The Failures of Media: How Journalists Elected Trump

Since the moment the first ballot was cast last Tuesday, analysts from all over the country have exhaustively poured over all available data, trying to get a better idea of who was voting for whom and why. Many different infographics have made their rounds on the internet, all reporting different statistics, like socioeconomic status, racial demographics and polling place availability, all attempting to answer the same question: Why did Donald Trump get elected?

And while it’s not the only reason, a good deal of the blame for this can be placed on one singular source: the overwhelming negligence of the American media.

American news sources have been incessant in their coverage of this election cycle, hanging on every moment from before the primaries up until now. From the successes and failures of numerous presidential hopefuls, to the whopping 26 debates televised nationally, to a handful of scandalous campaign fiascos, American media has been latching on to any and all newsworthy events and pushing them into the public eye as quickly as possible.

Unsurprisingly, the campaign receiving the lion’s share of this sensational coverage was the Trump campaign. And frankly, who could blame most outlets for focusing on him so much? Here was a complete political layperson saying innumerable inflammatory things in front of a legion of cameras. With all of these opportunities to showcase his antics, most outlets went wild.

Maybe a little bit too wild. According to a piece published by MarketWatch in May, the Trump campaign received about $3 billion in free advertising, through TV spots and published articles. In fact, the Trump campaign spent the least out of all presidential campaigns on advertising, instead, opting to coast along on all of the complimentary reporting. Coupled with appearances on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and nigh-constant mentions on political satire shows like “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight,” it was almost impossible to avoid Trump’s face and beliefs.

As it turns out, an endless news cycle surrounding a single candidate tends to strengthen their campaign as opposed to bringing it down, even if a lot of the press is overwhelmingly negative. As the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity, and it couldn’t be truer in this case.

It’s not solely the fact that he got all of this attention that’s the problem. Where was all of the fact checking? Sites like PolitiFact have compiled extensive lists of his missteps and lies, but why don’t major TV news stations actively tell their viewers whether a candidate is being truthful or not? While CNN was busy blasting him over all of its airwaves and rolling around in its $1 billion of revenue from this election cycle (because of course money has to be involved), why couldn’t anybody on staff stop for a moment to question a single thing being said? It’s lazy, and it promotes an electoral environment where anybody can say whatever they want with no repercussions.

In addition, what’s with shows like “Saturday Night Live” bringing Trump on as a guest? Of course, it’s profitable to bring on such a polarizing personality, but what happened to integrity? There’s nothing stranger than watching a video of Jimmy Fallon playfully messing Trump’s hair, making him seem more like a lovable grump instead of a KKK-endorsed bigot who plans on deporting hundreds of thousands of people and removing rights for hundreds of thousands more. These shows didn’t have to bring him on. They could have refused on even the flimsiest moral principle, but they instead brought on this man who’s going to be on trial for rape and tried to make him seem normal.

Perhaps most annoying of all is the fact that some outlets have decided that, now that he’s president, they’ll just shrug their shoulders and treat him respectfully, despite opposing him in the past. The Huffington Post, which notably ended all articles concerning his campaign by calling him a serial liar and a xenophobe, has decided to play nice and remove this blurb from future articles concerning him. People Magazine also published a cutesy spread on his family following the election, despite the fact that one of their very own writers, Natasha Stoynoff, is taking him to trial for attacking her back in 2005. It’s all very cowardly, and again, attempts to normalize a person whose behavior is not normal or acceptable by any means.

The point of all of this is that there’s something very wrong with American media. There appears to be no limit on just how awful somebody has to be for executives and showrunners to bar them access to their programs. There’s no accountability, there’s no sticking to opinions and there doesn’t appear to be a solution to this problem.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the media handles his presidency as a whole. The hope is that, if things ever get particularly bad, the news will be there to convey objective facts to the public, but even that feels unpleasantly unlikely at this point. At best, we might get more affectionate hair tousling, but at worst, we’ll have to continue to grapple with an industry that values ratings and income more than the country as a whole.

Evan Siegel is a third-year literary journalism and criminology double major. He can be reached at ejsiegel@uci.edu.