When I saw this piece from Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith claiming that the mainstream media had been “vindicated” in their insistence that their coverage of Donald Trump had been tough and thorough, I thought at first it had to be some sort of parody from The Onion.
But it is real, and sadly I predict will become the default narrative as the press slaps itself on the back in the aftermath of this presidential election.
The reality of the situation is the press in America has done a worse job of covering this election than it did in covering the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The press devoted hundreds of hours and thousands of column inches of uncritical coverage to a wholly unqualified and dangerous presidential candidate, treating his dangerous ideas and thoughts as if they were perfectly within the realm of acceptable, rational political discourse.
Here is a man who called for a ban on Muslim travel to America, prosecution of women for having an abortion, the execution of innocent black men for a rape they did not commit, building a “big, beautiful wall” along the southern border to keep out Mexicans who he smeared as rapists and criminals – and the list goes on and on.
The press in America – print, broadcast, and online – instead of immediately positioning itself as a bulwark against impending fascism, looked at the pageviews and ratings that Trump was bringing in and saw dollar signs. Rather than point out that Trump was directly positioned against the American ideal, they elevated ridiculous “optics” controversies about Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation (often fed to them directly via slanted right wing operations) to normalize Trump’s fascistic world view.
As they did 13 years ago in allowing themselves to be used as vessels for the Bush/Cheney con job that saw weapons of mass destruction on the front page of the New York Times, the press was asleep at the wheel.
Even the supposedly “policy” angle to the 2016 election was botched by the media. Multiple outlets – CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post – insisted without evidence that Trump had “tapped into” serious concerns about the global economy. Because so much of the media is largely white and male, instead of zeroing in on the obvious racism of a huge percentage of Trump supporters egged on by the carnival barker, we were treated to profile after profile after profile of one sad older white person after another supposedly motivated by “economic anxiety.” And yet a media so obsessed by false equivalence and balance has steadfastly refused to devote the same sort of resources to in depth profiles of Clinton supporters, despite polling consistently showing they are a larger percentage of the American populace. We didn’t get media profiles of voters – black, Latino, LGBT, and white – who endorse Clinton’s inclusive platform and who give President Obama high marks for turning around the country during his tenure.
Evidently a coalition that produced a President who has a 55% approval rating and cut unemployment in half is not worth profiling. I suspect much of this comes from the brutally honest fact that the people who produce our journalism don’t come from backgrounds and homes that resemble the Obama coalition, which now backs Clinton.
It should not take a video of Trump saying crude, vulgar things legitimizing sexual assault to disqualify him. Modern journalism didn’t take down Trump, it propped him up.
Had the media stopped pursuing the almighty buck and plaudits from Republican inner circles, they would have been able to look up and see that a majority of Americans – despite the media – was well on its way to rejecting Trump and the white nationalism he stands for.
But far too much of the press saw their racist uncle or grandma in the crowd of people supporting him, and shied away from doing their jobs in protecting democracy and the republic.
The voters and public at large exposed Trump, the media is just trying to take credit.