The media need to offer a mea culpa. On behalf of my colleagues, I would like to apologize for breaking this election. Here’s how we did it:
▪ We became obsessed with Donald Trump. That was on display most recently in last week’s vice-presidential debate, in which moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News fired off many more tough questions at Republican Mike Pence than she did at Democrat Tim Kaine.
Quijano zeroed in on Trump’s past statements and – like Kaine – demanded to know whether Pence would defend them. The New York Times noted: “Elaine Quijano, the moderator, helped Mr. Kaine along, opening one question with a recitation of Mr. Trump’s statements.” Quijano also steered the conversation away from Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and missed at least a half-dozen chances to grill Kaine – for instance, on which of Clinton’s conflicting positions on trade he was most comfortable with.
▪ We manipulated quotes. On Sunday, ABC News tweeted that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said this about Trump on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”: “Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman?” The tweet left out the rest: “… and the only thing that she ever produced is a lot of work for the FBI checking out her email.”
Giuliani was emphasizing Clinton’s email scandal, not the fact that she’s a woman. Last month, CBS News did Bill Clinton a favor by removing the word “frequently” from the rebroadcast of an interview in which the former president admitted that Hillary Clinton “frequently” fainted due to dehydration before catching himself and saying she “rarely” lost consciousness.
▪ We set the stage for this matchup. Trump vs. Clinton has been a money-maker. Eighty-four million Americans tuned into the first debate, generating tons of revenue for broadcast media companies. Trump is getting rough treatment from the media now, but he defeated 16 other Republican contenders thanks to kid-glove treatment during the primaries.
As for Clinton, even though she was the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee, it didn’t hurt her chances that the media largely dismissed Bernie Sanders – and thereby missed the revolution he sparked. At one point, Sanders’ wife, Jane, even complained that the media were unfairly playing up her husband’s attacks on Clinton but downplaying Clinton’s attacks on Sanders.
▪ We tried to accomplish conflicting goals. We wanted to generate huge ratings and earn big profits by putting Trump front and center, while still continuing our saintly work of making Americans into good people. But now we’re shocked that support for Trump is actually making Americans into bad people.
Suddenly, there are white high school students using the word “Trump” and chants such as “build the wall” to taunt, bully and intimidate Latino classmates. Such are the dangers when journalists aim to be social engineers. Meanwhile, Clinton – who is already viewed as dishonest by a majority of Americans – treats lying as an art form and forces her defenders to spin one yarn after another to carry on the narratives.
▪ Finally, we flip-flopped just like politicians do. Take the recent about-face by The New York Times concerning Ohio. Now that Trump appears to have jumped ahead in the Buckeye State by racking up defections by white working-class Democrats who like his tough talk on immigration and trade, a recent article in the Times insisted that Ohio is “suddenly fading in importance” because the electorate is too old, too white and too poorly educated.
But just a few weeks earlier, the paper was singing a different tune about Ohio, portraying it as “an essential swing state.” The reporters and editors at the Times obviously didn’t think their readers were smart enough to notice the shift.
It’s no wonder that a recent Gallup Poll found that only 27 percent of Americans think the honesty and ethical standards of journalists are “high” or “very high.” That’s not much better than lawyers, who clocked in at a paltry 21 percent. Members of Congress were at 8 percent.
The media have lost the public’s trust. That’s what happens when folks figure out that the institutions they turn to for truth are not above shading it.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at is firstname.lastname@example.org.