- - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

When the campaign smoke clears after Election Day, and Americans see the president they elected, the reputation of the media will lie among the ruins. The art of journalism has taken a pasting as a source of credible information. Masters of the press can blame only themselves, but they won’t do that. The losers are the innocent and naive who think the media preserves the distinction between fact and fiction. The notion that the press should give light and let the people find their own way has evaporated in the newsrooms.

Only the purposely uninformed could miss the intensity of the rancor of the campaign that mercifully ends Tuesday with the election of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The Donald has absorbed most of the anger of a major media hell-bent on magnifying his negatives and shortcomings and minimizing Hillary’s. A new AP/Gfk poll finds that nearly 6 of every 10 likely voters say that coverage has been tilted against the Donald, fewer than 1 in 10 think it favors him and only 4 in 10 think the coverage is fair and balanced.

A scientific study by the Media Research Center confirms this conclusion. It finds that 91 percent of the Trump coverage over the past 12 weeks has been “hostile,” concentrating on accusations of his shabby treatment of women, and sparing Hillary of a close examination of her sins and shortcomings. This holds even after the FBI reopened its investigation of her playing fast and loose with classified information, which the director of the FBI called “extremely careless” of national-security concerns while she was secretary of State.

Standards for social media, which are low to nonexistent with few editors to enforce them, has further soured the public taste for responsible political conversation. A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that while adults regard politics as a fact of life on social media, a majority “expresses annoyance and aggravation at the tone and content of the political interactions they witness on these platforms.” In plain English, people don’t like what they read, hear and see. Thirty-seven percent of social media users complain they are “worn out” by the barrage of political content, a far greater number than the 20 percent who say they enjoy the heavy political cannonading. Most telling is that 59 percent say the dialogue with those of opposing political views is “stressful and frustrating.” Only 35 percent say they find it “interesting and informative.”

News coverage, particularly in newspapers, has traditionally been divided into news and opinion, enforced by a barrier rivaling the Great Wall of China. Working reporters learned early which side of the wall they worked on, and editors made sure of it. Donating money to a politician was not forbidden, for example, but it meant that a donor couldn’t cover the campaign. The Center for Public Integrity reports that federal campaign finance filings show that reporters, news editors and television news anchors have contributed nearly $400,000 to Hillary’s campaign. Only $14,000 has gone to the Donald.

Only 32 percent of Americans, according to Gallup polling, say they have “a fair amount or a great deal of trust” in the accounts of the news they read and hear. Taken with the AP/Gfk poll reporting heavy bias in Hillary’s favor, it’s clear the media, or what in its glory days was called “the press,” deserves a failing grade for coverage of the 2016 campaign. Voters deserve better.

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