By Sylvia Stead for The Globe and Mail
In just over a week, the United States will go to the polls in an election that has been unprecedented – not just because of the bizarre nature of the campaign, but because of the impact it has had on journalists, both personally and professionally, in their everyday jobs.
Reporters know that, when campaigning, politicians often spin the facts to their advantage, shade the truth and omit the bad news. But this election is different. Members of the media have been forced outside their comfort zone – reporting what each side says – to consider what fairness and balance are really all about.
Of course, as Canadians, we are interested observers rather than participants, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the drama, especially when the stakes are so high and the impact so immediate.
At a glance, the complaints I have received about The Globe’s coverage seem fairly typical – claims that we are guilty of favouritism, lack of balance, etc. – except that even here, north of the border, the criticism seems more emotional than usual.
Some readers accuse The Globe of favouring the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton. “Where’s the balance in the columns?” asks one, while another says: “Your coverage of the U.S. election is very pro-Clinton – Trump’s missteps get front-page attention vs Clinton’s, not covered or tucked away in a small back article.”
But they are a very small handful. Many, many more are anti-Trump. “You are at it again,” says one. “You have a two-page spread on the U.S. election, and what do you do? You give fully half the spread to Trump and absolutely nothing to Clinton. I am so sick of the wildly unfair coverage of her.”
There is no doubt that Mr. Trump is a newsmaker, but paying more attention to him isn’t necessarily a good thing. It just as easily may be hurting his campaign. As for balance, it is not a question of quantity – having the same number of words written about both candidates. True fairness lies in treating them the same – challenging their policies, the spin they put on things and, at times, the outright lies they tell.