2016’s Biggest Electoral Casualty: The Media’s Integrity

2016’s Biggest Electoral Casualty: The Media’s Integrity

I had a few ideas rolling around in my head as I sat down to write today. As a normal part of the process, I reviewed other pieces on this site before digging in. Personal bias aside, my colleagues are doing some fine work this election season – following stories and holding politicians and members of the media accountable for their words and actions. Conversely, a sad majority of mainstream journalists and their employers have completely abdicated public responsibility. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post tweeted last week after Trump’s self-serving birther “press conference,” “Donald Trump once again urinates on the cable nets, and once again they hold out cups to catch the precious fluids.”

Sargent is right to single out the MSNBCs (yes, even you Rachel Maddow), CNNs and Fox News’ of the world for special shame. As often as pundits wonder aloud if the Republican Party will be able to resume normal operations after November 8, the same question must be posed with regard to the 24-hour news networks. The Trump Team has been golden showering all over them, beginning with the mid-June 2015 announcement of the candidate’s presidential run. Riding the escalator at Trump Tower in New York City, waving to the crowd with pulchritudinous wife Melania by his side, The Donald’s anti-Yes We Can remarks concluded, “Sadly the American dream is dead…But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before.”

Lies, fear mongering and discreditable boasting right out of the gate. And the media let him get away with it, treating Trump as the serious candidate he never was because man, the story was just too good. He’d never actually secure the Republican nomination, right? There would be plenty of time to course correct and cover the campaign with the gravitas that deciding upon the next Leader of the Free World deserves.

Except that never happened. And mainstream “journalism” has showed itself to be more than a recorder of events over the last 14 months. The industry has flat-out enabled, and in many cases, encouraged, a permanent blight on our political history.

Last night I watched President Obama’s recent address to the Congressional Black Caucus, his final as POTUS. Almost always an electrifying speaker, I was struck by the passion with which he pleaded with African-American voters, and the country at large, to get out the vote. He said:

“Hope is on the ballot and fear is on the ballot too…I will consider it a personal insult — an insult to my legacy — if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote.”

I’ve been as hard as anyone on President Obama, especially during his first-term. I wanted the public option. I was angry at Obama’s repeated overtures to the Republican House, routinely met with disrespect, followed by concessions that were directly opposed to the interest of the nation (for example, extension of the Bush-era tax cuts). Why couldn’t he see that compromise is dead on Capitol Hill?

Second-term Obama has been a somewhat different animal, empowered by his lift of the economy – job growth, the first real rise in take-home wages in decades, the health of the stock market, a huge dip in the deficit with subsequent decline in health care spending. All to the good. And eventually, he gave up on bi-partisan cooperation as unattainable fantasy. He’s been hammered as a Muslim, Kenyan-born socialist, a fascist and “the worst thing that’s ever happened to Israel.” Somehow all the opposition, all of challenges, have only made him a stronger, more affable leader.

For all the criticism of Hillary Clinton in positioning her run for the White House as the third term of Obama, the temptation is completely understandable. The cable news cycle is famous for its short memory and attention span, but Obama has performed a turnaround of an economy that was, even for the most optimistic, inconceivable when he took the oath of office in January 2009. The President is more than simply loyal to his party mate and former Secretary of State. He’s a patriot who sincerely fears the overturn of our mutual progress by a sub-human who preaches hate, intolerance and bald-faced lies.

We the people deserve to hear more development of this narrative from the media, the alleged watchdogs and protectors of the public interest. Instead we have been – and continue to be – cheated by a profession that has become so many televised ambulance chasers. Donald Trump says and does things on a daily basis that are disqualifying for the nation’s highest office, including the most recent and beyond the pale birther history revisionism. Yet on a national level, the race between Clinton and Trump is almost too close to call.

If you believe the tightness of a contest that should be a complete Clinton triumph has nothing to do with the media’s lopsided coverage and normalization of a candidate that would have made George McGovern seem positively mainstream, you’re dangerously wrong. This guy should have been pansted by mainstream journalism long ago. But the story was just too good….

Becky Sarwate

Becky Sarwate

Becky is an award-winning journalist, Op-Ed columnist and blogger. On March 29, 2018 her first book, Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team, will be published by Eckhartz Press. She is a proud Chicago resident, where Becky lives with her husband Bob. Check out her collected work at BeckySarwate.com, and follow her on Twitter @BeckySarwate.