Rethinking Journalism in Light of the 2016 Election

I know at this point, everyone just wants to put the 2016 presidential election behind them and never think of it again. However, it has been instrumental in shaping my beliefs regarding what I expect in a presidential candidate and how my personal beliefs line up with the people in our government today. Most importantly though, it made me lose my passion for journalism.

For the longest time I was apathetic about what happened in the political world, too naive to understand how it affected me and those around me. Once I got to college and began pursuing a journalism degree, I was forced to pay attention to the media I was consuming — that I am forced to consume to stay informed.

The statistic that 90 percent of media is owned by six corporations was often emphasized in my Advanced Placement Language class my junior year of high school. Whether or not that statistic is actually factual no longer matters, because as this election has proven, a person can find any viewpoint on the internet — which is both a gift and curse to modern-day politics. If a person doesn’t like the positions of Fox News or CNN they can simply switch to a different channel and go looking for opinions they agree with online. But where does that leave journalism?

It doesn’t matter to me whether a news network is biased or has obvious political leanings. The idea that someone could objectively report is almost impossible, and certainly leads to disillusionment in journalism students. What I have a problem with is when these news sources are openly and inaccurately reporting for the purpose of furthering a personal political agenda.

For example, CNN received backlash in August when they removed the word “crooked” from Donald Trump’s tweet about Hillary Clinton to prevent perpetuating the association between criminal acts and Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t matter that CNN seemingly hates Trump, or that they only want to cover stories that are flattering to Clinton. It matters that they misinformed viewers of what Trump’s tweet was. Deleting the word “crooked” is inaccurately representing and reporting the story the tweet was related to. Following the backlash, a CNN spokesperson stated that “the tweet should have been shown in its entirety” and fixed the mistake on the website.
However, CNN isn’t the only station guilty of inaccurate reporting. More recently, Fox News anchor Bret Baier reported that an indictment for Clinton was “likely” after the election due to her use of government emails sent from a private, unsecure server, according to his “sources” close to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, because there had been no official statement made by the Bureau at the time of the report, Baier was forced to apologize the next day stating that “it was a mistake.” On Sunday morning, the FBI declared that they would not go forward with an indictment and would stand with their previous ruling that no criminal charges would be brought against Clinton. However, Baier’s misrepresentation is an unfortunately common flaw in media today.

As a journalism student, it’s discouraging to see authoritative media outlets blatantly rejecting the ethical standards of journalism in favor of swaying viewers. I always played off “media bias” as a right-wing conspiracy, except that it’s not just about media bias anymore. False claims and censored stories may be motivated by bias, but a biased reaction isn’t the problem, it’s the ethical issue of changing and obscuring the facts. Political news outlets feature panels to react to daily events in the political sphere and they all try to bring varied perspectives. This open discussion is important but is rendered useless when the facts presented are false.

Perhaps it has something to do with the format of delivering news on “primetime” TV. The constant fight for ratings among networks could lead to information slipping between the cracks. In the “Amanda Knox” documentary that premiered on Netflix earlier this year, freelance journalist Nick Pisa who wrote for the Daily Mail during the time of Knox’s trial spoke about the necessity of getting “the scoop” and having his name on the front page of a story regardless of its accuracy. People were appalled at his comments, yet Pisa’s attitude is one that many journalists share despite their quick admonishment of his comments on their Twitter accounts. It’s a problem that has always plagued journalism and probably always will. But it’s not always doom and gloom.

Reputable journalism is still alive and well. There are journalists doing exciting and innovative work to shed light on issues that might otherwise be ignored. Journalism is such a necessary part of life and the false narrative that journalism is dead is simply another inaccuracy. This election season has been rough — that’s undeniable, and the media has played a large part in that. But as I reflect on the examples set before me, I am once again impassioned with a responsibility to be and do better.

Caitlin Antonios is a second-year English and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at cfantoni@uci.edu.