I spent the weekend in Los Angeles with a friend taking in the Breeders Cup which features the best thoroughbred horses in the world competing in 13 races over two days. It was a bucket list-type trip to the famed Santa Anita racetrack, where the San Gabriel Mountains make the setting even more beautiful than what you see on TV.
It also was just a few days before yesterday’s US elections so I talked to a number of people to see what they were thinking and how they planned to vote. Their responses were interesting. A man from Chicago told me he still hadn’t decided how he would vote for President, which seemed odd since he had to make his choice in just 72 hours and the campaign has lasted for months. Then there was the young woman working as a server at a restaurant at LAX Airport who told me she planned to vote for Bernie Sanders as a write-in candidate because she heard that if she did it would count. I don’t know the US election laws, but that sounded like a spoiled ballot to me.
I was also stunned by how much talk there was about the media and amazed by what information people were being given. It was much different than any Canadian election and left a pretty strong impression on me
Fox News Blowhards
Two nights in a row as I was flipping through the channels I was stunned by commentators on Fox News. I had heard about Sean Hannity, but had never seen him. He attacked Hillary Clinton and built up Donald Trump in a way I had never seen before from a political commentator. I knew Fox News had taken a pro-Trump stance, but I never realized it was as blatant and vicious as it was. There’s an old line in media about shoddy journalism about not letting the facts stand in the way of a good story. This was like taking that old line and putting it on steroids.
The next evening it was Judge Jeannine Pirro who did the screaming and ranting. I have never heard about her before, but I understand she’s a former judge and politician who said Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be allowed to run because of the e-mail scandal.
To a Canadian who is used to a balanced approach to news, especially during election campaigns, this was truly eye-opening. I’d never seen anything like it. The lines at Fox seemed totally blurred. Who was the news anchor, who was the commentator and who was the person being interviewed? There it didn’t seem to matter, as long as Trump won and Clinton lost.
In Canada we have a pretty good understanding of who’s paid to be unbiased and report the news with balance and fairness. At Fox News, none of that counted, as long as they were bashing Clinton and praising Trump.
I wonder how much this type of commentary made a difference when people went to the ballot box yesterday and how it factored into Trump's win?
The other thing that struck me in the last few days of the campaign, and especially while I was in the US, were the number of “fake news” websites that have sprung up.
Websites like abcnews.com.co that tries to appear to be ABC News, but is actually far from that. It cranks out stories that are totally manufactured. These stories are called “click bait” because the more people click on them, the more the website earns. There’s a hint of truth to most of them and what happens is the stories land on popular and credible sites like Facebook and Twitter and it’s terribly difficult for most people to understand what’s factual and what’s made up. The stories get shared, lending more credibility, as in “Well if a Fox newsperson shared the story then it must be true”, or “If it was shared by a well know Trump supporter then he must have endorsed it.”
The website had a headline on Monday morning that screamed The Amish in America Commit Their Vote to Donald Trump; Mathematically Guaranteeing Him a Presidential Victory. I guess this answers the age old question of “Who makes this stuff up”?
I saw a statistic that said that 63% of the people on Facebook use it as their main and sometimes really own way of getting news. That’s scary, especially when all this click bait is around. What real and what’s made up?
Fake news stories are terribly concerning, not only during an election but also because the number of real journalists continues to drop. This story in the New York Times details the double whammy or exploding fake news organizations and shrinking traditional newsrooms.
It’s possible the same situation could happen in Canada in the next election. I don’t expect it to be anything like what we’ve seen in the US the last few weeks, but the same ingredients are there for the same thing to happen here down the road.
Facts – Who Needs Them?
The other amazing thing I noticed how so many people in the US didn't seem to care about facts, balanced reporting and truth. Trump supporters were attacking the media, especially CNN, for its coverage of the election. To them, if you were reporting anything negative about Trump then you were the enemy.
I’m not sure how traditional media ever got to be the enemy, but it appears that’s what so many of his supporters think. If Trump, or any politician for that matter makes claims, it’s the job of the media to report whether those claims are true. That’s about as basic as it gets. Candidate “A” says “X” has happened. It’s the media’s job to report on whether it has or hasn’t and not simply spout what Candidate A has said as if it’s gospel.
It seems like this was never an issue until Donald Trump came along. Now it is.
The Trump victory has left pundits wondering what will happen to the US, Canada and the rest of the world. Nobody knows for sure. People can make predictions, but there’s a huge amount of uncertainty on what the future holds.
Most Canadians are shocked by the election result, but it’s not our country and not our vote. However there’s no doubt we’ll feel the effect.
I’ll let others analyze what happened and why, but my thoughts today are with the news media and how it will react over the coming weeks months. Will right wing news outlets like Fox remain a supporter of Trump now that he’s elected, or treat him like he’s fair game as it has with other Presidents? Will the fake news organizations continue to crank out stories that support Trump and the Republicans, or will they get a better click rate by being critical? Will reporters for traditional media outlets continue to be let go from their jobs, or will some of them hang on because there’s more news to cover, at least for awhile?
My biggest question is, will Trump and the Republicans, with their control of the House and the Senate, try to control the way the media does its job? They can point to their supporters, numbering in the millions, who weren’t pleased with the way most of the mainstream media covered the election.
Like TV anchors have said for years – stay tuned.