. That helped make him [2].”

So argues the BBC in one of its media reports by quoting a professor of entrepreneurial journalism from City University New York: “The frequent comparison is with the climate change debate and the ‘balance’ of expert opinion. A second (liberal) view is that the media gave Trump far too much unfiltered airtime [3].”

However, the article also points out the fact that he might have come to such conclusion because he is an “active supporter of Hillary Clinton” [3]. At the same time, the connection between Trump and Jeff Zucker, the boss of CNN, has been revealed: he was the same man who hired Trump to present The Apprentice when he worked at NBC.

Al Jazeera also gives their insights in explaining how broadcasters in America have affected the coverage of the election [4]. First, America’s regulatory requirement for editorial fairness is almost non-existent. Taking sides on the editorial or ideological level has never been a secret move in the media industry.

In 1996, President Clinton signed the Telecommunication Act that effectively allowed conglomeration of media, leading to a result of the industry being condensed to the “Big Six” by 2010.  Fairness of media has sometimes been replaced by bias and diversity shrinks to oligopoly, which stand in conflict with journalist’s fundamental mission to serve in the interest of the people.

Secondly, unlike many advanced countries such as Britain, Canada and Germany who have established a mature system of public service broadcaster, America does not have a publicly owned broadcaster provided with stable and consistent resources or funding from the government to compete with privately owned media outlets.

Broadcasting in the U.S. is almost entirely corporate-controlled, which results in a pursuit of corporate interest could sometimes override the public interest in terms of what they consider to be newsworthy.

Now the puzzle seems to be clearing up. Money is the one behind the wheel, or ratings, in a TV term. Yet the problem is rather a complication of a series of defects. The New York Times admits that journalists today have to operate in a new media world “in which they are no longer the center of gravity [5].”

It is impossible to predict who will win the battle between Trump and the media who he believed had “got it all wrong” [6], but the president-elect clearly had it figured out long ago when he first appeared as the “popular villain” on TV or Twitter. An SCMP reports also points out the fact that his agenda fueled by social media successfully rallied an army of supporters online [7]. So far Trump is winning the battle with a strategy to sideline the mainstream media and occupy every day’s front page.

CNN reporter Evan Perez said on Tuesday’s talk that it is almost impossible to ignore Trump for what he did or what he said. Journalists spent months to investigate on the shady and fraudulent Trump University, but he could just pay a few millions to avoid lawsuit.

What makes it worse is that the bond between the media and the public has been severed by social media. “He just cut through the whole process and go straight to the people on Twitter,” said Perez. It get more difficult when the traditional media are no longer able to reach their audience. Whose interest can media serve if the public just stops listening?

Moreover, The Guardian gives an interesting angle to look at the problem by comparing Trump’s triumphant slogan to the Brexiteers’ “take back control” [8]. Conservative voters and liberal votes respond to political discourse differently. The article tries to remind reporters of the power of framings. “Frames are often imposed by means of subtly manipulative language – Unspeak, or argumentative soundbites [8].” When Donald Trump yelled “Let’s make America great again”, the audience would interpret the underlying message as America was a horrible place under the Obama’s administration where people no long had enough jobs, health care or personal security.

The list can go on and on, but I am convinced that as long as reporters keep committing themselves to professionalism – fair, trustworthy, public-serving, the “virtue of truth” still matters to the world.

 

 

 

 

References:

  1. Geneva Overholser: Journalism failed us badly. Here’s how.

http://genevaoverholser.com/2016/11/15/journalism-failed-us-badly-heres-how/

  1. Columbia Journalism Review: Did Trump’s scorched-earth tactics mortally wound the media?

http://www.cjr.org/special_report/trump_media_election.php?facebook&utm_content=bufferdf06f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

  1. BBC: Donald Trump: How the media created the president

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-37952249

  1. Al Jezeera: US elections and the media: How did we get here?

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2016/09/elections-media-160916141606631.html

  1. The New York Times: News Outlets Wonder Where the Predictions Went Wrong

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/10/business/media/news-outlets-wonder-where-the-predictions-went-wrong.html?_r=0

  1. The New York Times: Trump Summons TV Figures for Private Meeting, and Lets Them Have It

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/business/media/trump-summons-tv-figures-for-private-meeting-and-lets-them-have-it.html

  1. SCMP: And so began the Great Age of Trump, with an agenda fueled by social media and hunger for revolt

http://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/2044695/and-so-age-trump-begins-agenda-fuelled-social-media

  1. The Guardian: ‘Make America Great Again’ – why are liberals losing the war of soundbites?

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/13/make-america-great-again-why-are-liberals-losing-the-war-of-soundbites

Did the media fail in their job during the U.S. election?

 

By Stephanie LI Yingliang

Nov. 26, 2016

 

When CBS Chairman Les Moonves said: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS…The money’s rolling in and this is fun [1],” reporters were still eager to ridicule Donald Trump and his supporters by maximizing the coverage about him and his incredibly controversial comments on sensitive issues. But the game has changed since Trump rose to victory earlier this November.

According to a study by mediaQuant [2], Trump gained from the equivalent of $5.2 billion-worth of free airtime from media. However, the highly commercial TV channels in the United States would never give their prime time show for free.  They enjoyed a massive ratings spike in return.

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist of The Washington Post concluded that “during the primaries, cable news—in particular CNN and Fox, and to some extent MSNBC—gave Trump unhealthily generous, inflated coverage. That helped make him [2].”

So argues the BBC in one of its media reports by quoting a professor of entrepreneurial journalism from City University New York: “The frequent comparison is with the climate change debate and the ‘balance’ of expert opinion. A second (liberal) view is that the media gave Trump far too much unfiltered airtime [3].”

However, the article also points out the fact that he might have come to such conclusion because he is an “active supporter of Hillary Clinton” [3]. At the same time, the connection between Trump and Jeff Zucker, the boss of CNN, has been revealed: he was the same man who hired Trump to present The Apprentice when he worked at NBC.

Al Jazeera also gives their insights in explaining how broadcasters in America have affected the coverage of the election [4]. First, America’s regulatory requirement for editorial fairness is almost non-existent. Taking sides on the editorial or ideological level has never been a secret move in the media industry.

In 1996, President Clinton signed the Telecommunication Act that effectively allowed conglomeration of media, leading to a result of the industry being condensed to the “Big Six” by 2010.  Fairness of media has sometimes been replaced by bias and diversity shrinks to oligopoly, which stand in conflict with journalist’s fundamental mission to serve in the interest of the people.

Secondly, unlike many advanced countries such as Britain, Canada and Germany who have established a mature system of public service broadcaster, America does not have a publicly owned broadcaster provided with stable and consistent resources or funding from the government to compete with privately owned media outlets.

Broadcasting in the U.S. is almost entirely corporate-controlled, which results in a pursuit of corporate interest could sometimes override the public interest in terms of what they consider to be newsworthy.

Now the puzzle seems to be clearing up. Money is the one behind the wheel, or ratings, in a TV term. Yet the problem is rather a complication of a series of defects. The New York Times admits that journalists today have to operate in a new media world “in which they are no longer the center of gravity [5].”

It is impossible to predict who will win the battle between Trump and the media who he believed had “got it all wrong” [6], but the president-elect clearly had it figured out long ago when he first appeared as the “popular villain” on TV or Twitter. An SCMP reports also points out the fact that his agenda fueled by social media successfully rallied an army of supporters online [7]. So far Trump is winning the battle with a strategy to sideline the mainstream media and occupy every day’s front page.

CNN reporter Evan Perez said on Tuesday’s talk that it is almost impossible to ignore Trump for what he did or what he said. Journalists spent months to investigate on the shady and fraudulent Trump University, but he could just pay a few millions to avoid lawsuit.

What makes it worse is that the bond between the media and the public has been severed by social media. “He just cut through the whole process and go straight to the people on Twitter,” said Perez. It get more difficult when the traditional media are no longer able to reach their audience. Whose interest can media serve if the public just stops listening?

Moreover, The Guardian gives an interesting angle to look at the problem by comparing Trump’s triumphant slogan to the Brexiteers’ “take back control” [8]. Conservative voters and liberal votes respond to political discourse differently. The article tries to remind reporters of the power of framings. “Frames are often imposed by means of subtly manipulative language – Unspeak, or argumentative soundbites [8].” When Donald Trump yelled “Let’s make America great again”, the audience would interpret the underlying message as America was a horrible place under the Obama’s administration where people no long had enough jobs, health care or personal security.

The list can go on and on, but I am convinced that as long as reporters keep committing themselves to professionalism – fair, trustworthy, public-serving, the “virtue of truth” still matters to the world.

 

 

 

 

References:

  1. Geneva Overholser: Journalism failed us badly. Here’s how.

http://genevaoverholser.com/2016/11/15/journalism-failed-us-badly-heres-how/

  1. Columbia Journalism Review: Did Trump’s scorched-earth tactics mortally wound the media?

http://www.cjr.org/special_report/trump_media_election.php?facebook&utm_content=bufferdf06f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

  1. BBC: Donald Trump: How the media created the president

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-37952249

  1. Al Jezeera: US elections and the media: How did we get here?

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2016/09/elections-media-160916141606631.html

  1. The New York Times: News Outlets Wonder Where the Predictions Went Wrong

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/10/business/media/news-outlets-wonder-where-the-predictions-went-wrong.html?_r=0

  1. The New York Times: Trump Summons TV Figures for Private Meeting, and Lets Them Have It

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/business/media/trump-summons-tv-figures-for-private-meeting-and-lets-them-have-it.html

  1. SCMP: And so began the Great Age of Trump, with an agenda fueled by social media and hunger for revolt

http://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/2044695/and-so-age-trump-begins-agenda-fuelled-social-media

  1. The Guardian: ‘Make America Great Again’ – why are liberals losing the war of soundbites?

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/13/make-america-great-again-why-are-liberals-losing-the-war-of-soundbites

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