Via Washington Examiner : Has anyone else felt like their profession was rendered irrelevant by the results of the 2016 election? Or is it just journalists?
The only job titles that probably took more flak than “journalist” for the election results were “pollster” and “DNC chair.” Not to speak for my fellow journos, but I imagine everyone in the media industry had the wind knocked out of them particularly hard Tuesday night and are still recovering. I know I still I am.
Journalists — print, TV, online, etc. — were in uncharted territory thanks to Donald Trump. At first, his candidacy was written off as a joke. Then he gained some steam, and was thus worth our time to cover. When it became clear he would be part of the national conversation for the long haul, we began to scrutinize him.
And then when it looked like he had a legitimate shot at the presidency, many of us did everything in our power to warn the American people to reject his message. We all know how that went now.
It was an impossible situation to navigate. Cover Trump too harshly, and his supporters would complain that he was receiving unfair treatment. Try to balance reporting about him with Hillary Clinton’s baggage, and a good portion of the public would yell at you for equating their scandals. How do you find balance when one candidate is due in court for allegedly raping a 13-year-old?
Frankly, I had no problem with unbalanced coverage during the 2016 cycle. Our job first and foremost is to educate the public and help them make informed decisions. Trump was and is a dangerous man ideologically, and so many in the media abandoned any concerns about bias in order to portray him as the threat he is.
Plus, he kept saying that he wanted to loosen libel laws in order to prevent journalists from “lying” about him, when most of the alleged “lies” he cited were journalists taking him at his word and sometimes quoting him verbatim. If we revealed our biases, it seemed a worthwhile sacrifice to protect not just our political system, but also ourselves.
Of course, what we didn’t realize until it was far too late to change minds was that we had been deemed part of the “establishment” in the most anti-establishment election in recent memory. We were the enemy, hated just as much as traditional politicians, Hollywood celebrities and Nate Silver.
A certain sect of Trump supporter would only listen to the likes of Fox News, Breitbart and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post and other big outlets continued to put out what many would consider to be “good journalism,” but in 2016, good journalism was flat-out rejected by a significant number of Americans.
All of this culminated on Election Day, where despite the media’s best efforts, Trump emerged victorious. A lot of people vilified the media, saying they missed the Trump phenomenon or didn’t act soon enough to stop him.
I would argue that the media never had a chance to sway public opinion, because the people whose minds they hoped to change either weren’t the ones reading/listening to them, or just had no interest in absorbing what they had to say.
So where does this leave journalism? In a world where cold hard facts and truths were rejected by a plurality of Americans, and many Americans actively detest journalists, what role does the media have in our electoral process and society at large?
As the election results rolled in, I was in, as Ron Burgundy would say, a glass case of emotions. I wanted to quit journalism, because why stay in a profession that many Americans hated enough to ignore completely during such a critical time in our history? But then I remembered the now-famous words of Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”
America went low, so in response, journalists need to let their aspirations to objectivity go. We need to recognize that our role has fundamentally, permanently changed. We failed over the last two years to educate the electorate largely because we were afraid of disobeying our “fair and balanced” oath.
We can never allow ourselves to be held back by that mantra again. When we see something, we need to say something, bias be damned. We can’t afford to be caught off-guard like this again.
Let me rephrase my original question: Did the 2016 election leave anyone else with a new sense of purpose and a personal mission going forward? Or is that just journalists?
Joshua Axelrod writes about the intersection of media and politics for the Washington Examiner.