In the blamefest following Donald Trump’s election, the media stands accused of failure for failing to recognise the level of support behind Donald Trump, and for failing to tell the truth.
There’s no doubt that much of the mainstream media couldn’t believe anyone would vote for him. They were slow to cotton on to the fact that the swaggering reality TV figure, appealing to emotion rather than truth, was speaking a language millions wanted to hear.
Mr Trump himself said the media is dishonest and distorted, rigging the election for Hillary Clinton with large scale voter fraud, and putting ’stories that never happened into the news’. Serious stuff…. but now it seems he’s more relaxed about these alleged crimes.
But leaving aside these apparently forgotten accusations, there are plenty of others who think the media’s done a bad job.
The charge reads that Donald Trump stomped round America lying his head off, inciting racism and violence, and the political establishment and media never saw him coming.
I think that’s nonsense.
Some of the best journalism in the world has been focused on the U.S. in the past few months. Let’s just take a few of the major broadcasters. The BBC, Bloomberg, CNN, NBC, ABC and Sky News have devoted huge resources to helping audiences understand the presidential race. From the expertise of dozens of experienced correspondents, to graphics explainers and fact-checking websites: for those that wanted it, tons of content on both the candidates was available.
Reporting politicians as they appear – taking their events live and uninterrupted so that they would literally speak for themselves rather than rely on commentary. Reporting polls as they were – analysing them for better or worse – and up until the end mostly finding they were too close to call.
But it’s an imperfect process. While the pollsters look at what went wrong at their end, the news media has questions to ponder too. Taking live campaign rallies is no substitute for one-to-one questioning. What can be done if candidates refuse to do one-to-one interviews or hold press conferences? Should they be punished with less live coverage?
False balance – where the media confuses an issue when it presents two sides as equal when they’re not – is a problem too. But who decides who is more ‘right’ or popular? Should the media make the call on who’s the better candidate ahead of the electorate?
Now the media landscape has been revolutionised by the explosion in social media.
Anyone and everyone can have their say and present anything they want as ‘fact’.
The extent to which social media helped win the election for Trump will be much debated, but there’s no doubt he used it more effectively than any candidate before him.
But that internet explosion generates heat not light.
The commentator James Delingpole told the BBC’s Media Show this week “all the world’s stupidity is on the internet and all the world’s knowledge is on the internet, and it’s simply a matter of deciphering the truth from the lies”.
If you think you have enough life left you could set about trying to read in excess of 1,000,000,000 websites – 4,000,000,000+ pages – and that’s before we take a peek at Twitter.
So assuming you don’t have that much life left, how about turning to the work produced by people trained to daily sift through hundreds of press releases; review hours of picture feeds from all around the world; investigate politicians, businesses, agencies, NGOs, banks, transport providers, schools, hospitals, lawyers, oligarchs, despots, sports stars, showbiz and itself.
They don’t get it right all the time – I write as Newsweek tries to recover 125,000 souvenir copies of its ‘Madam President’ issue – but in a post-truth era, we really do need all the help we can get.