Warriors on Issues: Too many talking heads
Earlier this month, I was browsing Facebook on a Sunday afternoon when I came across a surprising headline: Hillary Clinton Leaves 9/11 Memorial Feeling “Overheated.” Interested to hear more, I did what anyone seeking quick, up-to-date news would do: I turned on the television. Not surprisingly, the only political channel covering Clinton’s fainting spell was Fox News. CNN and MSNBC limited coverage of Clinton’s pneumonia scare to the web until the following morning. Of course, Fox News just gave its viewers exactly what Fox thought they wanted, the indelible image of Hillary Clinton being dragged into her motorcade like a sack of potatoes.
I generally dislike attacks on America’s media for biased coverage; when nicknames are thrown around like CNN, the “Clinton News Network,” or the neo-conservative “Faux News.” Criticizing certain media outlets for political bias only encourages people to surround themselves in a bubble of news they want to hear. Nonetheless, in the race for clicks and ratings traditional journalism appears to be losing badly. Donald Trump is certainly vocal about the entire mainstream media’s attempt to smear his candidacy, repeatedly calling the news “dishonest and corrupt.” I’m no fan of Trump's, but it's hard to disagree with him on this issue after watching political news coverage for the past year.
Take what happened on Sept. 14 when MSNBC held an interview with Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, to “weigh in on the 2016 race.” During the broadcast, an interviewer explicitly asked Fox whether Trump’s candidacy reminded him of “any past demagogue candidates in Latin America.” The media should naturally address Trump’s troubled relationship with the Hispanic community, but when an interviewer literally asks Vincente Fox which Latin American dictators he thinks resemble Trump, that’s one-sided journalism.
The biased coverage in supposedly non-partisan news sources isn’t limited to television either. Websites like The Huffington Post and The Guardian constantly post attacking headlines on social media like “Trump’s Maternity Leave Plan is His Biggest Insult to Women Yet,” “Officers Backing Trump Have Murky Legal Histories,” or my personal favorite: “Trump’s Behavior Similar To Male Chimpanzee Says Jane Goodall.”
Maybe it’s no surprise that Pew Research identified more than half of stories on the three major news outlets as opinion pieces, not factual reporting. Whether it’s Fox News constantly harping on Clinton’s email scandal or Buzzfeed’s incessant anti-Trump headlines, the mainstream media has become a mob of contrasting opinions, a character unto itself in public policymaking.
Even when journalists cover both candidates fairly, they have little room for proper fact-checking within the rapid sound bites and 10-minute attention spans of modern television. During the Commander-In-Chief Forum, Trump repeatedly said he was “totally against the war in Iraq,” referring to an article from Esquire Magazine. In reality, that article in which Trump said he “would never have handled it that way” was from 2004, when public opinion of the Iraq war was already shifting to negative. On top of that, in 2002 Trump actually admitted on Howard Stern’s show that he was for the war in Iraq. Maybe the forum’s moderator Matt Lauer knew this, maybe not, but he unfortunately didn’t spend any more time challenging a lie that’s the foundation of Trump’s foreign policy credentials. In modern forums and debates, where time is limited and candidates often step outside the bounds of truth, it’s simply impossible for journalists to fact check everything in real time.
Of course, for distressed voters the Internet still contains a selection of objective sources for political news. Websites like the Pulitzer-winning Politifact are excellent fact checkers, while on television and in print, PBS and The Independent have remained relatively neutral throughout this cycle. Surprisingly, the candidate’s websites are also great resources for seeing actual policy proposals from Clinton and Trump.
However, if Americans go to the polls on election day having only watched CNN, only listened to Rachel Maddow, only read The New York Post, then voters will not have the full picture of this election. The responsibility of journalists is to inform the masses, to communicate facts about important aspects of our lives. Bias has a place in mainstream media, but many of our current political sources are too opinionated to present a clear image of our candidates. Unfortunately, voters will have to dig deeper for accurate, objective political coverage this election cycle.
Jonah Hirsch is a junior at Wilton High School and a member of the Model Congress club.