The big story is the big cities trending blue (all over the country) and the smaller towns trending red. — Scott Sumner
To the media, it was a stunning surprise. How on Earth could a tinhorn conservative boor like Donald Trump become president? After all, the polls clearly signaled a victory for the Democratic party’s candidate, Hillary Clinton.
…Or did they?
The media had no trouble predicting the Senate results: they guessed either a narrowing of the Republican majority or a reversal, and the election has indeed reduced the GOP’s advantage to a one-vote edge instead of their old 54-46 share. Yet the pundits were caught off-guard by Trump’s come-from-behind victory.
It’s hard to make sense of this. But let’s try:
- Big media tend to be liberal for one supremely good reason: it helps sell the news. Most major media cater to big cities, and most big cities — with their large contingents of working stiffs, minorities and the poor — are liberal. Thus publishers hire reporters with left-wing views and thus biased against Republican candidates.
- Big media despise Trump in particular. After all, he threatened them with legal action if they speak of him in ways he deems libelous. His bluster flies in the face of Constitutional protections for the press; it puts at risk the very survival of many news outlets. No wonder reporters wanted him to lose the election and lose it badly. But at a certain point this desire morphs into dreams of wish fulfillment: the press began to convince itself — and its readers — that Trump had to fail.
- The GOP seemed to be in disarray: Republicans under Bush/Cheney embraced Neo-Conservatism, a pastiche of big-government moralizing, overseas bullying, imperial presidents, disregard of civil liberties, and letting investment bankers run off-leash. Electoral disasters ensued, and the Tea Party split off in protest. Meanwhile, the GOP is distinctly uncomfortable with Trump, to the point where they damn him with faint praise. And then the candidate got caught mouthing off about his arrogant ways with women. What sort of campaign could suffer all that and still win? It looked like a turkey shoot for Clinton.
- Some Trump voters may have hidden their intentions: When “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams voiced support for Trump, he received death threats. He then reversed himself and, in June of 2016, endorsed Hillary Clinton. He noted — publicly and theatrically — that his change of heart was in reality a feint to make the threats go away. Strangely, despite his nods and winks, it worked, and he was left alone. In this age of political correctness and post-election violence by angry Leftists, it’s at least possible some Trump voters feared reprisals for publicly expressing their choice and thus lied to pollsters. The CBC in Canada calls them “‘shy Trump’ voters, or people who did not want to admit to live interviewers that they were voting for the Republican candidate.” (Pollsters insist such a cohort doesn’t show up in the statistics; on the other hand, pollsters also picked Hillary to win.)
- Reporters and pundits blinded themselves: It’s one thing for news services to practice advocacy in their own reporting; it’s quite another to fool themselves into thinking their preferred candidate was a lock for victory … or is it? In science, there’s a concept called “confirmation bias”, whereby, once a researcher has decided what the truth must be, all subsequent inputs are filtered to remove any data that conflict with the pet theory. Perhaps the major news outlets were so convinced Hillary had to win that they simply reported their own bias, ignoring signs and signals (and dissonant poll results) showing Trump overtaking her. The idea that Trump shouldn’t win may have morphed into the idea that he couldn’t win.
What? You say the major news media have not been biased? Let’s pull a few bulletins from the post-election news cycle and find out:
“Total global disbelief as Trump is elected president . . . America decided and the world made clear it was the wrong decision.” (USA Today) This publication is supposed to be a dispassionate chronicler of events, yet it opines freely within its own hard-news section, which became in effect a propaganda rag for Hillary.
“Global investors reacted as if the world had caught fire. They yanked their money from the marketplace in an unrestrained bout of selling reminiscent of the outbreak of war or a major terrorist attack.” (New York Times, quoted in foreignpolicy.com) Trump is likened to a terrorist attack? The sky is falling! Except later that day the Dow finished ahead 256 points.
“‘Brexit times five!’ or ‘Brexit times 50!’ the candidate would proclaim, depending on his level of bravado at any given time.” (LA Times) For “bravado” read: “lying”. They can’t help it, can’t even summarize the news without slipping in a dig against Trump.
“Uncertainty Over Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Risks Global Instability” (New York Times). By now it’s pretty obvious the Times regards Trump with unwavering contempt; its lack of self-control extends even to its headlines.
“Silicon Valley’s luminaries woke up Wednesday morning to a darkened new global order, one that the ceaseless optimism of their tech-powered visions seemed suddenly unable to conquer.” (New York Times) A “darkened new global order”? Apparently the Star Wars Grand Army of the Republic, with Darth Vader in the vanguard, has just vanquished us all. So much for the objectivity of our nation’s “paper of record”.
Sure, the media can and should advocate within Op-Ed sections. But to slant coverage while reporting straight news? It’s like crying wolf. How can anyone — even readers on the Left — trust them when they can’t report political news without all the overblown sneering and fearing?
John Stossel also noticed the bias:
When Clinton wore white to a debate, the Times called the color an “emblem of hope” and a Philadelphia Inquirer writer used words like “soft and strong … a dream come true.” But when Melania Trump wore white, that same writer called it a “scary statement,” as if Melania Trump’s white symbolized white supremacy, “another reminder that in the G.O.P. white is always right.”
As Stossel commented: “Give me a break.”
In their zeal to prove Trump was fated to lose, the media missed several clues that lay right in front of them:
- Blue-collar workers: They crossed party lines in droves to vote for Trump. In some ways, Trump is the Revenge of Nixon, whose appeal to the maligned and marginalized “Silent Majority” of the ‘70s swept him twice into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but whose alienating behavior and dirty tricks eventually cost him the White House. (Whether Trump will suffer the same fate or transcend it is up to history.)
- “Basket of Deplorables”: This lashing critique of working-class conservatives may have been Hillary’s biggest blunder. It’s arguable that she insulted many fence-sitters, who would otherwise have leaned toward her over Trump’s unpleasant attitudes about women, her put-down converting them into Trumpians.
- Neglected hinterland voters: Left-wing journalists may have ignored a huge block of citizens with views considered unworthy of respect: “. . . [W]hite voters feel the American Dream is drifting out of reach for them, and they are angry because they believe minorities and immigrants have butted in line.” (Washington Post) It would be easy to dismiss these concerns as mere racism, but it’s the unfairness that rankled, not the skin color. These angry folks outside cities have been there all along. Only now does the media discover them.
Urban journalists tried, and failed, to whip all voters into a panic of fear about Trump’s candidacy. And here’s why they needn’t have panicked at all:
- His bark is worse than his bite. Trump has worked extensively in the TV industry, where people don’t lie — they “tell stories”. Trump says to his constituents what they want to hear. As with Championship Wrestling, who cares if it’s make-believe when it’s a riveting plot line? To some extent, all candidates do this, but Trump makes a specialty of it. It’s his form of political showbiz, where everything is dramatized for effect. Those who take his stump speeches at face value can be forgiven their alarm. The truth behind the man is likely much more muted and pragmatic. There’s no guarantee Trump isn’t a complete looney, but it’s unlikely. He’s a blowhard but not a blow-up, having spent too many years polishing his marketing, sales, entertainment, and political skills to make self-indulgent mistakes. Meanwhile, his business experience attests, to some degree at least, to an ability to negotiate and solve problems.
- Trump isn’t really a standard-brand Republican. He’s to the left of Hillary on trade restrictions. He’s to the left of her on the Middle East, where he wants the U.S. to limit its participation or get out altogether. He’s to her left on Russia, with whom he wants to improve relations. And — aside from his asshat attitudes on flirting — he has little to say, one way or the other, about social and cultural issues. He’s pro-business, but only mildly so. (His anti-trade, anti-China, anti-NAFTA stances have given investors the jitters.) In some ways he differs from the GOP more than the GOP differs from the Democrats. Trump is anti-foreigner, plus he wants to reduce the size and scope of the federal government and its corrupt influencers; other than that, he seems fairly neutral. He’s not by any means a close fit with Republican big wheels.
- Trump is selling leadership, not party affiliation. In effect, he’s telling people, “I’m not beholden to the party line. I’ll make decisions based on their value to America, not their value to the GOP leadership.” In that sense, it’s a good thing Republicans hold him at arm’s length, as it allows him a certain freedom of action. Thus the Left may receive from him some happy surprises.
By Election Day, the press was telling everyone that Hillary had it in the bag. Yet that was completely untrue. The media had missed the boat. Their biases had fooled them, and they’d transmitted that foolishness to the rest of us.
…Or could it be that they’d done it deliberately?? — Nah. Impossible. They wouldn’t dare use their power to mislead Trump voters into giving up and staying home, and thus swing the election to Hillary. They would never dream of doing such a dastardly, un-American, anti-democratic thing.
…Ahem. Regardless, simply because they’re journalists doesn’t mean they have a lock on objectivity, much less civic virtue. Our sophisticated technologies — Internet, cellphones, computers, advanced statistics and social sciences — do not immunize us against our own folly. Instantaneous communication can transmit bias as quickly as truth.
The media tried and failed to stop Trump. Armed with too much moral purpose and not enough professional impartiality, they huffed and puffed and tried to blow down the Trump candidacy. They failed miserably.
It would be laughable … except that it points out, all to clearly, an ominous side to the media.