The most over-covered news stories of the 2016 election
It’s almost Election Day, and it can’t come a moment too soon. For 20 months, we’ve been inundated with nonstop cable news coverage, a never-ending stream of Donald Trump rallies, endless stories about trivial matters, pontificating pundits, “breaking news” that isn’t, parsed polls, unskewed polls, nothing-burger scandals, and so much more.
What a relief it will be to no longer receive continuous emails asking for donations, often dozens a day. It will be a welcome change to have the media cover other newsworthy topics. I won’t have to see “countdown clocks” to the next debate or state poll closing. I won’t miss having my Twitter feed explode the minute a new poll is released.
Three things, though, stand out as getting a lopsided amount coverage this election season. These are presented in no particular order. But you’ll likely agree that news media were overly fixated on three things in this election: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the Trump voter.
Donald Trump. The money figure is that the GOP presidential nominee received nearly $2 billion in free media coverage, twice that of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and over six times more than any other Republican candidate. It’s the biggest reason he became the nominee (Republican “values” being the other driver). When another presidential hopeful was giving a speech, whether it was a Democrat or Republican, cable news shows cut into that speech to show viewers a live speech from a Trump rally.
A study from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy showed that most of Trump’s early free media was positive or neutral, and it worked.
In the early going, nothing is closer to pure gold than favorable free media exposure. It can boost a candidate’s poll standing and access to money and endorsements. Above all, it bestows credibility. …
Although journalists play a political brokering role in presidential primaries, their decisions are driven by news values rather than political values. Journalists are attracted to the new, the unusual, the sensational — the type of story material that will catch and hold an audience’s attention. Trump fit that need as no other candidate in recent memory. Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee. Although he subsequently tapped a political nerve, journalists fueled his launch.
We’ll never forget—or forgive—the now-infamous quote from Les Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Trump loves to blast the media, but “instead of bashing the press as dishonest, Donald Trump should get on bended knee and thank it,” said a story from the Poynter Institute about the Harvard study.
Now let’s focus on over-hyped story No. 2:
Hillary Clinton’s emails. In 2015, The New York Times first published the story of Clinton’s use of a private server while she was secretary of state—a practice used by previous secretaries and others in government. The Washington Post joined in, although both papers have had to walk back incorrect information. We all know what happened next. The media hasn’t let up since.
There have often been “updates” with nothing more than gossip and rumors fed to the media from Republicans. There are constant threats of congressional investigations, which won’t stop when Clinton is sworn in. Republican office holders have called for Clinton to be shot in front of a firing squad (just in case “Lock her up!” wasn’t enough). Some are already talking impeachment. All of this was before the recent letter from FBI Director James Comey that insinuated more wrongdoing and that sent the media into a feeding frenzy — even though a week later, he basically said, “Never mind.” Reminds us of Gilda Radner playing Emily Litella on Saturday Night Live.
According to a blog post by Eric Boehlert at Media Matters, the media aren’t even bothering to attempt a balance anymore between coverage of Clinton’s emails and coverage of her policy proposals. “ ‘Email’ has been mentioned more than 2,000 times on the three cable news channels since last Friday’s FBI announcement,” he writes.
“Would serious policy coverage have withered and died this election cycle even without the media’s email obsession?” Boehlert asks. “It’s certainly possible. But I think the email fixation quickened the demise.”
But really, the most over-hyped story of this election season is …
The Trump voter. It’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid to turn on NPR just in case “Morning Edition’s” Steve Inskeep has yet another five-minute interview with a Trump supporter, giving the guy (and the Trumpeter is almost always male) a chance to spew conspiracy theories and Hillary hatred. NPR tries to make us believe it’s bringing us “voices” from across the country. As the election drew nearer, Inskeep and others have started including some Clinton supporters, but it’s been pretty Trump-heavy all along. (Hey, NPR, we’ve heard them. Over and over again. And while you’re at it, how about offering some real analysis, instead of overworked talking points from Cokie Roberts?)
In case you didn’t notice, Trump voters are “angry.” We’ve heard that nonstop on every cable news channel and read it in every column. In The Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance wrote about growing up in a working-class Rust Belt town in Ohio after moving there from Kentucky. He discussed the many reasons for the anger of the white working class. He never mentioned Trump, but Trump supporters felt vindicated with the sympathetic treatment, if for no other reason than it went beyond racism. Throw in drug addiction, job loss, poverty, and class resentment, and you’ve got a best seller.
We’ve listened to Trump supporters being interviewed. We’ve read their racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-Islamic quotes and tweets. We’ve witnessed shouting, punching, and yelling threats to news media and protestors. We’ve seen their deplorable T-shirts and campaign souvenirs.
A satirical blog post from The Awl gave a pretty funny rundown of Trumpeter overexposure. “Except for roughly 7,200 articles on the subject, there has been scant effort made by the mainstream media to understand the kind of voters who say Trump speaks for them,” writes Benjamin Hart, who also contributes to Huffington Post. The whole thing had me laughing, but here’s a sample:
My suspicions were confirmed when I spoke to Ed Sherman, a sixty-seven-year-old retired teacher who has a thirty-seven-foot-tall sign outside his house that reads “Barack Obama Is A Demogorgon From Hell.” Though he believes that Obama is a secret member of ISIS who has recruited Hillary Clinton to smooth the group’s transition into witchcraft, he insists his support for Trump has nothing to do with race or gender.
“I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re white, yellow, or colored. I’m just worried about these Muslims forcing Shariah Law on us here in Bleaksville. Trump’s gonna put a stop to that.”
When I pointed out that there wasn’t a single Muslim in the county, he cut me off.
“Trump’s a businessman,” he said. “We’re angry,” he added.
I wanted to hear more, but he explained that David Brooks had scheduled an interview with him to discuss whether he ate dinner with his family every night, and what it means for America.
Where are all the stories of people supporting Hillary Clinton? Few and far between. Maybe the media just figured that interviewing a bunch of women—especially women who might be older than their target demographic—would be too boring, so they seldom bother. It’s easier to write about an “enthusiasm gap.”
A recent Washington Post story about supposed missing “empathy” for Trump voters has received some well-deserved mockery. Look, I feel sorry for anyone who has lost a job, but job loss from the Great Recession in the last decade hit people from all over, not just a swath of working-class white men. I’m saving my empathy for the members of the historic black church in Mississippi that was burned and painted with the words “Vote Trump.” I’ve got more empathy for the women who went public with stories of Trump’s sexual assault, reminding women across America that so many of us have experienced the same thing. I’ve got more empathy for the African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims who are being bullied in the nation’s schools, a result of the “Trump Effect,” according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center:
It’s producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.
Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment, and intimidation of students whose races, religions, and nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.
Not much time left until Election 2016 is history. We in Chicago are still on a high from the Cubs winning the World Series. So I’m just going to end with this image:
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 6, 2016.