Coming to Terms with the Election

The United States’ 2016 election has been undeniably unlike any other election in the nation’s history. Despite statistics overwhelmingly predicting Hilary Clinton as the winner, Donald Trump claimed victory. Early on November 9, 2016, the Northeastern University School of Journalism held a meeting with faculty members and students alike to discuss the results of the election and their implications. This led to the discussion of ethical issues journalists were guilty of this election cycle and ethical concerns moving forward.

There was not an empty seat in the room with at least twenty people having to stand or sit on the floor. Before it had officially begun it was rather quiet for the amount of people in the room. There was an air of uneasiness wafting around the room, with many individuals wearing a solemn expression.

Three faculty members led the event: Jonathan Kaufman, Dan Kennedy, and Dina Kraft, where the latter two of the three gave opening remarks before opening it up to everyone else. It took a bit of prodding before someone finally felt comfortable to raise their hand. Not long after that first thought was shared, professor Carlene Hempel chimed in to comment that the opening remarks displayed a clear anti-Trump bias, which was undoubtedly true. In fact, the opening remarks from Dina Kraft included the statement “[I think some of us] are surprised by the America we woke up to.” This statement set the scene for a room against Trump. Despite this fact being recognized and it being iterated that the room was a judgment-free space, throughout the entire discussion not a single soul spoke as though they supported Trump. Maybe everyone in the room was pro-Hilary but if there was anyone who was not, they likely were too intimidated to speak, and understandably so.

An interesting point emphasized by Dan Kennedy was how monumental of a failure polling was this election. Prior to election day, polls favoring Trump were practically non-existent, with some reaching as high as Clinton having a 98% chance of winning. The discussion led to deciphering why exactly the polls were so wrong. One train of thought was how most of the polling was done through major news organizations, which have grown smaller in number and primarily only exist in major cities, which commonly vote democratic. Though this fact is not new, so it would be thought that pollsters made efforts to reach more out for the opinions of more rural areas. Another idea was that folks misjudged the amount of people who came out to vote who historically do not. It was mentioned that Clinton went down the list of expected locations for her to hold rallies at, and did not spread out to places where she thought she had already won/lost or did not think there were many people who would vote at all there. It would seem Trump took advantage of this and hit those very locations, creating influence in locations where Hilary did not even try, naturally giving him the upper hand.

Another point discussed was how evident it seems the people of America desire change. Obama can be viewed as priming this philosophy of change, being the first African-American president and having served only two years in the senate prior to being president. Retrospectively, Clinton can be seen as an embodiment of what the democratic party stood for as a whole, where Trump appeared to hold allegiance to no party in-particular, with the word “republican” being more of a label to him than a loyalty. His stances did align more conservative than liberal but an almost unprecedented amount of fellow republicans stood against him as a candidate, with Trump holding stances and ideas unique to him alone. Though Clinton held the card of potential first female president, her political stances did not push for anything the American people had not heard before.

Unlike many other elections, temperament played a major role. The overall attitude of Trump, as unorthodox as it was, resonated with people. Unfortunately for Clinton, her temperament had widely become associated with dishonesty. This is where it was argued news organizations did a horrendous job covering, most specifically in regards to hacked emails and everything WikiLeaks. Professor Laurel Leff raised the point that it was wrong to write about anything on WikiLeaks, especially when only one side is damaged in doing so. This basis stemmed mostly from the thought that the leaks came from the Russians, who had intentions to sabotage Clinton and elect Trump. By reporting on the leaks reporters were playing into the hands of Russia, who of course did not make efforts to reveal any corruption existing in the Republican party or Trump himself. Leff’s both passion and dismay about the results of the election were evident via her shaking as she spoke and tone of voice. This sentiment was commonplace around the room, perhaps furthering the discomfort any Trump supporter would have in revealing his or her political stance.

An argument against not publishing what is on WikiLeaks is that at the end of the day, a news organization is out to make a profit. If there is a “juicy” story found on public leaks and other news organizations have or are likely to write about that information then it would be a missed opportunity to get readers. Financially this argument is sound but ethically it does not justify the act. Doing something because others are doing it and it will make you a profit should not outweigh unfairly damaging a political party. One middle ground would be to publish the information but also provide insight to the reader on potential motivations for it being released and to do research to uncover or at least call into question if the other side (in this case the republican party) has signs of corruption as well. Again though, this may not have damaged Trump much due to him being such an outlier of a candidate who represents himself more than the republican party. Trump had numerous allegations made public. There was an agreement amongst the room that Trump supporters did have knowledge of Trump’s skeletons and it was not as though the media refrained from reporting on them. News organizations fed the sensation that was Donald Trump. They provided him with free publicity. Dan Kennedy brought up the fact that the owner of a major news organization was well aware of how potentially negative it was for the people to report so voraciously on anything Trump but how good it was from a financial gain perspective.

In many any parts of America, especially in the less wealthy and rural areas, citizens may only have access to one source of news. If this news source is biased in either direction, then that means the only perspective some individuals have is through the lens of that bias. Some may be wise enough to see past the bias, but sadly in the case of less wealthy and rural areas, it is not uncommon for a lack of education to exist in that environment, leaving citizens without the proper tools to analyze the news given. This notion should invoke the necessity of ensuring people have access to as neutral as possible source of news. One example could be making sure the most basic of cable packages does not only include Fox News (right leaning) or CNN (left leaning) as the only news outlet. Though the ideal news is as objective as possible, it is often unavoidable. Not to say it is necessarily wrong to mix opinion with news, but it is wrong when the difference between fact and opinion is not clear to the consumers, especially when that is a consumer’s only option for news.

Even reporters have a right to pick a side, but when they let that side interfere with their reporting of the news it creates a ripple effect for all who consume that news. Showing favoritism for one side over the other, or being emotional about the outcome of the 2016 election, was not inappropriate for the setting, but it might have dampened the ability for one side to learn about the other. Whether people like it or not, a candidate has been elected. That outcome is not going to change. Now it is of prime importance for both sides to help understand each other. The issue of the discussion, and this point was raised, it was kind of an echo box of people who all held similar beliefs. Without a doubt it was a productive discussion, but due to the clear favoritism of Clinton, it increased the difficulty to understand the side of Trump. Progress was made in understanding, but that progress could have been exponentially greater if it was not multiple people from one side making assumptions about the other and instead had individuals from that other side speak about their personal feelings on why they feel the way they do.

Thanks to the outcome of this election, something positive will come: change. Moving forward, reporters should and will act differently on how elections are covered. Polls will be viewed with immense skepticism and what it means to be presidential will take on a whole new meaning. The American people seem to want change, and it would only be appropriate for news organizations to adapt and make some changes themselves.

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