It’s hard to be fair and balanced when one nominee is a headline machine and the other isn’t.
Donald Trump keeps saying the November election could be “rigged.” He attacks fire marshals for keeping “thousands” out of his events. There he is threatening to take away press credentials. There he is withholding support from House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain, fellow Republicans who both have endorsed him.
And Hillary Clinton? She trudges through places like Columbus and Cleveland talking about jobs, trying to win the support of middle class, white workers. She tells her fans Trump is offering empty promises. She offers detailed plans to appeal to independents and Republicans.
Who is more entertaining and attention-grabbing? There’s no contest.
Trump (sarcastically) asked Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. He called Clinton “the devil.” He threatens to withdraw support from NATO. He might not go to thedebates. He’s friends with Putin or he’s not. He’s in a feud (a feud!) with a Muslim-American couple whose son died in the U.S. military in Iraq. They appeared at the Democratic convention, yet Trump has managed to use them to steal airtime and attention from Clinton and issues.
His campaign strategy is working. For Trump, there is a truism he’s stuck to for decades: All press is good. There is no such thing as bad press. The Republican nominee is a walking, talking headline machine.
And this poses a dilemma for the press as it moves forward to cover a presidential campaign where one side makes erratic, off-the-wall comments and the other side is pragmatic and media-averse, and likes to delve into wonky details.
How do the news media fairly cover this election? The narrow slice of the electorate that is genuinely undecided and could determine who wins may hunger for more information or seeing both candidates in action. But there doesn’t seem to be enough airtime for issues. It’s Trump gaffes and unprecedented name-calling all of the time.
Maybe we need to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. Until 1987, radio and TV networks licensed by the federal government were required to give equal airtime to controversial issues in an effort to be balanced and fair.
With 90-some days to go until Election Day, will Trump get a lot more “free” media than Clinton? How will journalists handle the misstatements and controversies from both campaigns that keep the press well fed?
There’s no doubt journalists are having a tough time figuring out how to fairly cover both campaigns — just as they did for the primaries when it proved more “entertaining” and better for ratings to focus on Trump than his less flamboyant opponents. A New York Times analysis found Trump had “earned” nearly $2 billion in free media through February 2016. Clinton was second with $746 million. The closest Republican primary competitor was Ted Cruz with $313 million.
CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter addressed just how challenging it is to cover this campaign when he interviewed Jason Miller, senior communications adviser to the Trump campaign.
How much should the news media fact check or challenge Trump’s statements?
“What if one candidate says a lot more misstatements than the other candidate?”Stelter asked on the July 31 edition of his show. “Then we can’t be fair about that if one side is saying more misstatements than the other side.”
GJ RECOMMENDED READINGS on Trump-Clinton and Media-
- To fight Trump, journalists have dispensed with objectivity by Justin Raimondo in Los Angels Times
The Making of Donald Trump, As Told by a Journalistic Nemesis by Kathy Kiely in Billmoyers.com
Ultimate Media Privilege: Hillary’s Crimes Versus Trump’s Mouth by By
- Yes, the media bears some responsibility for the rise of Donald Trump by Ev Boyle in Medium.com
- There Is No Such Thing as Unbiased Journalism, So Let’s Stop Pretending and Journalism, R. I. P. in National Review
How Trump Hacked The Media by Nate Silver in Fivethirtyeight.com