As someone who works for a very mainstream media company, albeit not at what would be considered a very mainstream publication, I don’t typically go out and publicly diss people who profess to share the profession of journalism with me. But as we come to the conclusion of the presidential primary season, I think it’s clear that major news organizations heavily shaped the narrative of this election, and whether through neglect or intent are directly responsible for the candidates we’re now presented with for the highest office in this nation.
Heckuva job, folks.
First, there’s the Trump candidacy. NBC, particularly the Today Show, gave Trump a platform to say anything he wanted, whenever he wanted to, without challenging him for the first two thirds of the primary season. In their efforts to (I guess) give him enough rope to hang himself, the major media outlets instead gave him an unprecedented amount of airtime, letting him say pretty much anything that came into his head. They treated him as entertainment, thinking he was good TV. He used them to get to an audience that took him at his word.
The New York Times ignored Trump, and focused on taking down the man they had decided fit their narrative to be the Republican presumptive nominee– Marco Rubio. They spent much of their energy on the front page probing Rubio’s finances and voting record. They spent hardly any effort on Trump’s fertile fields of scandal–his misogyny, his bankruptcies, his manipulation of municipal governments, his mob ties, his outright lying all went relatively untouched, just as they were never explored by broadcast media.
Meanwhile, having already selected Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee, the media pretty much ignored the Democratic race, expending most of their coverage on Clinton. Only when Sanders was posing a real threat did they suddenly start paying attention to the Democrats more closely–and then they began to marginalize Sanders. Pundits were openly hostile to Sanders. The New York Times was almost transparently against him in their coverage. And then, as the campaign came close to the end, the media blatantly moved to kill the Sanders surge by announcing Clinton as the winner in advance of primaries that could have put Sanders dangerously close to Clinton–discouraging turnout.
There is room for only one outsider in this election, it seems, and that is Trump, who makes outsiders look insane. This is not to say that Sanders was an ideal candidate, or even that he deserved to win the nomination–though he was the one with a campaign of ideas based on the ideals of the old left of the Democratic Party, while Clinton’s campaign has been about #ImWithHer #ItsHerTurn #Inevitability and #IncrementalRollback.
I’m at a loss to name any media outlet that has consistently provided balanced, unbiased coverage of the candidates thus far this election year. Maybe it was because of the zoo of Republican candidates, the historical narrative of Clinton, and a lack of resources in this fragmented media age to cover all the angles. But unfortunately, the crowded media space and the fragmented coverage, coupled with the heavy filtering and echo chamber effect of social media–where it seems most people now get their “news”–have made it even more vital for well-resourced news organizations to actually report in an unbiased way about the candidates, their platforms, their motives, and their baggage.
Both Clinton and Trump have high negatives, but the media has even higher negatives after the first half of this campaign–particularly on the question of trust.