The Advocate 

By Jay Williams, Jr.

It was an epic fail. The media were stunned by the election results, became disoriented, briefly introspective; now some are angry. Moving back a step might be good.

What happened? How did the media and pollsters miss the Trump Train so badly that on the night of the election, they pondered a Clinton landslide, a Democratic takeover of the Senate and big House gains? The last Fox News poll gave Clinton a 4-point lead, touting that her level of support “is close to that of Barack Obama’s winning coalition against Mitt Romney in 2012.”

But when it ended, Donald Trump had captured 306 electoral votes and Republicans controlled 34 state legislatures, more than anytime in history. Of the nearly 700 counties that twice sent Barack Obama to the White House, a stunning one-third flipped to Trump; he also won 194 of 207 counties that gave Obama a victory in either 2008 or 2012. By contrast, of the 2,200 counties that had never supported Obama, Clinton won only six. The “blue wall” collapsed.

While the defeat shocked Hillary Clinton and her supporters, many columnists and anchors were apoplectic. Wednesday morning, a CNN guest, Chicago Sun-Times bureau chief Lynn Sweet, re-litigated the Clinton talking points, perhaps thinking that if she talked long enough, Hillary could still win. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd admitted, “I sat watching in astonishment.”

University of Virginia pollster Larry Sabato confessed that his “crystal ball had been shattered,” and he had to find a new one. “I got it wrong; we all got it wrong,” he said and we have to learn what happened.

During the “Fox News Sunday” panel, Washington Post columnist Charles Lane said, “I admit I didn’t expect it … I’ve been trying to understand why I got this wrong and why so many others got it wrong … Like so many others, I didn’t understand the surge in sentiment that was going on out there in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, et cetera. And I think … for many people .. .this was a vote — and it’s been called a protest. I think that’s too easy. It’s more like a statement. It’s more like an expression. It’s more like a demand for validation from people who, as Mr. Trump has said and I think … we must defer to his judgment at this point, who felt forgotten and who felt that Washington was focused on the grievances of lots and lots of other people.”

“The media … wouldn’t listen to me”

One of the aggrieved was Bill Duncan, a St. Louis technologist, who wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “I’m fed up. Enough is enough. I want my country back. This is supposed to be a government of the people — not of the banks, lobbyists and foreign donors.” Divulging that he’s lived all over the world, he said, “I am not an enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter. In fact, Trump was the very last candidate among the Republicans I wanted to see in this position. He was boorish, inarticulate and ill informed. He has been crass, bombastic and coarse throughout the campaign, in ways that made me physically wince.”

But, Duncan continued, “Election cycle after election cycle, we sent politicians to Washington to fix these things and cycle after cycle they failed us. In fact, they betrayed us.” “But you, the pollsters and the incredibly biased ‘mainstream’ media, wouldn’t listen to me. You have been too busy promoting your own poisonous agenda. You did everything you could to brand conservatives as homophobic, xenophobic, greedy racists. You focused on spurious issues like genderless bathrooms and celebrity sex changes … purposely drowning the voices of reason in your wake, year after excruciating year.”

Interviewed by CBS’s Charlie Rose, liberal icon Jon Stewart also disputed the idea that “anyone who voted for [Trump] has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric.” “In the liberal community, you hate this idea of creating people as a monolith. ‘Don’t look as Muslims as a monolith. They are … individuals and it would be ignorance. But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith, is a racist.’ That hypocrisy is also real in our country.”

The media shares blame for Trump’s election. It is indefensible for media sources to suggest that they disregarding honest, on the ground reporting because of a fallacious mindset that Trump’s flaws were fatal. The media should have heeded Salena Zito’s perceptive comment in The Atlantic about Trump: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

Of course, they didn’t. Thomas Frank, in an excellent post-election analysis for The Guardian, wrote, “It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate [Clinton] enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station.”

The media … painted a picture that was not real

New York Times’ media columnist, Jim Ruttenburg and the paper’s TV critic, James Poniewozik, penned a joint column on Election Day, where the latter conceded, “The press covered Hillary Clinton like the next president of the United States. The press covered Donald Trump like a future trivia question (and a ratings cash cow).” Poniewozik added, “My biggest piece of advice for covering a candidate like Donald Trump: Just pretend he’s the Republican nominee for president. Within the bubble of conventional wisdom, this didn’t happen enough.”

Ruttenburg also confirmed Bill Duncan’s hypothesis, “I was struck by how many times I saw prominent journalists say, ‘Gee, I don’t know anybody who would vote for Mr. Trump; I’m going to have to work on that,’ or some such. Take it from me — having friends who supported Mr. Trump from early on didn’t mean you were going to expect him to win the Republican nomination. But there was, without question, a big disconnect between mainstream reporters and Trump supporters.”

USA Today columnist Michael Wolff was harsher, “This is not a question of condoning or supporting Donald Trump — and here, arguably, the media surely contributed to creating the Trump bubble, which it bet would burst” after concluding that the “likelihood of his candidacy of succeeding was nigh impossible.”

The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, CNN, even Buzzfeed are perhaps too big to fail — at least in a journalistic, if not financial, sense,” Wolff said. “No one is going to hold them accountable for painting a picture of reality that was not real, indeed for trying to use their influence to bend reality.” Rather than acknowledge the “bad calls, even gross misunderstandings of the currents of our times,” the Times and CNN management congratulated themselves on their election coverage. “In a time of deep media unpopularity, it would surely have been wiser and more honorable for these leaders to have fallen on their swords.”

The media produced “a lock-step political and cultural” narrative, “for almost 18 months, with hardly a deviation anywhere in its ranks,” that was “off about 180 degrees from what was actually occurring” and “the story that would ultimately unfold,” Wolff concluded. “In a sense, we would have been better served without a mainstream media at all.” 

Jay Williams, Jr. arrived in Charleston in 2001 to escape the cold and relax in the warmth of a better culture and climate. This all worked well until May of 2011 when he attended a cruise terminal discussion at Physicians Hall.


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