ANDERSON: How media failed us during election season


Opinions Column: A 'Popped' Culture


I am writing to you as a profoundly frustrated, yet unsurprised citizen of these United States in light of this year’s election. I write with the hope that, through education and the crucial examination of the systems in place, we feel empowered to correct them, make the decisions and enact the changes that will lead to a better future. 

With that said—

I blame the media.

While the whole blame cannot be placed on the media, they were one of the many catalysts that led to the indisputable disaster of a president elect this country has put forth.

With the help of an excellent Shornstein Center article titled "News Coverage of the 2016 Presidential Primaries: Horse Race Reporting Has Consequences," I will attempt to show how mainstream media failed, as usual, in their job of ensuring well-informed citizens before their hands reached the voting booth. This article specifically deals with the primaries but please understand that the Horse Race approach to covering this election was 100 percent continued going into the last months of the election.

What is Horse Race reporting?

Horse race reporting is the type of “news” dissemination that offers little-to-no insight on the policies and intentions of the candidates, but rather, much like a horse race, reporters and news anchors magically become sports announcers giving the concerned public incessant unsolicited updates on who is winning and who is losing.

According to the article, during the primaries, the Republican race received 63 percent more coverage than the Democratic race. Trump received 25 percent more media coverage than Clinton and 50 percent more coverage than Sanders. Another section of the article deals with the “tone” that was used when discussing the candidates. Coverage for Clinton was 53 percent negative and Trump’s coverage was 51 percent negative.

Sounds fair.

But it should be noted that Trump’s coverage was mainly positive until the media started to realize that he could possibly win the election once Cruz and Kasich dropped out. Then all of the sudden the tone used in regard to Trump was 61 percent negative during the last few weeks of the primaries.

Here is the issue. These statistics show us that the media had an opportunity to approach Trump as a national travesty from the beginning and decided not to. They decided, instead, to trivialize the potential harm he could bring, and normalize his candidacy. Then, they completely ignored the Democratic race (which itself was a blatant scam), while still going out of their way to focus more attention on guess who? Our current President Reject.

Why does the media’s mediocre and immature coverage matter to voters? It matters because the news media has an inherent and dangerous psychological effect on its viewership. The article cites journalist Jules Witcover who, in the early 1970’s, commented on the psychological role the media has on the perspectives of voters. He said, “The fact is that the reality of the early going of a presidential campaign is . . . the psychological impact of the results — the perception by press, public and contending politicians of what has happened.”

The narrative the media gave their audiences was that Trump was doing “surprisingly well.” You can feel the positivity ringing all over that statement. Clinton was consistently touted as not doing as well as she “should have been doing”. That statement, while negative, still has a hint of an inevitable win and hope in the word “should.” As though Sanders, who received positive vibes but unequal coverage, was the sad Democratic little brother who would never get enough status to come out from the shadow of his big sister Hillary.

Every single headline was flooded with implications.

Let’s keep stirring this horrific cake batter. So on one end the media is sending audiences subliminal messages in regards to who’s “winning” and “losing,” but on the other side, they are also not providing their viewership with any substantial coverage of policies. Rather, they chose to mention a policy only if it helped to indicate how a candidate would do with a specific voting demographic (i.e. abortion and millennials or policing and black people). Hillary’s emails got more coverage then all the policies of all the other candidates combined. Journalism majors across America are all sighing vehemently.

The result of all of this is the media’s swaying of politics. They unintentionally become dictators of what the final outcomes will be based on how they decide to cover a candidate. If a candidate happens to win a caucus or two early on, they are drenched in positive coverage that statistically tends to drag them into a realm of inevitable victory in the minds of the voters. As the article says, “It is as if the runners in a 100-meter dash were stopped after 20 meters, with those in the lead placed at the 25-meter mark while those in the back placed at the 15-meter mark before the restart.”

Trust me, I understand that it is hard for news anchors to talk policy without running the risk of people grabbing their remotes and changing the channel to the Kardashians. But what happens when the news becomes another version of the Kardashians, just with higher stakes and — maybe perhaps — more people who care?

Michael Anderson is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in Africana studies and digital communication, information and media. His column, “A ‘Popped’ Culture,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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Michael Anderson

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