Trumped-Up Media – How the Media enabled the rise of Trump

trumped-upmediaOn November 8th, 2016, the United States of America shocked the world by electing Donald Trump as their 45th President. This came as a surprise to many domestically and internationally given the xenophobic, self-destructive, and scandal-filled nature of his campaign. While a lot of the panic came from the proposed policies, falsehoods, and intolerant direction given by Trump’s campaign, there was also a lack of understanding on how this happened. How did we get here? There are many people assigning the blame to Third-Party Candidates, people whom did not to vote, the nature of the American Electoral College, and other reasons. While there may be some truth to those claims, I believe much of the blame lies with the very same media that Trump attacks on a regular basis. I’ve long since made known my opinion of the media’s role in the rise of Donald Trump, but let’s examine that belief. I believe that, despite Trump’s war against the free press, the media is the biggest enabler and collaborator in Trump’s rise to power.

Before I begin, let me state the fact that this is an opinion piece and I am not a journalist, but research has been conducted and shown to demonstrate evidence of my argument. A wide variety of sources will be linked to and cited to not only outline the common beliefs of the time, but also demonstrate the consequences of mass media. I hope you can use this as a springboard to your own research. This article does not ask you to agree with me, but aims to challenge and inspire critical thinking about how western culture consumes information, our part in it, and how we arrived at our point in history. Without further ado, let’s examine the past year in headlines.

The Role of Media

Donald Trump has been extremely critical of the media. I agree that the media deserves criticism for how it’s treated Trump, but for vastly different reasons. Because we are all simply not able to be everywhere at once, societies rely on the media of the time to know what’s going on in the world, be that an online report, a newspaper, social media, or the town crier of old. They are the lens through which the world is filtered to many of us. This not only gives the mass media tremendous power to shape the narrative reality people live under, but also their decisions, beliefs, and cultural climate. In the case of news, this becomes a matter of journalism in mass media culture. In a free and democratic society, journalists bear a responsibility to report such happenings with accuracy and objectivity to properly inform the public and allow citizens to be citizens [1]. Sure, there are differing accounts and political styles, but the general goal should be present the facts of an event and whilst upholding journalistic integrity. In the current American news climate, this is may seem, to some degree, laughable at this point, due to the massive partisan tilt on major news networks, but this doesn’t change their fundamental responsibility nor its consequences. While discussing cultural theory in 1989, Canadian Media Scholar Ted Magder wrote:

”Through cultural practices individuals gain a sense of themselves and how they can relate to others – as citizens, as members of a class or social group, as men or women, as natives or blacks, as Quebecois or westerners. As vehicles for symbolically representing evertday life and for producing and transforming meaning and information, cultural practices are an integral component of the struggle for, and the maintenance of, power, an integral component of politics writ large.” [2]

This still holds true. The media helps a society see the world and figure out how people relate to each other. However, it’s the political economy of those who hold power over the media that often direct and determine its means of production and direction, which can also affect the given narrative .The culture of the American media sphere often emphasizes sensationalism, immediacy, and exaggeration [2], which, especially in our mass media culture, can do a disservice to the principles of quality reporting. To understand this, we have to be honest with not only how we’ve consumed the media, but also how it’s reported. We have to be able to deconstruct the thousands of daily media messages that assault us to recognize the process and effect of the encoded messages we consume and decode both by ourselves and in the public consciousness. This is not exclusive to the matter of Trump or the recent election cycle, how media is consumed and presented has always been relevant, but the recent election has demonstrated how broken the media system can progressively become. When it comes to the 2015 – 2016 US Election Cycle, one post on the now defunct and questionably ethical site Gawker sums up the zeitgeist of the public consciousness perfectly.

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Say what you will about Gawker, but this picture now-ironically describes the general mindset of the time perfectly.

On June 16th, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President, after many years of threatening to do so. Trump’s toxicity on the campaign trail made him especially undesirable, as he infamously began his bid for the White House by calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists, among insulting many other people, on Day 1 and proceeded to insult every non-white, non-Christian, and non-able bodied male demographic since. However, what’s worth noting is how the media has reported Trump; he was not taken seriously, neither by journalists nor the general public. In fact, the general consensus of the entire time up until his win was that he was a joke, especially on the left. Because of Trump’s reputation of being a crass, silly reality star oompaloompa with bad hair and a fun catchphrase, nobody seemed to give Trump the scrutiny reserved for countless celebrities and politicians that spew racist, sexist, damaging, or compromising scandals for the public. Even groups  who normally don’t report very much on political matters unless it pertains to celebrities (eg TMZ and Entertainment Tonight) followed Trump. What few people realized was that this was a symptom of what would become a graver problem in the media world.

Personally, Trump stopped being funny to me the day he actually announced his candidacy, but that is besides the point. However, from then on, it began a very consistent trend with the aforementioned sensational nature of American-style reporting. The media’s relationship with Trump can be described as follows: Trump says something silly, false, or offensive. News organizations proceed to salivate over Trump’s every word, putting him on on repeat on a nigh 24/7 basis, with the occasional bogus segment of surrogates briefly arguing over his statements, but otherwise allowing Trump’s messages to go completely unchallenged. There are countless examples of this (so much so that it can now be an entropic black hole to look into), but the voluntary inability of news organizations to not only challenge the constant lies Donald Trump would spew on national television and local news outlets on a literal daily basis but also relent on reporting other subjects of importance (eg. Flint, Michigan still has tainted water) not only normalizes the destructive nature of such messages, but also insists to the public that he’s telling the truth and/or is correct, no matter how false, outlandish, or damaging it may be. An easy target is Trump’s shocking statements about killing Terrorists’ families on national television to the beat of silence and a lack of meaningful rebuttal. An eroding sense of media literacy and political apathy coupled with a lack of a counterpoint makes these lies a reality, to the point where the most basic of efforts to expose them is seen as a revolutionary act. It’s idiotic to think these words can just be ignored. Words have power, even more so when magnified by the 24-hour news cycle. To let a lie and dangerous rhetoric live unchallenged is to enable it to freely corrupt others. By failing their moral obligation to properly inform the public and proceeding to magnify lies and propaganda by a million megaphones around the clock unchallenged, they did a great disservice to the public and actively enabled Trump to become increasingly toxic without consequence. Contrary to popular belief, the Media didn’t do everything they could to prevent a Trump Presidency, they did everything they could to ensure it.

Constant Controversy

‘Freedom of speech’ is often a misguided rallying cry in today’s society, sometimes used not to proclaim their rights, but to deny all criticism. Freedom of speech does NOT grant you freedom from consequence, neither socially or politically. Unless you’re Donald Trump, then freedom of speech only has consequences when you disagree with Donald Trump. When controversy is the name of the game, Trump and the press have had a problematic yet ironically beneficial relationship with more benefits than consequences.

To describe Trump as a ‘Media Bully’ would be putting it lightly. Trump has made no shortage of threats to make it easier to sue news organizations under the guise of ‘fake news’. However, anyone who looks at his behaviour then or now and can analyze anything beyond face value knows that is not a matter of truth, but a way to silence dissent amongst free press. Trump has a very long history of sending threats, legal or otherwise, to organizations and individuals for unfavorable coverage, and consequently blanket blacklisting news organizations he doesn’t like, since at least 1973. In addition to fantacising about silencing the Press, he also likes to bully organizations until they fall in line or stop criticism, much like FOX News. His campaign, and now administration, continues to enact that.

One scandal that came to light early but faded into the background, despite the magnitude, was Trump University, a fake-institution Trump developed that cheated many prospective students. As such, massive lawsuits were launched against the ‘University’ for fraud. The Trump University scandal pre-dates Trump’s campaign, however, it was evidently not a major disaster for his chances. A great article by the The Newyorker summarizes much of the Trump University scandal nicely, however, at the end it says, “One thing is clear, though. If the revelations about Trump University don’t do any damage to Trump, it’s time to worry—or worry even more—about American democracy”. Contrary to popular belief, the time for worrying about Trump’s campaign was not after he was elected, but much, much earlier. Refusing to let it tarnish his election win, Trump settled all of University lawsuits soon after the election. However, many never realized this, as the press was too busy gushing over Hamilton actors dissing Vice-President Mike Pence that same weekend to care.

For those able to deconstruct the media’s attempts at socio-political indoctrination, it’s always been clear that much of current western media is, to varying extents, an extension or enabler of white supremacy in its many forms, often implicitly. This can be seen very easily when we consider the political economy of media, but also in how the media often softened and normalized the development of Trump campaign’s relationship and transition to overt white supremacy. Beyond early swipes at Mexicans, the Chinese, and Muslims, Trump’s campaign eagerly stroked the egos of white nationalists and neo-nazis, which has carried over into his administration. Trump was very dodgey about disavowing endorsements from David Duke, a well-known figure amongst the Ku Klux Klan, claiming the impossible ignorance of not knowing about KKK.  Trump’s white supremacist ties were even further entrenched as nationalist Steve Bannon, former head of alt-right organization Breitbart News, was hired as a major campaign manager in August 2016. One only needs to do light research of Bannon to know the influence he brings, his history, and anti-semitism among other traits. Bannon is now one of the closest advisors to President Trump. The Media’s refusal to truly hold his feet to the fire on these and other issues ensured it quickly passed. Much of this was only given the slightest glance, despite its obvious foretelling of our current reality.

Of course, racism has always been a cornerstone of the Trump narrative. One can’t analyze the media’s obsession with Trump without mentioning the ‘birther’ conspiracy theory that catapulted him into modern political prominence well before his campaign when he had no place in politics. For those unfamiliar, this long controversy started when Trump baselessly accused former US President Barack Obama of not being an American-born Citizen. This charade of a non-issue that was proven time-and-time again, and yet persisted even after Obama, humoring the nonsense, released his long form birth certificate. Even so, Trump persisted with the birther conspiracy and was paraded across the media on the matter, including when he recently made a statement in September 2016, finally saying Obama was born in the United States whilst somehow blaming Hillary Clinton for the nonsense after he’s led the entire conspiracy theory for over 5 years. As a Black man in America, President Obama was always an easy target for various forms of racism. Casting Obama as ‘the other’ is a hobby many media outlets are eager to do regardless of Trump. The ‘birther’ controversy has just been one of the many examples of that, but perhaps its most poignant. Never in modern memory has such a prominent political figure had to prove his heritage for legitimacy, an issue that never would have presented itself had Obama been White. It showed American media’s eagerness of sensationalizing negativity towards the other that, in a way, was a precursor to how they would handle the Trump campaign.

To explain what I mean by the concept of ‘the other’, it be described the use of de-humanizing images beliefs, or, ideas, about strangers foreigners or people of difference often leads to social and cultural consequences of stereotypes, misunderstandings, mistreatment, and, eventually, violence [3]. This effort to de-humanize people of non-white cultures, races, and religions is consistent with not only the Birther controversy, but with much of Trump’s blatantly anti-immigrant, pro-white messages present campaign. Trump opened by othering people based on their race, often doubling down on such claims and chanting his desire to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the US. Early on in the campaign, he proclaimed his desire for a ‘total and complete shut down of Muslims entering the United States’ which was only the beginning of the anti-muslim rhetoric present throughout the campaign. He openly proposed policies that would put Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities further in danger from police and possible deportation under the implication that those people neither belong nor are normal or welcomed in Trump’s American dream. There are countless examples of racist practices that Trump has employed in his campaign, and even multiple instances in his past. However, you’ll find little counterpoint from mainstream news sources regarding the offensive nature of Trump’s statements nor any desire for policy. Networks will often let Trump say what he likes or report his statements with little to no challenge or consequence, especially as it pertains to race. Additionally, neither Trump nor his ardent supporters will claim his acts are racist, despite his exact words. What many do not understand is racism is far more than a yelling of racial slurs and lynching, but how people of different ethnic backgrounds are treated socially, legally, and politically by the majority and those in power. Putting a target on the backs of increasing amounts of minorities for persecution is racist by definition and its ignorant to ignore its many consequences. Unfortunately, American journalism ignored these consequences and enabled it.

Trump’s history of marginalizing ‘the other’ also extends to women. His actions to normalize and legitimize sexual assault, harassment, and sexism in general are in no way undercut by Kellyanne Conway’s role in running of his campaign; in fact they are arguably emphasized because of it. Trump has a long, disturbing history of sexual assault and accusations of sexual assault. He’s valued women based on attractiveness, and has insulted and demeaned countless women in various ways. Of course, the ‘Grab him by the pussy’ scandal is a signature example of this contempt for women and their rights and a dangerous social precedent the Trump campaign has set for sexual assault. However, like clockwork, American news culture sensationalized the matter briefly before putting down the beast.

And of course, we have the Russian controversy in which pretty much every US Intelligence Agency, including US Homeland Security, published on good authority of Russia interfering with the election. This was further implied due to the Russian ties amongst certain members Trump’s campaign staff and his continued efforts to deflect any and all blame from the foreign superpower and, in one case, encourage it and later insist it was a joke.

I could go into so much more detail on the many other scandals and controversies surrounding Trump’s character and campaign statements, but I fear I am rambling at this point. Despite all this, I have barely scratched the surface. With all these issues and a lack of actual policy, one might wonder how Trump STILL got elected. The reason lies not with the controversies but how they were portrayed, encoded, and distributed by mainstream media channels.

Media Fail

            Despite all the controversies listed above, mass media culture was dedicated to violently downplaying all of it. Much of it coming from the general public’s inability to take him or his campaign seriously due to his celebrity status, but also because sensationalism trumped integrity. Throughout the primary and national debates, much more effort was put into discussing funny or silly things Trump would say, due to his tendency to derail any meaningful debate into a narcissistic pissing contest, instead of actual policy; a behaviour that describes Trump’s campaign in a nutshell. Trump would constantly say outlandish things in an attempt to dominate the news cycle, and the media took the bait wholeheartedly. From the onset, Trump was all everyone talked about. Everyone wanted to know what the village idiot would shout and they knew audiences would eat it up. This also made the Clinton Vs Trump debates quite jarring, as it would feel like an actual debate one minute and a reality show the next. Not only did Trump receive an absurd amount of free media coverage, more than most if not all of his competition combined regardless of ad spending, to spread his message, but segments on Trump attracted profitably high ratings for news networks which not only encouraged them to put him on repeat 24/7, but also detracted coverage from literally every other candidate. This includes taking attention away from Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley. Had the Press covered candidates on both sides equally or with less of a Trump focus, the course of the election and its nominees would have likely have been MUCH different. Constant media exposure is the only reason Trump gathered the following he has and other candidates only became relevant if they related to him. The insistence to cover Trump above all else denied room for any other message or candidate during the election season.

Trump’s teflon reputation against scandal is not due to the constant controversies covering each other, but how the media covered said controversies which enabled him further. While the focus has been on ‘Fake News’, the real issue is not only the growing lack of media literacy by the public, but the mainstream media’s insistence to downplay or ignore major issues or use them to further elevate and normalize Trump’s cultural presence. Trump has said many dangerous and shocking statements about Nuclear Weapons but these were often downplayed in favor of something random he said on any given day. Time was spent covering Trump winning a Nobel Peace Prize, even though that was false. When the horrible Orlando Nightclub massacre occurred last year, news organizations quickly shifted from covering the tragedy itself to obsessing over Trump’s tweets about it. The media’s obsession with everything Trump extended to his tweets, which were often attempting to take advantage of divisive incidents, especially involving non-white citizens or immigrants. In many cases, reports about how Trump tweeted about a situation eclipsed much major coverage about the incident itself. Among the many more examples are when a relative of Dwayne Wade was murdered and Trump tweeted it to his advantage. This was a constant problem. Not only did journalists neglect to cover current events themselves in their entirety, but their coverage of the current events often became about Trump almost exclusively, even though he had nothing to do with it. These reports didn’t challenge these statements. They simply just stated them and spread the power of Trump through the Press’ voluntary insistence of further protecting Trump from public consequence for more eyeballs. The fallacy here was: Trump said it, so it is news.

Furthermore, an extension of this came in the form of the discussion panels accompanying every new story debating such ‘hard’ questions like: ‘Is Trump Racist?’, ‘Is Trump Sexist?’, ‘What did Trump ACTUALLY mean?’, ‘Did Trump really imply for gun activists to kill Hillary Clinton?’. While these should be rhetorical questions, these instead became thinly veiled attempts to defend such behaviour across most major mediums. It was a common sight on news networks to see people doing the required mental gymnastics to find SOME WAY to explain that Trump didn’t mean what he said, even if Trump doubled down and said he meant what he said, and that he wasn’t a racist, or a sexist, or a deviant, despite all evidence to the contrary. Case in point, when people tried to spin Trump’s statements on Mexicans as not being what he said, even though we have video evidence and transcripts. Problem was that these often weren’t debates on both sides of an issue, but misleading attempts to rationalize Trump’s statements whilst people yell at each other. These arguments, however, didn’t mean anything and were merely extensions of the propaganda machine. While these segments are normal on news networks, especially in an election year, the focus has hardly been this universally singular. All of these elements were supported by the occasional insistence that Trump will change and that he’ll be humbled to be more ‘Presidential’ despite him only getting worse on the campaign trail and further tapping into the egos of white supremacists and neo-nazis. The media had enough ammunition to stop Trump from the beginning, they’ve done it before with a single scandal for countless others, even the head of FOX News in a mere 2 weeks and the Nixon/Watergate scandal is the poster child of this. However, they simply enabled him all the way for the sake of ratings. Be it Trump’s hiding Tax Returns to the Russian scandal to the increasing totalitarian proposals, none of it stopped each network from looking away from major issues and dedicating time and resources to the antics of Trump and Trump-alone.

But we can’t analyze the coverage of Trump without at least somewhat addressing the nature of his biggest opponent, Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton. Clinton has had a troubling history with the Press, which rendered her as untrustworthy, but upon further research some of her past scandals are drenched in sexism of the US political climate or propaganda. However, how did the Media cover Clinton amidst the chaos of the Election Cycle? Clinton does not benefit from the male privilege that benefits Trump narratively, which affected how she was portrayed. The Benghazi controversy and the long saga of the e-mail scandal were investigated to death with no evidence of wrongdoing, but was a constant thorn in the side of the Clinton campaign. The e-mail scandal was brought up, against protocol, by the FBI at the last minute only to be dropped soon after it had already done fatal campaign damage. There were other issues: scandals with the Clinton Foundation, the Goldman Sachs speeches, the DNC hack and other DNC issues. While these issues were scrutinized, for the most part the only major controversy Clinton had was the singular witch hunt related to her e-mails. While her carelessness on the matter and her other incidents can be considered legitimate issues with the Clinton campaign, the problem is that amidst the plethora of Trump content and efforts to defend or downplay his remarks, little else was covered regarding Clinton herself. These issues were always dramatically inflated as major grievances compared to Trump’s political malevolence. Much other coverage of her was often false, rhetorical, or relatively meaningless, such when she got sick once, but still attended a memorial. Very little of Clinton’s media coverage was dedicated to her actual policies – the overall norm in this election cycle – further compounded with much of the post-debate coverage and the debate itself where her talks of policy were quickly derailed by Trump’s reality show narrative. Clinton’s image was further tarnished by the spread of false right-wing propaganda becoming mainstream and details regarding the alleged-Russian-led DNC hack. Added to this was an over-inflated confidence on the left that felt that Clinton’s win was guaranteed and let Trump make a fool of himself without considering the power of mass media. This wasn’t helped by the increasing resentment of women that was becoming the norm under Trump’s actions and the media’s compliance. While the media tended to trivialize the many problems with Donald Trump, they also overwhelmingly inflated problematic character of Hilary Clinton. The narrative became that Clinton was just as bad, if not worse than her opponent. That isn’t to say there aren’t reasons to criticize Clinton, there are many, but her side of coverage was very inflated on a few singular issues compared to the magnitude of issues with her opponent. The manner in which both candidates were covered shows several narratives of false equivalency, especially now.

With these narratives at play, it can’t be overstated how much this can influence the average viewer. Understand that there is nothing basic about simply watching television or reading a newspaper or having a conversation. These are methods of communication that we consume help us understand the world around us and how we relate with each other on a global scale; even more so with the Internet and mass media in play. In the communication cycle, a source, the originator of a message, encodes messages, which are sent to a destination, being us, the public, as the target audience [4]. Because these messages can be decoded by an audience in wildly different ways, certain key words, sounds, and images are often used to help direct an audience towards a certain emotion or reaction. You can see this in any given movie when it wants you to feel sad with slow music or hyped with a fast soundtrack. This isn’t partisan. It’s the basics of communications theory. However when it comes to the news, narratives are pushed by publishing select information and specific content. The role of news rooms are to provide a structure where these encoded messages are structured to provide meaningful discourse and context upon being decoded [5]. For many years, in the culture of American media, this has struggled to be the case. Instead, we find very directed narratives that actively try to lead an audience astray through sensationalism. Demonizing minorities and the vulnerable whilst softening incidents related to the majority and powerful is practically a pastime for Western Media. You can see this media bias in news stories that insist mass-murderer Dylann Roof is ‘mentally ill’, whereas they only describe Muslims in relation to terrorism. It’s why we ignore hearing about multiple bombings in Pakistan but shed tears and change profile icons when France has a single attack. It’s when they call slain Black boys ‘thugs’ and attempt post-mortem character assassination through pointed language, imagery, and irrelevant personal details, but describe their murdered White counterparts (or sometimes even the murderers themselves) as nice, quiet boys with promising futures. This is not fact. This is narrative. This is how you define the difference that makes the other. It’s easy to see how many news coverage in general often fits a certain narrative and media bias once you recognize this. It’s important that people on the left and right realize this and consider what’s said, unsaid, and how the narratives are presented.

Because literally nobody was holding Trump accountable to his words, those who were on the fringes of society who sympathized this, being white nationalists, the openly racist, neo-nazis, sexists, hate groups, realized they could take their destructive tendencies and calls for genocide and sexual assault to the front door of any given news station and be granted a microphone to spread their messages with little to no consequence. They were right as their messages have been spread quickly and broadly enough to further inspire spikes hate crimes against most minorities, non-Christian religious groups, and women over the past 2 years. Many of these incidents have had culprits admit to being inspired by Trump and the ‘alt-right’, but for those without given motivations, it’s hard to imagine that they’d be so emboldened to attempt this en masse right now had it not been for political climate shaped by Trump with the blessing of mass media. This isn’t just a trend in America, as it’s led to the rise of dangerous racist incidents and threats around the world. I explain this because it is important for us to learn how to deconstruct and think critically about all the messages modern culture batters us with, especially politically, as believing them blindly is dangerous to all of us. Narratives in mass media culture ranged from ‘Trump is right!’, ‘Trump is wrong’, ‘Trump isn’t that bad’, ‘He’s only saying that to get elected’ (which is scary when you think about it), ‘Radical Islamic Terrorists’ and many others, but without meaningful counterpoints or fact correction required of journalistic integrity. There were many in denial that Trump didn’t mean people should shoot Clinton, even though his exact words implied that very heavily to create a ‘Kill Hillary’ narrative. It’s foolish to think claims like these and “America First” aren’t nationalist claims to racism and othering. Make no mistake; all of these are not merely words that can be ignored. They never were. Words have power and they can easily lead to broken bones from sticks and stones.

By constantly focusing on Trump and disregarding the major issues, this obsession with Trump fundamentally transformed the 2015 – 2016 US Presidential race from the very beginning for both sides of the political spectrum. It no longer became a race to decide the Presidency. It became an Election about Trump.

Comedic Critique  

However, while the public grew ignorant to the failure of news organizations to treat the Trump campaign with the seriousness it deserved, comedy programs attempted to fill that void. Comedians Such as Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, and many others were given plenty of fuel for a hilarious fire by the Trump campaign. However, what defined this election cycle like no other was that it progressively felt like these comedians were covering the news instead of fully parodying it; reporting the facts and debunking myths beyond the usual satire. This jarring change in comedic narrative is important to note in the wake of the mainstream media utterly failing its moral obligation to properly inform the public and hold the powerful accountable. It became apparent that certain comedy shows were more politically aware and dedicated to facts and meaningful commentary than most news networks regarding the election. While they were trapped in the bubble of covering Trump, almost exclusively in some cases, they used comedy to present the chaos; a method which makes it much more digestible for public consumption but can also undercut the seriousness of the issues at hand. While critiquing current events and politics has always been a hallmark of comedy, it became clear that some of these comedians had actually researched their material better than some major networks. John Oliver is a perfect example of this, as many of his rants would often either explain or cite facts and examples to demonstrate a comedic counter argument and cut down many of the lies the Media let live.

Not only did this lead to certain comedians arguably having better-researched segments than actual news reports, but some comedy acts would criticize the current nature of the media itself. While most would believe the clip below from Saturday Night Live is about the candidates themselves, it’s in fact a rather sharp criticism on the outlandish way the media reported and narrated the entire election.

Through these segments, demographics seemed to shift to trusting these certain pundits and comedy programs for news, in some cases more than actual news organizations. These comedians are pushing a narrative, but they were mostly pushing it more fairly than most coverage and providing counterpoints when a mainstream report contradicted the facts. If Trump lied about something, which is most of what he does, you were more likely to hear about a comedian using snark commentary to completely deconstruct the lie than CNN, Fox News, and the rest would often bother to address. This was true even of the lies of Hillary Clinton and other politicians. The problem is this technically isn’t a comedian’s job as they’re mostly suited to complimenting journalism. If comedians have to perform double duty as a reporter AND a comedian sometimes the gravity of the situation is lost in translation.

This also becomes a bigger issue at the times when personalities use their influence to actively try not to hold politicians’ feet the fire. The interview with Trump and Jimmy Fallon was a big example of this as it was an attempt to humanize a man who had demonized so many and rarely questioned the major reasons he was there.

When interviewing subjects, you’re supposed to question them for a reason, even in jest. Jimmy Fallon’s interview fails on all levels, even comedically. By the end of the interview, nothing constructive was achieved. It mostly trivializes the legitimate questions of a Trump candidacy, in favor of ignoring the concerns at hand, talking trivial subjects, and occasionally insulting those concerns, which arguably describes much of Jimmy Fallon’s schtick in a nutshell.

While comedians often act as a conduit to condense the madness of current events, they have a large amount of social power in the media sphere, but that can be a problem if it becomes a major source of news. At no point in history has comedy not been a popular way to critique the politically powerful in political and social contexts, but this becomes a genuine problem when it becomes the biggest voice of that critique that isn’t supported by other mass media. They say that life is easy, comedy is hard, but reporting on life while doing comedy is much harder and flawed.

So where are we now?

            Trump has been President for just over a month and it’s already chaos just about every single day. In a just month, Trump has only derailed everything to falsely inflate the size of his inauguration crowd (multiple times), created chaos with the sudden Muslim Ban he promised which was stalled in court, begun his ambition to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ‘attempted’ to expand the power of Steve Bannon, picked a fight with the Intelligence Community, made up false terrorist attacks to justify the Muslim ban, and had his National Security Advisor resign over exposed Russian connections, with a recent similar reveal for his Attorney General, and all of this is just a fraction of the madness of the past month. Furthermore, President Trump continues his war with the Media, now openly labeling anything he doesn’t like as ‘Fake News’ and bullying the press, whilst continuing to lie with little consequence, he won after all, with the added power of silencing or dismantling any source of major internal dissent when he pleases. The President’s Councilor now justifies the lies as “alternative facts”. Trump and his camp has also stoked the fears of a ‘Muslim Registry’ and an Immigrant Crime Database. President Trump doesn’t address an incident unless it strokes fears of immigrants while hate crimes & murders of people of color and renewed attacks and threats against Mosques and Jewish Centres and ‘othered’ people are both ignored and unaddressed. The Presidency only empowered and legitimized Trump’s war with the Press and the the Other. Such is the consequence of ignoring the countless signs over his campaign that this was going to happen.

Video in the Twitter link above.

However, from the moment Trump became the President-Elect, the Media’s coverage hardly changed. It followed the same pre-election trend and intensified its calls to give Trump a chance. It is my personal opinion that you should NEVER give Politicians a blank slate to prove themselves; that’s literally what the election cycle is for. The election process is a job interview and it’s foolish and dangerous to ignore everything in a campaign on a whim to ‘give them a chance’. You do not let someone get this close to power as a joke. Furthermore, you do not insist on ignoring key problems and bad behaviours or else you are guilty for enabling the problem and encouraging it to re-occur. I believe this goes for any situation in life. In the past election, Trump proved that he can be as destructively bigoted he wished and be greatly rewarded; He became President. It’s no wonder many have been destructively inspired to do the same as of late. The Media have been Trump’s enablers from the start. This didn’t change once the President-Elect became President.

Additionally, this video of Jon Stewart on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert came out recently while I was editing this essay and that describes my entire point about the media losing its soul quite well.

CNN in particular seems to have struck a nerve in the Trump camp. Trump personally called them out as ‘Fake News’, which, for once, put the network squarely against Trump. Sensationalism was still the name of their game, but they were somewhat calling out the Trump Administration for a while. To what end though? It’s far too late to grow a backbone now. Trump is the monster the Media created and enabled. They may not ever admit it, but Trump is their responsibility. In addition to CNN, some other news sources began to finally turn on him and take Trump seriously, even though that ship had long sailed. In turn, they were punished by not being allowed into recent press briefings. That being said, it’s at least better to know that the Media has realized its mistakes now so it can begin to deliver better, quality reporting during the Trump era… Right?

Scratch that, they didn’t learn a damn thing.


Author’s Note: Thank you for reading this article. This is my first political article for this blog and I hope to post more research essays as well as educational articles explaining how political systems work, possibly supported by original videos. I hope this article inspired you to think about how you consume media and be vigilant in political discourse. I look forward to writing more. Any criticism is welcome.


Works Cited

  1. Deuze, Mark. “What is journalism? Personal identity and ideology of journalists reconsidered.” SAGE Publications, Vol 6, Issue 4 (2005). 442 – 464.
  2. Magder, Ted. “Taking Culture Seriously: A Political Economy of Communications.” The New Canadian Political Economy. McGill-Queen’s University Press (1989). 278 – 293.
  1. Hancock, Quentin, Tessa Jolls and Peter Jolls. “Racism and Stereotypes in Electronic Media.” Public Library Quarterly, Vol 32 (2013). 333-344.
  1. Schramm, Wilbur. “How Communication Works”. The Process of Mass Communication, (1971). 3 – 26.
  1. Hall, Stuart. “Encoding/Decoding.” Culture, Media, Language (1980). 51 – 61.
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