By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How unbalanced media debates enabled Trump’s rise

Donald Trump, large and in charge. Photo (cc) 2011 by Gage Skidmore.

Donald Trump, large and in charge. Photo (cc) 2011 by Gage Skidmore.

Last week the editors of the Washington Post‘s blog In Theory asked me to contribute to a series of posts on the media’s culpability in the rise of Donald Trump. Mine was just published. Later in the week we’ll hear from New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, Post media blogger Erik Wemple, and In Theory editor Christine Emba. The top of my piece follows.

What could be more open and democratic than a debate? For all the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth now taking place over the massive amounts of free media bestowed upon Donald Trump, it was his dominating performance in the televised debates that allowed him to separate himself from the pack.

Yet the debates themselves were an exercise in faux democracy. What really mattered, especially early on, was who got invited, who got to stand where and who was allowed to speak the most. Unfortunately, the media organizations that ran the debates (along with the Republican National Committee) relied on polls to make those decisions right from the very first encounter in August.

Read the rest in the Washington Post.

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  1. I enjoyed your take on this issue.

    Maybe it’s another form of privatization, the way private entities such as political parties and media companies make decisions, according to their own interests, that impact voter choices and people’s participation in government? We have the concept “too big to fail” for private financial institutions, which recognizes the reality of the impact of the private on the public — maybe we need a concept that takes into account how much private entities are intertwined with the functioning of our national elections, one that amounts to, if you’re a private entity that has that much impact on something as intimately involved with the functioning of our government, you should also be held accountable in a more meaningful way to do what’s in the public’s interests (the point of my analogy is to show that we do sometimes take into account the reality of public/private intermingling).

    What I also found very troubling this election cycle was major news outlets calling primary elections immediately after the polls closed and without showing any votes tallied or percentages of precincts reporting. To me, that’s a slippery slope, potentially leading to elections called wrong. I think it’s also more generally manipulative of readers, but that’s a different argument.

  2. Eventually Trump ninja’d this into where the media could stand, in his banning of the Post.

    Jay Rosen then called for a belated media revolt, for journalists to require Trump staffers to drag them out and have them arrested as civil disobedience.

    As independent, now retired/citizen, media, this made me cross, on the very thesis you present here.

    The MSM had made Trump and stood aside for years in general, and months in specific, as journos with less illustrious press passes (I have had a pass via the NWU) or bloggers were booted or “caged” while MSM built up their Frankenstein(s) in close collaboration with sources.

    We said what you are saying.

    “They came for the bloggers, and I did nothing,” I tweeted to Jay.

    “I don’t get it,” he responded at first. Then, “Take your rage elsewhere.”

    Access had been more important. For the right people. Politicians, or press.

    Everyone wants to think they are doing the right thing. But I keep asking American journalism,

    What Would Murrow Do?
    What Would Mencken Do?

    Yes, finding a new financial model is wicked important. So is relevance, spine, soul, the civic charge of the press, the reason we have a first amendment to protect us.

    We are here to inform when the Emperor has no clothes, not to provide color commentary on where to buy replicas from the best sponsored shops.

  3. and your solution is?

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