At 7:29am, I woke up to see a Boston Globe breaking news alert that had been sent 4 hours earlier: Defying all expectations, Trump takes the White House. I am not a morning person, but in this moment I was wide-awake. I had gone to sleep last night with a headache from the latest results and the inability to watch any longer. I’ll just find out in the morning, I thought to myself. I had voted early, I made my voice heard, I did my civic duty. That was all I could do. So I chose to wake up to the news instead of staying up and waiting, because my lack of sleep wasn’t going to change anything.
I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for this possible outcome. But here we are. After letting it sink in for a few hours, I attended Northeastern’s “The Day After: Making Sense of the Election and What Lies Ahead” – a conversation led by a panel of three faculty members, Dan Kennedy, Dina Kraft, and Jonathan Kaufman, from the School of Journalism. For one hour, I watched as students and faculty engaged in a dialogue regarding what had taken place the night before and the role of journalism in the events leading up to it. Although there was a noticeably gloomy atmosphere surrounding the discussion, due to the uncertainty that lies ahead of us as a country, it focused more on the media’s impact on the campaign. Questions varied from “what was the role of gender in this election?” to “was the media biased?”
Dan Kennedy opened up the discussion with his views on media coverage of the race, which ultimately became the central point of the discussion. “They deserve some fairly harsh criticism,” Professor Kennedy said regarding the media. Professor Kennedy’s point had two parts. First, Donald Trump got free media coverage that no other candidate has ever gotten. He was able to go on the air and interrupt television shows whenever he pleased. The second part was a key element associated with this election: “a sense of false equivalence.” In other words, the media gave equal weight to lesser stories of Clinton and greater stories of Trump. However, Professor Kennedy said that this shouldn’t have made a difference because Trump voters were still well informed due to the good reporting done by institutions such as the Washington Post and the New York Times.
It’s evident that Professor Kennedy was referring to stories such as the Clinton’s emails. Professor Laurel Leff, a member of the audience, said that the biggest journalistic issue surrounding the election was “the willingness to use the WikiLeaks tape without thinking twice about it.” In response, a student said that so much of the election coverage was based on sensationalism and the media focused more on what grabs viewers. As CBS CEO, Leslie Moonves, said, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
At what point did this become more about journalistic gain and less about America as a whole? “The way we talk about it (the election) as a joke, undermined it,” a student said. It’s true. We joke about it and the media sensationalizes it.
After several shots at the media, Jonathan Kaufman made a notable point. “The media, I don’t think, elected Donald Trump,” he said. Again, this is true. The media isn’t responsible for the election results and as Kaufman stated, most news anchors were in fact in shock. However, news organizations’ biases do make a difference in public voting and that is hard to ignore. As an audience member questioned, who would the public favor if they only had access to Fox News or CNN, but not both.
It’s voters’ job to elect and journalists’ job to provide the information for those voters’ to make informed decisions. As of now the future of the press is looking a bit shaky. Nonetheless, whether or not the journalism behind this election was done properly, the question now, as a student put it, is “going forward, how do we fix this divide?”