Media bias and the US election
Four years ago, a succession of American newspaper polls predicted Hillary Clinton would easily win the presidential election and defeat Donald Trump. On election day, Trump proved them all wrong. How?
In part, Clinton took Trump for granted, in her own arrogant and entitled manner, disparaging his supporters by pejoratively describing them as a “basket of deplorables.” Another reason was that much of the news media also took Trump for granted, refusing to take him seriously and attacking him at every turn, every misstep and every spoken stumble.
What Clinton and sections of the mainstream media failed to grasp was how her attack on Trump and his supporters would solidify them as a loyal base. Calling them “deplorables” so insulted them that, rather than look at Trump, they vented their anger on Clinton and the media. That Clinton arrogance and media bias ultimately made Trump the victor. The “hate divide” that split the country into two resulted in a base that would not be swayed.
In the four years since, not much has really changed. The political attacks on Trump are vicious — far more vicious than they were to the US’ first African American President Barack Obama — and the unrelenting perception of media bias continues to fuel his support base.
Polls have been accurate about one thing over the years: That the public distrusts the news media. A recent survey by Gallup and the Knight Foundation found that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans see too much bias in the media as a “major problem.”
Sections of the media continue to blame the hate divide on Trump. But the president leads his own communications, makes his own shoot-from-the-hip pronouncements and continues to deal directly with the media outlets that have savaged him during his time in office.
However, the hate divide literally means that the country is divided, with about half supporting the president no matter what and half opposing him no matter what. This means that the brutal battles on the campaign trail will probably not persuade anyone to switch sides.
Following his recent interview on the popular CBS News program “60 Minutes,” Trump’s performance was portrayed as below par. The worst part was that the media unfavorably compared his interview to his rival Joe Biden’s. In truth, Biden stumbled several times, but these were generally ignored by the media. At one point, interviewer Norah O’Donnell even corrected something Biden said as if it was nothing.
O’Donnell asked about foreign policy and the biggest challenges. In his response, Biden said: “What happens now is you have the situation in Korea, where they have more lethal missiles and more capacity than they had before.” O’Donnell quickly corrected him, saying “North Korea,” making the mistake irrelevant. Biden responded by confirming, “North Korea.” Had Trump made that mistake, the media would likely be going berserk, writing about how the president’s rhetoric could have started a nuclear war with a friendly ally rather than a crazed foe.
If you want to know what is happening in next week’s election, don’t pay attention to the mainstream US news media.
After the interview, Biden’s staff also had to correct a figure he quoted. It was explained that the Democratic nominee “misspoke” and that the cost of free public college education could be twice as much as the $150 billion he told O’Donnell. The media would have had a field day had that been Trump.
However, it is the perception of media bias — exaggerated by his supporters and marginalized by his critics — that could carry Trump to victory. The president’s followers are not focused on his leadership as much as they are on the perceived bias against him.
Why were the polls all wrong in 2016? Because the “deplorables” were angry at being vilified by Clinton. So, when the news media calls them to ask how they will vote this time, how many Trump supporters hang up the phone and how many lie to avoid being criticized?
If you want to know what is happening in next week’s election, don’t pay attention to the mainstream US news media. Instead, watch for the results as they come in from four states: North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Florida. Then you will know who is winning, and I think Trump continues to hold an edge in all four.
- Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania