Freedom of the press is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Criticism of the press and mainstream media’s (MSM) handling of the 2016 Election has been rampant, but did the press abuse or push the bounds of this constitutional freedom?
Everyone is screaming bias. Some of the most notable hard evidence against the media comes from Wikileaks Podesta email releases showing collusion between the media and the Clinton team as well as Donna Brazile sending debate questions to the Clinton team in advance of a town hall debate.
Actions such as these have been going on -- on both sides -- for years; the Clinton campaign was not some new form of evil -- they represented business as usual. The difference during this election cycle was that Wikileaks provided a never before seen look at the inner workings of the media.
Extensive studies will surely be done on the media’s influence on this unusual election, but a series of studies has been released by Harvard providing initial insight into the handling of this year’s election by the press.
One of the studies concluded that coverage of the election was not dictated by some sort of vast liberal conspiracy, but “It’s a lot simpler: reporters like a good story. It’s what their business is based on. And this year, Trump’s narrative seemed more novel than that of Clinton or Sanders.”
Trump was reported on extensively. His name was unavoidable for anyone following the news. Was this coverage, which often reported on negative aspects of Trump, motivated by a desire to boost Clinton, or a desire to report on the enigma of the Donald Trump candidacy?
"Trump’s dominant presence in the news stemmed from the fact that his words and actions were ideally suited to journalists’ story needs,” the study author wrote. “The news is not about what’s ordinary or expected. It’s about what’s new and different, better yet when laced with conflict and outrage. Trump delivered that type of material by the cart load.”
The most recent of these studies focuses on the overwhelmingly negative coverage of the election as a whole. The analysis concluded that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton “received coverage that was overwhelmingly negative in tone and extremely light on policy.” There was more negative coverage on Trump than Clinton, but coverage was predominantly negative for both, amounting to 77 and 64 percent negative coverage, respectively.
If the media was working in favor of Clinton — their methodology certainly backfired.
“Although conservatives claim that the press has a liberal bias, the media’s persistent criticism of government reinforces the right wing’s anti-government message” wrote Thomas Patterson, the study’s author. Additionally, Trump received 15% more coverage than Clinton, amounting to billions of dollars worth of free coverage, and money talks.
Distrust of MSM has driven an increasing number of people to more fringe websites such as Drudge Report, Breitbart, and Infowars, evidencing a backlash against sources traditionally viewed as credible. Many conservatives now feel unwelcome when visiting MSM sites, pushing them into the arms of the ultra-conservative sites, thus increasing our ideological divide.
Some of this objection to MSM is warranted (as previously mentioned). However, some comes from unsubstantiated claims made by the kinds of sites listed above as well as from the president-elect himself. As has been evidenced by the fake news phenomenon, readers need to be vigilant when reading the news. I would also warn readers to be wary of sites that regularly publish conspiratorial stories.
Trump was objectively the most interesting candidate. It is no surprise that the media took advantage of that fact. This combined with the overall negative tone of election coverage as a whole bred a general distrust of the media. MSM will need to shift its focus from what is sensational to what is factual if it wishes to regain the public’s trust.
The election coverage of 2016 wasn’t a conspiracy -- it was a race to the bottom with sensational coverage and negativity.