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Trump Played the Cookie-Cutter Media Like a Violin

The election of Trump has exposed a media so incompetent, so unqualified in their important job, so blatantly ill-equipped to report news usefully to the voting public, that surely they must take a slice of the blame-pie in everything that Trump now does to a mostly unsuspecting America, and in turn, the world. Although I could write a thesis about all the media’s errors, to make this digestible, I will boil down the main problems into two buckets: false equivalency and the cookie-cutter narrative.

False Equivalency

The false equivalency error came from the media’s automatic process of treating Clinton and Trump as being ‘just the same’. From the nomination onwards, Trump was given automatic credibility. His statements were reported without analysis, his words made into headlines without question or fact-check, his soundbites and tweets given an underserved legitimacy, because he was a big powerful man running for the top job. Trump never had to gain or prove his legitimacy for the role, because he was given it, automatically, by a media institution so used to reporting political contests from this perspective, they knew no other way to do it. He was fit to be President because he said so. No questions asked.

Importantly, this automatic legitimacy gave an equal amount of legitimacy to Trump’s supporters. The media’s expectation of Trump’s behaviour was so low that when his supporters were just as low, the media shrugged and reported it all like it was perfectly acceptable. No matter how vile, how badly behaved, how racist, how unthinking, sexist, hateful, unjust, how lowest-common-denominator they went, Trump supporters’ behaviour was accepted by the media as just an example of the just-as-legitimate-as-Clinton-supporters-other-side-of-the-debate.

These decimated standards and the resulting revolting behaviour don’t just disappear now that the election is over. Trump’s win have etched a stain, an indelible mark onto the American culture forever. The legitimising of hate and division is now permanent. How many times did you see a journalist sitting politely in a Trump supporter’s living room, sipping on a cup of tea, nodding empathetically while they told them how much they looked forward to throwing out the Mexicans? The media legitimise these views through normalising them into soundbites. You normalise these views and they become accepted and legitimate. You take down the standard of respect, the values of acceptance, and these abhorrent views spread like wildfire. How did Hitler come to power? Do journalism students study history?

But it didn’t end there. No, the false equivalency extended further, to the ‘they are just as bad as each other’ narrative. How many times did you hear a news report about the election start with words something like ‘as the two most unpopular candidates battle it out…’? On the morning of the election, Australia’s SBS were one of thousands of news outlets across the world who reported from the false equivalency lens with the headline: ‘US Votes: Americans pick their next president after divisive, bitter campaign’. Hang on, hang on just one second. Divisive and bitter why? This lens implies that Hillary Clinton played just as big a part as Trump in making the campaign divisive and bitter, slotting into the idea that the two candidates were equivalent, just as much to blame, just as unqualified, just as hot-headed, rude, abusive, and offensive and racist as Trump was for every second of every day of the campaign. Clinton held her head high every day, only once calling Trump’s supporters a basket of deplorables. One slip and it’s all her fault?

Where Clinton had 24/7 coverage of her email scandal (which she had numerous times been cleared of as an error, low and behold she is human, if this is the only thing they had on her, she’s almost spotless after 30 years of service), this one scandal was given equivalency to Trump’s daily scandals, plural, which were so numerous that he got away with all of them, so regular that not one was given the full attention it deserved, so frequent that they were all swept under the carpet-of-Trump’s-election-circus-media-show, as if not one of them mattered or not one of them helped to tell the story of Trump’s illegitimacy to be leader of the free world.

Imagine trying to explain to future generations how a man who screwed over his workers and contractors, destroyed livelihoods and lives, bankrupted himself and others numerous times, boasted of sexual assault, was accused of raping his ex-wife, of assaulting a 13 year old girl, of tweeting profanities and abuse at all hours of the day and night – imagine explaining how this behaviour was framed as ‘isn’t he entertaining, doesn’t he have great news value, more please, boys-will-be-boys, there is no standard of behaviour anymore, no one is expected to behave properly ever again’. How did this happen? How did he win by lying and cheating? How did Trump, like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, crawl through a river of shit and come out clean on the other side? Whereas Clinton dips her toe in mud and is forever framed as dirty and untrustworthy? How did these two distortions of reality happen? The media enabled it through the false equivalency phenomenon, otherwise known as lazy, unthinking journalism.

The Cookie Cutter Narrative

This morning on Radio National, journalist and experienced foreign correspondent, Hamish McDonald, hit the nail on the head in his criticism of the media’s failings in their reporting of Trump. He said Trump’s win shows the mainstream media have to ask themselves ‘serious questions’ and described their election coverage as ‘disgraceful’. McDonald explained that the newsgathering process should involve journalists going out and finding a story, and then writing the story and sending it back to the head office to be edited and published. Everyone rightly assumes this is how news reporting happens. But the way it actually happens is that, in his experience, journalists spend time in the field, then they get a message from head office, telling them what the story is. They then try to make the information they have fit that story.

As regular readers know, I am studying political narratives, so McDonald’s analysis hit me on the forehead. What he describes is a propensity for the media to make the facts fit a pre-defined narrative, rather than letting the narrative evolve from the facts. Any fact that doesn’t fit the story is excluded. The sources used for soundbites, low and behold, fit the story, and those who don’t fit are excluded.

So what was the predefined story during the US election? See above. The false-equivalency, two-horse-race, bad-candidate versus bad-candidate, divisive-campaign-both-their-fault email scandal versus Trump all-encompassing-circus story was all we heard. How often did we hear about Trump’s policy plans and the constant inconsistency on display? Was there any analysis of how much his policies might cost? How often was he called out for lying? When were voters told the impact Trump’s ‘climate change is a Chinese hoax’ position would have on the planet? When was Trump asked for any detail about how he would build a wall and why on earth would Mexico pay for it? When was he called out for the contradictory policy positions he would take within minutes of each other? It’s almost liked the journalists pretended they couldn’t understand what he was saying, or that it was all too hard to fact-check, or that he’s just a joke anyway so who cares what he’ll do, let’s just have a laugh and worry about it later?

When were voters told, in any sort of useful detail, what it would mean for poor Americans to lose Obamacare, which had only just started having a positive impact on the lives of uninsured Americans? Trump has said he wants to roll back globalisation, to reinstate closed-down-industries, to return workers to coal mines, to tear up free trade agreements. When did he ever get asked how on earth he would make any of this pie-in-the-sky roll-back-to-the-1950s actually happen? And how many of Trump’s voters are going to be completely surprised at what he actually does, and totally despairing when they find their situations made much worse by a failed lying snake-oil-salesman who was only in it for his own ego? Face palm.

It is maddening to now see, after the election, that the media are running around like headless-chooks trying to find out what exactly the Trump presidency means for the people of the world. After the election. When it’s too late. When there’s nothing anyone can do about it. The facts that come out of this post-election investigation, analysis and scrutiny of Trump didn’t fit the two-horse-narrative before the election and are all too-little-too-late now.

The media played their part in Trump’s victory by letting Trump play them like a violin. And now we’re all screwed. The moral of Trump’s win is that lying and cheating gets you to the White House. Thanks a bunch.

 

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29 comments

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  1. Andreas Bimba

    The election of Hillary Clinton as Democratic Party Presidential nominee instead of the more popular candidate Bernie Sanders has exposed a media so incompetent, so unqualified in their important job, so blatantly ill-equipped to report news usefully to the voting public, that surely they must take a slice of the blame-pie in everything that Trump now does to a mostly unsuspecting America, and in turn, the world.

  2. Harquebus

    It appeared to me that the crooked corporate media entirely supported crooked Hillary.

  3. Andreas Bimba

    “Trump has said he wants to roll back globalisation, to reinstate closed-down-industries, to return workers to coal mines, to tear up free trade agreements. When did he ever get asked how on earth he would make any of this pie-in-the-sky roll-back-to-the-1950s actually happen?”

    No wonder people now vote for the crazy right when the establishment left clings to the same neoliberal right wing bullshit of the Conservatives.

    Offshoring of jobs is not inevitable and moderate tariffs can ensure highly automated manufacturers can operate profitably in the U.S. while not unduly disadvantaging consumers – who are workers after all. As for coal mining, this must be phased out, something the Queensland Labor Party could also learn.

  4. Paolo Soprani

    Thank you for mentioning Hamish McDonald. I cringe every morning, listening to Fran Kelly and that lot on Radio National being patronized and treated with contempt by second-raters such as Frydenburg, Cormann and Joyce. It is refreshing to listen to Hamish McDonald make a decent fist of taking right up to them, calling out their nonsense.

  5. Wayne Turner

    “It appeared to me that the crooked corporate media entirely supported crooked Hillary.” – You must have missed all of the Murdoch media that supported Trump,and campaigned against Clinton.

    Also,just because you say Hillary is crooked,does NOT make it so. Proof? Charges? Found guilty of? None of that,and it’s just an empty slogan.

    Spot on article,the ABC here are especially guilty of that – The masters of false balance: But,only when it suits the right eg: All the air time to climate change deniers.

  6. Kaye Lee

    I can’t agree with you Victoria. There was an absolute avalanche of information reported in the media about Trump that should have disqualified him from consideration. It seemed to make no difference.

    At The Week, Damon Linker, who is no fan of Clinton, argues that despite all her weaknesses and petty corruptions, the choice on November 8 is an easy one. Trump “is a menace to American democracy,” he writes, “a know-nothing demagogic con man who hasn’t released his tax returns, who brags about assaulting women, who has invited Vladimir Putin to meddle in the presidential election while also suggesting on the basis of no evidence at all that the election will be ‘rigged’ against him, and who regularly uses social media to promote white supremacists and neo-Nazis (who increasingly feel emboldened to spew their civic poison in public). And that’s just the most minimal accounting of Trump’s offenses.”

    Paul Waldman at the Washington Post reviews Trump’s “history of corruption, double-dealing, and fraud” with this “partial list” of his discreditable behavior….

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/perspective-on-the-flaws-of-hillary-clinton-and-donald-trump/506042/

    On Pulitzer prize winning Politifact, Trump’s statements were awarded PolitiFact’s 2015 Lie of the Year. They assiduously fact checked hundreds of his claims.

    They continue to do so.

    Here are seven of Trump’s key promises for his first 100 days in office.

    1. Cancel Obama executive actions on immigration and guns.
    2. Ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.
    3. Suspend immigration from “terror-prone” countries and implement “extreme vetting.”
    4. Renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement or withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
    5. Impose tariffs.
    6. Build a wall and have Mexico pay for it.
    7. Enact the Trump tax plan.

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/nov/10/donald-trumps-campaign-promises-first-100-days/

  7. Möbius Ecko

    I’m with Kaye Lee on this. I saw a report by the media on a fact check, though not given any detail in the report, that showed Trump lied 70% of the time. It made no difference stating that Trump lied, it had been factored in by the public, just as Clinton’s corruption had been and played little part in her downfall.

    Remember this was the same as Abbott. He lied with impunity, even told all and sundry he lies, was proven to lie several times, though more often than not never held to account for most of his lies, yet his party still got voted in to install him as PM. His party also openly lie with impunity and when the media pick up on these lies it makes no difference, though again more often than not the lies aren’t picked up on.

    So what does it take for the public to start punishing these leaders and parties for lying? They now accept it as normal and are more surprised when an honest politician or transparent political party comes to the fore, but don’t vote for them because of that.

  8. Matters Not

    I am just a poor boy.
    Though my story’s seldom told,
    I have squandered my resistance
    For a pocketful of mumbles,
    Such are promises
    All lies and jest
    Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest.

    http://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/simon_garfunkel/the_boxer.html

    Trump gives them hope.

    Might be all buls@it but at least it’s something. Will probably end in tears, but at least there’s a ‘chance’. The serious politicians were delivering the ‘same’. Trump promises something better. But you have to ‘believe’.

    Desperate people in desperate times.

  9. Presser#1

    Thank you for your excellent analysis of the media and the logical fallacies and false equivalencies it commits every day. And bravo Paolo Soprani for calling out ABC RAdio National of whom we are entitled to expect better. May I dare to point out the internalized and totally unconscious sexism of a society that still believes that even the worst man is equal to, or better than, any woman? Apart from the election of Trump in the US, its demonstrated every weekday in Australia on RN by Fran Kelly and Patricia Karvalis. Their rambling, discursive questioning of what Paola Soprani correctly calls political second raters (male) and meek acceptance of patronizing (non)answers is just cringeworthy.

  10. Matters Not

    Here some thoughts:

    As countless commentators have already observed, Trump’s election is a stunning reminder of the depth of social division in the United States. For millions of Americans, particularly in the rust-belt states and rural areas, Trump’s candidacy provided a golden opportunity to stick a finger up at the political establishment that has so long neglected their needs and anxieties. And the more outrageous his statements, the better he became a symbol of that finger.

    But to attribute Trump’s victory to the very real frustrations of the mostly (though not exclusively) white working class and struggling middle class is to beg the crucial question. Why has the US, like other democracies worldwide, so signally failed to generate political alternatives that would offer genuine answers to their frustrations? Very few people, probably even few of Trump’s supporters, genuinely think that building a wall on the Mexican border, keeping Muslims out of the United States or offering massive tax cuts across the board is actually going to improve the everyday lives of those who voted for him. Serious policies to redistribute at least some measure of wealth away from America’s ultra-rich and towards its working and unemployed poor would make many of those lives better. But no-one is offering such policies. …

    In the final stages of the election, most of the US media panicked at the spectre of the genie they had let out of the bottle and withdrew their support for Trump. But by then it was too late: their last-minute denunciations of the republican candidate only enhanced his appeal

    A wild ride ahead.

    TESSA MORRIS-SUZUKI. Trump: it’s time to go back to basics.

  11. Andreas Bimba

    Bernie Sanders had the right policies, the experience and all the right personal attributes. He had some of the best economists on his team.

    Corporate America didn’t want him, a corrupt Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton didn’t want him – they got what they deserve for blocking the people’s choice. Now the whole world will pay the price for allowing the crazy right to take the Presidency.

  12. jimhaz

    I view Clinton in the same way I view Shorten. Insider choice for the status quo at a time when the status quo simply is not good enough – THUS loosers.

    A flea on a drovers dog should have been able to win against Abbott.

  13. Kaye Lee

    Andreas,

    I agree with you, but I think Sanders and Corbyn have served a purpose. They are in a similar position to women trying to break the glass ceiling – the resistance is fierce so there will be some sacrificial lambs along the way to giving someone strong enough the courage to make the change which we all know could so easily happen – they have brought awareness of an alternative to many people. It requires wealth redistribution in the opposite direction to what Trump and the Coalition propose. Tax cuts and deregulation for personal benefit is why billionaires bother with politics (inevitably disguised by tough talk about security and immigration).

    We can only hope that the justifiable disappointment felt by the people can be addressed by a genuine social democrat rather than conned by another marketing team from big business which is all Trump ever was.

    NB I would be over the moon if Trump proved me wrong but he would need very good advisers because he really isn’t that smart and his track record is deplorable. That’s not to say someone can’t change given the opportunity but his early choices for advisers and colleagues show no sign of him growing and accepting the gravity of what has happened.

  14. banjo

    The great lie of a “liberal” media is exposed for all time, when the professional thug running the FBI made the last minute revelations the media turned on Clinton like a pack of wolves and the election was lost.

  15. jimhaz

    I must admit to retreating to the old stalwart post Trumps election

    Things that never happen: 40 percent. That is, 40 percent of the things you worry about will never occur anyway.
    Things over and past that can’t be changed by all the worry in the world: 30 percent.
    Needless worries about our health: 12 percent.
    Petty, miscellaneous worries: 10 percent.
    Real, legitimate worries: 8 percent. Only 8 percent of your worries are worth concerning yourself about. Ninety-two percent are pure fog with no substance at all.

  16. Jexpat

    Hamish McDonald must have been either asleep or living in some alternate reality during most of the US election cycle, because what he asserts didn’t occur on any continuing basis in the US media.

    It has in past US presidential elections- but not this one.

    In fact, quite the opposite took place.

  17. Athena

    Actually, the poor are tired of being poor, working two or even three jobs (if they are fortunate to have one at all) and still not earning a living wage. They’re finding it tough to survive and no one is listening to them. They focused not on Trump’s sexism, racism or bigotry, but rather on his promises to help them. Everyone else knows that he won’t, but with Hillary they also would have had more of the same. As usual, the left are failing to recognise their own failures, instead preferring to focus on “How can anyone vote for him?”. Conservatives are extremely good at playing to people’s emotions and telling them what they want to hear. The left hasn’t worked it out yet. They respond with intellectual arguments that pass straight over the heads of people who make important decisions based on their emotions rather than critical thinking.

  18. guest

    Look more closely, jimhaz. The post here is about the media and its failures.

    Shorten was not only up against Turnbull, he was also up against a hostile media empire which dominates media in Oz. We see the same empire having huge influence in the USA. And the method described here seems to be the same echo chamber repetitious scribbling seen in the media empire. Yet Shorten nearly won.

    It was interesting recently on The Drum to see ex-editor Chris Mitchell sitting next to Naomi Klein. He looked rather anxious and subdued, as if terrified that Klein would explode one of Mitchell’s fabulous myths at any moment.

    When Trump fails, as he inevitably must, as Abbott did, as Turnbull seems to be doing, the big media empire will be in great difficulty as a purveyor of out-dated neo-con ideology.

    How is it that the greatest capitalist and democratic county in the world is so dumbed-down and desperate that its citizens vote for an idiot to be the President?

  19. Chopper

    Seriously what planet are you on. The media is run by the left in the usa and australia…and they trounced him. Relentlessly. They just didnt realise that people were sick of the failure that is progressive politics and they want to destroy it. The name calling and PC BS from the left media and their hoards of celebrity mouth pieces failed. No one wants to listen to you lecture us on what awful people we are because your life is so pathetic. We are sick of your whinging .

    This has driven the final nail into the leftwing coffin. Europe is next. The majority of the western world couldnt be happier.

  20. Michael Taylor

    The media is run by the left in Australia!!!!!! That takes the cake.

  21. guest

    And yet, Chopper, the Clintons were seen as being just part of the neo-liberal capitalist elites. We get the same story here in Oz about Labor. The claim is that people are looking for an outsider, someone different and willing to say it as it is.

    And the answer is Trump? Or Hanson? Yet Clinton won the popular vote.

    Good luck with that. We shall see what we shall see. The kinds of policies aired by Trump are regressive and destructive, just like the way he lives – as a bullying billionaire.

  22. cornlegend

    I’m a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump.
    The Washington Post
    3 hrs ago

    Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement. She can be found on Twitter at @AsraNomani.

    A lot is being said now about the “silent secret Trump supporters.”

    This is my confession — and explanation: I — a 51-year-old, a Muslim, an immigrant woman “of color” — am one of those silent voters for Donald Trump. And I’m not a “bigot,” “racist,” “chauvinist” or “white supremacist,” as Trump voters are being called, nor part of some “whitelash.”

    What can you say?
    Well, what can I say, 60 million American citizens seemed to agree with Ms Asra Q. Nomani

  23. Kaye Lee

    That woman was on the Project this evening cornie. The host asked her how she felt about Trump’s plan to put all Muslims on a register. After a little prevaricating she said “He didn’t really mean that. I knew he wouldn’t really do that” What sort of a journalist was this woman????

    And can I say I am heartily sick of the ABC having Georgina Downer on every night – she has been on Q&A, the Drum, 7:30 report in a blitz over the last few weeks…she is on every time I turn the tele on. She obviously saw how well it worked for Freedom Boy and Robin (aka Tim Wilson and James Patterson) and is staking her claim for three years time.

  24. cornlegend

    “And can I say I am heartily sick of the ABC having Georgina Downer on every night”
    agree, but please, not Alexander as th replacement

  25. Nato

    Does this post promote anything except division?

    “The MSM backed Clinton to the hilt as they did Turnbull. Both outcomes suggest the MSM got it badly wrong.” – John Lord. Today.

  26. Wayne Turner

    “And yet, Chopper, the Clintons were seen as being just part of the neo-liberal capitalist elites. We get the same story here in Oz about Labor. The claim is that people are looking for an outsider, someone different and willing to say it as it is.

    And the answer is Trump? Or Hanson? Yet Clinton won the popular vote.

    Good luck with that. We shall see what we shall see. The kinds of policies aired by Trump are regressive and destructive, just like the way he lives – as a bullying billionaire.” – Spot on. The sad desperate,ignorant and gullible have been taken in by a BS artist named Trump,with no workable policies,and “scapegoating” of poor non-white minorities,mixed with women bashing.

  27. Wayne Turner

    “The great lie of a “liberal” media is exposed for all time, when the professional thug running the FBI made the last minute revelations the media turned on Clinton like a pack of wolves and the election was lost.” – Indeed.I wonder what the reward for the FBI Director will be for helping Trump win the election?

    FBI = AFP.

  28. Annie B

    I am having to guess Victoria ??? that the ‘media’ you refer to in your article is the mainstream media ( MSM ) that assaults us day in, day out – via hysteria ridden newscasts ( of ‘things wot go bump in the night ) !! … or just plain old leading-bleeding stories. Add to that – the mainstream media of paper form, fit only to wrap up gathered chook and dog droppings. Just clarifying the situation, before proceeding.

    In this day of technology, there are many many other forms of ‘media’ ( excluding social media for the moment ) … that is far more productive, analytical, and worthy of reading.

    From your article : “The media legitimise these views through normalising them into soundbites. You normalise these views and they become accepted and legitimate.” … I object to the use of the word ‘you’ .. meaning us / everyone ?? …. that is not so – as is shown on this very site, so many times. Many many people are turning from the tabloid type nonsense in newspapers ( Murdoch’s paper crap is not doing so well these days ), and the Murdochian type rants that occur on TV at any hour – day and night. TV delights in horrid tales of woe.

    ” What he [ Hamish McDonald ] describes is a propensity for the media to make the facts fit a pre-defined narrative, rather than letting the narrative evolve from the facts. Any fact that doesn’t fit the story is excluded.”

    Hey – the MSM have been doing this for decades. … There is no reporter / by-line seeker, worthy of the moniker of ‘journalist’ … i.e. TRUE journalist, these days. I thought you knew that. …. They do all of the above ‘quoted’ piece – Ad nauseum.

    As for Trump !!! … he has played not only the media, but the people by being deliberately enigmatic, with changes of mind continually, not allowing anybody to get a real ‘handle’ on him. Which has left reporters with no-where to go ( not that they would be capable of ‘going’ anywhere too much in research ) … except to report with great gusto, his latest gaffs, quandaries, and mis-informed outbursts. He is mysterious. … And when he doesn’t produce something on a given day, they resort to finding some hype on the Internet about Clinton and her minions. … Trump has appealed to the darker side of human nature, getting many bites at the bait.

    And guess what – most everyone just loves a mystery. Keeps them looking, hoping, trying to solve the puzzle. And many think that to solve the puzzle requires to back ( Trump ) to the hilt. He promises goodies, like some kind of maniacal messiah – but without clear cut policies of any kind. He doesn’t only appeal to the poorer communities, but to many others who for one reason or another, feel disenfranchised, disheartened, and down-at-heel — because he is an expert at manouvring and manipulating. In that respect, he is perfect for the role of a politician. ( and I ain’t no fan of his in saying that btw ).

    Remains to be seen what this weird President Elect will do – or will not do. ?? All up the in the air stuff.

    The world waits, but frankly it shouldn’t. Let America deal with it – and as isolationist as he purports to be, there won’t be much back-lash across the world in general.

    Poor Yanks !! … I kinda feel for them.

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