The way that the media went about covering this election will go down as a pivotal influence on American history. There have only been a handful of times in the past where news sources have outrightly admitted that mistakes were made. Past examples include the Iraq and Vietnam wars following the release of the Pentagon Papers.
With this election, multiple media sources, including The New York Times and National Public Radio, admitted that the coverage of this election was conducted in a way that did not properly inform American citizens. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now said that, at one point, Donald Trump was receiving 81 minutes worth of stories from ABC World News Tonight, while Bernie Sanders received 20 seconds.
Herein lies the biggest problem that caused the media to destroy the integrity of this election: imbalance for the sake of ratings. When the election season began, so did Trump’s antics. His outlandish behavior garnered a considerable amount of attention from the media. As the amount of coverage on him grew, so did his poll numbers. It had reached a point where a man that the media were largely treating as a joke was now receiving a disproportionate amount of attention compared to other candidates from either party.
Like a drug addict watching themselves die but not being able to escape their vices, the media continued this unfair exposure as Trump came closer and closer to becoming president. People kept watching, and the ratings kept coming in, so news companies chose business over ethics. The same issue happened with Hillary Clinton. According to a Harvard study published in June, when her email scandal became front page news, media sources took the opportunity to air the conflict as much as they could, giving her a substantial amount of coverage compared to her opponent in the primary, Sanders.
The obvious question to ask would be: How could the extra coverage benefit either Clinton or Trump when it was all so negative? There is an old saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and with American media consumers this certainly seems to be the case, especially with how it was done in the election.
Very rarely did Clinton or Trump’s primary opponents come up in these stories about them. They were either about Clinton’s emails or Trump’s controversial statements. Even if people did not approve of what was happening with either candidate, both of them were still the only ones being mentioned in the media day in and day out. For apolitical voters, or people that rely solely on television news networks for their political information, this led to a crucial lack of information on other options in both parties. The results were two of the most unpopular candidates of all time being left as the only choices in the general election.
Regardless of how anyone feels about this election or any of the candidates, the way that it was presented to the people cannot be justified. The media failed to do their job and bring the whole truth to the American people. Rather, they chose to air sensationalism at every turn and ensure the success of their businesses.
I do not see this trend ending. Members of the media can apologize all they want, but they have a formula and it has hardly changed since the era of corporate news began. As long as Trump continues to do things that will garner attention, it will be put on the news for the sake of leeching off that attention. Whether his actions are good or bad, it is likely that the alternatives or other side of the story will not be shown to the American people in a way they should be.
The media had a choice between helping others and helping themselves. They chose to help themselves, and they will continue to do the same for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, if their addiction kills them, the rest of America, or at least the idea of an informed public, will die as well.
Dylan Messerschmidt is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at DM837837@wcupa.edu.