When this campaign finally ends, there will be lots of post-mortem examination of the role of the media. Indeed, that topic has been at the center of controversy throughout the campaign process.
Each election cycle brings new innovations and techniques in communicating with voters -- from banners to blogs and tweets -- and old and new complaints about the media. Sometimes too much credit is given to specific events, such as debates, or hard-hitting advertising. And too often we over-generalize about the media and bias -- as if the media were monolithic even though there are many voices and viewpoints within the media, particularly since the emergence of social media. It is worth noting, however, that endorsements by major newspapers are this year near unanimous in backing Clinton or not backing Trump. (A few have endorsed third-party candidates.)
There is not much evidence to indicate that such endorsements have significant impact on voters. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that traditionally conservative newspapers such as the Arizona Republic and Cincinnati Enquirer have endorsed a Democrat for the first time -- in the Republic's case since it began publication in 1890.
USA Today's editorial board had never endorsed a candidate in its 34 years. However, the paper with the nation's largest print circulation urged voters to reject Trump, calling him a dangerous demagogue "unfit for the presidency," even though the editorial board had reservations about Clinton.
Trump supporters point to these editorial positions as evidence of a biased approach to coverage, but most legacy media outlets insist that there is a wall between reporting and opinion/commentary.
The role of journalists as moderators of the presidential debates also draws criticism, as does coverage and analysis of the debates. Last week's first donnybrook between Trump and Clinton generated extensive chatter. Lester Holt was the moderator and sought to impose some order on the proceedings, but Trump frequently ran roughshod over him. Trump initially praised Holt for his role, then damned him the next day as being biased. He also claimed that his microphone didn't work properly.
That first debate drew a massive audience, and most polls and pundits declared Clinton the winter. Trump and some of his backers insist the polls showed him to be the winner. However, there are polls and there are polls, and the online polls referred to by Trump are mostly unscientific. They don't involve a representative sample of voters and are easily manipulated.
We have had a quantum leap in the number of polls this year as compared to only a few election cycles ago. And there is a substantial increase in fact-checking by major news organizations. There's good reason for that considering the volume of false or misleading statements that have filled the air, although some are not troubled by inaccuracies.
Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh dismisses fact-checking: "There is no fact checking, it allows them to fool you into thinking these are objective. It is no different from the bias of reporter and columnists ... it is opinion journalism under the guise of objectivity."
What began as mostly "ad watch" reports, in which contents of political TV ads are analyzed for accuracy, has evolved into broader analysis of statements by candidates.
One thing that hasn't changed is blaming the media. Trump takes this to a new level, frequently blasting journalists and media organizations as "corrupt and dishonest." Editor Dean Baquet of The New York Times says he can't recall a time the paper called out a presidential candidate by using the word "lie" in a headline. But his paper did that after Trump, who spent years fueling the false notion that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, renounced his earlier assertions and then falsely claimed the Clinton campaign started that rumor. Trump's running mate Mike Pence asserts it was the media who kept the birther issue alive and the Trump camp blames the media for the whirlwind surrounding a former Miss Universe.
Trump has been hounded by some in the media over failure to release his income tax returns, although making such information public has become a tradition for presidential candidates. Information on his 1995 records was apparently leaked to The New York Times -- to the considerable dismay of Trump and associates. The documents appear to show that Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 returns, which might have allowed him to avoid paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a prominent Trump surrogate on TV, insists that the public had no interest in the self-proclaimed billionaire's tax information, although some commentators sharply disagree.
With five weeks remaining until election day, we can anticipate even more amped-up controversy. And there will be two more debates. If Trump should make a strong comeback in one of the remaining debates, which will have different formats, he wouldn't be the first to turn the tables after a lackluster showing. That happened with Reagan in 1984 and Obama in 2012,
Whatever the coming days bring, the media will be both the forum for and the focus of ongoing controversy.
Commentary on 10/05/2016
Print Headline: The media blame game