News & Opinion » Editor's Note

Editor's Note: Will the media own up, or double down?

by

4 comments

IN MY 15 years as editor of Connect, we've never made a single political candidate endorsement in the newspaper.

I don’t believe in newspaper endorsements for two reasons: 1) I believe our readers are capable of coming to their own independent conclusions, and 2) Endorsements are often not only ineffectual, but counterproductive. Turns out people don’t like to be told what to do!

Fifteen years later my philosophy is vindicated —obviously in totally ironic, unintended fashion — by one Donald J. Trump.

Over 100 major newspapers around the country endorsed Hillary Clinton. Several of them, such as the Dallas Morning News and Cincinnati Enquirer, endorsed a Democrat for the first time in many decades. The Arizona Republic hadn’t endorsed a Democrat since its founding in 1890.

Only a tiny handful of papers — very controversially including Savannah’s local daily paper and its corporate brethren — endorsed Trump.

The 100+ who endorsed Clinton may as well have sold themselves as fish wrapper or toilet paper that day for all the good it did.

Like her debate victories and the endlessly hyped polls, newspaper endorsements of Clinton were not only a non-factor, but given the all-time low credibility of the media probably helped Trump.

It will be interesting to see if in four years news coverage will again be dominated by endorsements, debates, and polls, the trifecta of wrong this election year.

As the state of catatonic and/or hyperemotional shock over Trump’s win subsides — as people realize it’s a new week and they have to get back to work, and to life — the internet is filled with critiques of “what went wrong” and “how did this happen.”

Many of these too-late critiques deal with the Democratic Party’s insistence on running a scandal-plagued symbol of the status quo in a year when absolutely no one wanted the status quo.

Those of us who tried to point out this painfully obvious and likely fatal error before the election, for the good of all, were generally sneered at and condescended to and disregarded as naysayers “on the wrong side of history,” etc.

Some of the critiques are less about Clinton than about a deeper look at the Democratic Party’s focus on identity politics and demographics rather than on a coherent, effective message to the working class and to the working poor on jobs, trade, and the economy.

A few of the critiques are a way-too-late effort to “understand” the typical Trump voter by actually talking to some of them. These think-pieces might have come in handy say, six months ago, but now simply serve to further highlight how embarrassingly out of touch the mainstream media was during the entire campaign.

Indeed, if you count yourself as a Trump opponent the one entity you really should be angry at, but which still seems to be getting a pass, is the mainstream media.

I am firmly convinced that the main reason people are so shocked at Trump’s election is they were assured for months that there was no way Clinton could lose — an assumption very much in effect even up until about 11 p.m. Election Night.

Very popular polling sites like Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium (which had Clinton at a 99 percent probability of victory) and Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight (Silver is almost a cult figure among liberals) all but guaranteed a Clinton win.

Their only question was how big a victory it would be.

Sociologists have a term for this phenomenon: Confirmation bias, i.e. “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.”

The groupthink got so bad that for a few weeks prior to the election Silver spent most of his time defending himself from increasingly savage attacks that he was “favoring” Trump too much by having him at about a 20-30 percent chance to win.

(As for Wang, to his credit he apologized and ate a live bug on TV for losing a bet about the accuracy of his prediction.)

One is left wondering how many people simply didn’t vote because all they heard from the mainstream media for months was how impossible and unimaginable a Trump presidency would be.

As the Gallup organization concluded a few years ago when it got out of the political polling business, pollsters simply have no way of measuring the opinion of people who for whatever reason refuse to participate in polls.

But who was most responsible for telling people they had to believe all those wrong polls? That was actually the media, not the pollsters themselves.

The next time you see another critique, another navel-gazing “How Did This Happen” piece, remember that for the most part this is an attempt by the mainstream media to divert criticism away from themselves and their own miserably poor performance not only in informing the American people, but in actually listening to the American people.

The real tell will be: Will the media actually revisit how they report on issues and politics and elections?

Or will they — as is much more likely — double down on the insular groupthink and confirmation bias feedback loop which led to so much misinformation in so many places?

For those of you still interested in politics, in activism, and even in voting, remember this bitter lesson for next election season.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news yet again. It’s a nasty job but somebody’s got to do it.

But if next time you repeat the same mistake of believing everything you’re told uncritically, you really will have no one to blame but yourself.

cs

4 comments

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment
 

Add a comment