You Are What You Read

You Are What You Read

Rabaeeh Moeen looks at the US election and questions the media’s role in it. How much of an influence does it have? And more importantly, is it a decisive one?

The media plays a role in our perceptions. Of course it does, it’s how we consume the majority of our information. It’s easier to switch the TV to the BBC than comb through the internet for niche news blogs that might give you a wider coverage of events. However, due to this, it’s easier to be misled too.

Perhaps this was what happened in the US elections. Trump’s win was a shock not just to the rest of the world, when far-right political leaders such as Marine Le Pen claimed it as a ‘great movement;’ not just for the pollsters who got it completely wrong again; but for the people, who hadn’t expected it. And how much of a role did the media play in this?

In May, analytical firm Media Quaint surmised Trump had received over $3bn in free advertising for over a year of his campaign, blowing the unpaid advertising (in the form of media reporting) other candidates received out of the water; Clinton, in comparison, received about $1bn. Trump himself acknowledged this extensive coverage as far back as September last year. Speaking to The New York Times about his lack of television adverts, he said “when you look at cable television, a lot of the programs are 100 percent Trump, so why would you need more Trump during the commercial breaks?”

Even in the UK, Trump was heard about so often in the media you could assume there were no other candidates, his outrageous claims becoming a great source of entertainment. Recently, this technique of the American media received a lot of backlash on social media, a prominent member being actor Josh Gad who tweeted ‘Dear media, I really hope all the ratings were worth it.’

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Anger at political events often erupts on social media, an outlet for frustrations. But this one was directly critical of how the mainstream media had dealt with election coverage in itself. Trump’s antics were treated like entertainment rather than with the gravity required in election coverage. Furthermore, the only mention of Hillary Clinton in the media was when it involved her emails scandal, creating two distinct stories. One was of a corrupt Hillary Clinton, one was of Trump’s astoundingly ignorant rhetoric.

It’s up to the media to control how biased their reporting can be, especially when it comes to elections. To be bombarded by the same candidate repeatedly, gave him the platform to speak without having to expend any effort. Perhaps the sensational factor of his speeches increased ratings and perhaps they didn’t, but Trump did receive a large amount of extra coverage that may, crucially, have affected election results. This is not fair coverage, and it is not what the media should be doing.

Journalist John Pilger claimed ‘journalists created Trump,’ in a piece he did of the US election for the YouTube channel ‘goingundergroundRT.’ “One of the most revealing aspects of this has been the exposure of journalism as an extension of corrupt established power”, he said.

Incidentally, considering Trump’s refrain of ‘it’s rigged’ that news pundits debated to death, people may have lost a lot of trust in the electoral system. Not only that, but trust in the media is fast being lost, not only in regards to election coverage but wider current affairs that occur and are not reported on. For example, there was no information about the fact that voter suppression may have been taking place, which is when a voter is stopped from voting, usually done to ethnic minority voters, and can include harassment outside polling stations, being turned away for not having the correct ID and spreading false information about how to vote.

Greg Palast, an election investigator, was quoted as saying, “the election was already fixed by Trump operatives.” He wrote an article for The Rolling Stone, discussing how voter suppression techniques have been existent ever since he started investigating them, with the controversial Bush vs Gore presidential battle. If Trump supporters were actively stopping Clinton-supporters from voting, and this was not reported until after the election was over, how much of an effect did it really have? And importantly for the media, why do we not hear about this?

So what’s the truth? While it’s clear to any who read the news that Trump has been creating sensational headlines for higher ratings for almost two years now; the extent to which this may have damaged the election and how this ties into the reliability of the media as a whole is always up for debate. The corruption and questionable ethics of certain news groups was exposed a few years ago and discussed in the Leveson Inquiry, but how much more is there that remains to be uncovered?

Rabaeeh Moeen

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