Last Wednesday, many Americans were shocked when they woke up to the news that Donald Trump was elected president the day before. Some of that surprise was undoubtedly the result of trusting that the mainstream media was providing fair and accurate coverage of Trump and Clinton’s election prospects. As it turns out, that trust was seriously misplaced.
The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and all the network news stations had repeatedly asserted that Clinton was almost certainly going to win, but it was The New York Times, the country’s paper of record, that openly declared it would not provide fair coverage to Trump.
In a now infamous piece, New York Times media reporter Jim Rutenberg explained that Donald Trump was such an “abnormal and potentially dangerous candidate” that the normal standards of journalism at the Times could not be applied.
Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, agreed with Rutenberg’s assessment, saying the Times changed its journalistic standards and ended the paper’s internal-struggle over outright attacking candidates as liars thanks to Trump.
While it was nice to see the Times finally acknowledge it is not an objective source of information, the Times’ pro-Clinton bias made it (and the rest of the mainstream media) completely ignore the evidence around the depth of Trump’s support. Now, the paper of record looks completely out of touch and incapable of understanding the country it is the paper of record for.
In the wake of the Times’ embarrassing failure, the paper’s publisher and Baquet wrote a letter to their readers. Calling the election “erratic and unpredictable,” they admitted they blew it and said that they will “rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism.”
Rutenberg had his own mea culpa, where he recognized mainstream media journalists were out of touch with reality and that the results of the election proved “something was fundamentally broken in journalism.”
While it is true that polling played a large role in the mainstream media failure—one disgraced pollster even ate a bug live on CNN as penance—some of the polling was not that far off. Plenty of polling firms like those working with the LA Times and International Business Times had the race within the margin of error (sometimes with Trump ahead) and even the much maligned Nate Silver gave Trump a 30% chance.
The real reason the mainstream media face-planted on the election coverage is because they were trying to have it both ways, supporting their preferred candidate through their coverage, while also claiming to have the one true understanding of the race (which, surprise, helped their preferred candidate). They are the establishment, with all its flaws and purported virtues, but are unwilling to face that truth or allow it to permeate their awareness.
Either way, if the Times and the mainstream media have any hope of regaining their credibility, they have to come clean about their own agenda. Transparency, not the false promise of objectivity, is the real standard for journalism.