By Kathy English for the Toronto Star
“We, the media, were also on the ballot.”
– NBC anchor Lester Holt.
“To put it bluntly, the media missed the story. Make no mistake. This is an epic fail.”
– Margaret Sullivan, Media columnist, Washington Post
Mostly, I #blame my profession, media. We must undertake a harsh, honest post mortem.”
– Jeff Jarvis, Journalism professor and author
Let the post mortems and the mea culpas begin.
Undoubtedly there are innumerable conferences to be held, books to be written and PhD dissertations to be defended on the subject of the media and Election 2016. This being the age of instant analysis via always-on social media, a great many wise words have already been proclaimed and a number of smart theses put forward to help us make sense of the historic ascension of Donald J. Trump, the man so many of us never for a second believed could ever be president of the United States of America.
I have read so many of these analyses by now, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole. Did we, the media, fail? Or, did the media – especially the legacy print media — do its critical job of fact-checkingand exposing lies but those facts simply did not matter to half of a highly polarized America? Did the media create Trump or did Trump, in demonizing the media, use journalism to his own ends? Should we blame a hollowed-out mainstream media faced with diminished resources, or was this myopia brought on by journalists and pundits grown comfortably complacent in the echo chambers of our filter bubbles?
Facts can be found to support any one of these theories – each in its own way a dismal indictment of the media and political journalism. Whatever we ultimately blame, the fact is, though Hillary Clinton captured more of the popular vote than Trump, our neighbors nevertheless elected a man with zero political experience who spewed racist, sexist, xenophobic hate throughout his campaign, and the media establishment, pollsters and pundits never really saw his victory coming.
For that, much media soul-searching is called for. Indeed, that began in earnest this week. As Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, put it so bluntly the morning after the election: “Journalism’s moment of reckoning has arrived.
“Its inability to understand Donald Trump’s rise over the last year, ending in his victory Tuesday night, clearly stands among journalism’s great failures, certainly in a generation and probably in modern times,” Pope wrote. “In terms of our bellwether moments, this is our anti-Watergate.”