Defining what’s broken

Were U.S. voters well informed when they picked Trump?


Did the media fail?

“The forces that drove this election’s media failure are likely to get worse,” declares a Nieman Lab headline. “Trump Was Not a Media Fail,” reads another on Politico.

Good grief. We can’t even figure out if we have a problem.

Did the media fail? Does the question itself demonstrate bias for candidate Clinton and against Trump, the president-elect?

Not if we’re discussing how the media failed to take accurate measure of the electorate and predict a Trump victory. It’s a legitimate question and answers should be sought. Polling, probability and prognostication were a big slice of the coverage pie this election cycle. Statistics professionals will study and improve their methodologies. Journalists will, hopefully, do the same. The development of new guidelines for the sourcing and volume of such coverage would bode well for the next election.

If, on the other hand, we’re discussing how the media failed to convince the electorate that Trump was unqualified to run, let alone win, than bias would seem evident. Even so, that version of the question is germane to the purpose of this blog.

“There was an enormous amount of good journalism done on Trump and this entire election cycle,” Joshua Benton writes in his Nieman Lab piece. “The problem is that not enough people sought it out. And of those who did, not enough of them trusted it to inform their political decisions. And even for many of those, the good journalism was crowded out by the fragmentary glimpses of nonsense.”

In his Politico piece, Jack Shafer says it isn’t that Americans didn’t absorb the accurate, negative reporting about Trump; it’s that many voters chose to discount what they’d learned. “As the Cook Report notes today,” Shafer writes, “newspaper investigations cemented into the public mind the pre-existing image of Donald Trump as a bad person, as exit polls showed that 60 percent of voters viewed him unfavorably. But that didn’t keep 15 percent of those who thought he was deplorable from voting for him. Likewise, 63 percent of voters believe Trump lacked the right ‘temperament’ to be president. But of those respondents, 20 percent said what the hell and voted for him anyway. And 60 percent of voters said he wasn’t qualified to be president—and you can guess the rest: 18 percent of them voted for him.”

Shafer says voters absorbed Trump’s negatives but Clinton “was judged worse or equal on a couple of scores.” The voters, Shafer goes on, also favored Trump’s simplified message. “He slung praise upon a constituency that was starved for the respect of a plain-speaking candidate, and they rolled over on their backs and grinned, tongues akimbo, as he scratched their bellies.”

(I thought Trump’s message was very simple: Don’t think. Just trust me.)

Benton says the prevalence of false anti-Clinton copy online, particularly on Facebook, diverted voters away from the truth. “There were just too many people voting in this election because they were infuriated by made-up things they read online.” The view that lies spread on Facebook contributed to Trump’s victory, though, has been rejected by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. On November 10, USA Today reported he said the idea that fake news spread by Facebook influenced the election was “pretty crazy.”

You can’t fix a problem without defining it first. Did the media fail? If so, how?

Author: TAM

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