News outlets should not be congratulated for cutting off Trump’s speech full of lies.
BY CORINNA COOK
Major news media networks should have covered President Donald Trump the way they are covering him since the results of the 2020 election.
During his speech on Nov. 5, Trump was spreading more falsities about election fraud. But for the first time, major news networks, like MSNBC and CNN, cut away and addressed his lies directly. And in the following days, stories were published with headlines calling out Trump’s lies.
Since the beginning of the 2016 election cycle, Trump has benefitted from free news coverage and press.
Trump is a television personality. He knows how to be entertaining. And since people assumed Hillary Clinton would win the election, what was the harm in giving him free airtime? He would bring in a lot of views and money to networks, so they continued airing him. This isn’t to say he wasn’t a legitimate candidate; he was.
Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS in 2016, said, “[The election] may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Proving that Trump was good for ratings and brought in ad revenue.
And more recently, Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax (a conservative publication) said something similar. During an interview with The New Yorker, Ruddy said, “Donald Trump’s been great for the news business.”
People now attribute Trump’s 2016 election win to the amount of free press he received during the election cycle. According to an analysis by The New York Times, Trump received more than twice the amount of free coverage as Clinton in 2016.
Journalists pride themselves on being apolitical and unbiased. Their goal is to let people come to their own conclusions. And many times, their way of doing this is to give equal time to both sides. Obviously, this was not the case looking at the 2016 numbers.
But if two people are standing in front of you and one says it is raining, and one says it is sunny, you wouldn’t give equal time to both sides. You would go outside and look for yourself. At least that is what has been drilled into my head while getting a degree in journalism.
You cannot give equal time, or coverage, to two sides of the story if one of them is factually wrong.
I do not want censorship to be the answer. The public should know what the person in charge of the country is saying, but they should also know the facts as well. Which would mean following up Trump quotes with facts, and live fact-checking during debates and speeches. But another issue arises when some news stations have their own alternative facts.
Part of this issue is many newspapers have their op-ed sections clearly labeled, but news stations don’t clearly label their late-night hosts as opinion. For example, Tucker Carlson on Fox and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.
This rigorous fact-checking should not only be used on Trump himself. It would benefit us all if politicians were routinely fact-checked. In a debate setting, all parties should be fact-checked. And while we have seen a lot of fact-checking during this election, how would things have been different with vigorous fact-checking in the 2016 election?
Journalists ideally pursue truth. This means giving the time to the truth and fact-checking relentlessly. But capitalism has everyone’s priorities skewed. News networks depend on good ratings for money and thus end up airing things only to get a bigger audience and response. Not-for-profit news might be the way to go.
I don’t have an answer. I think news outlets need to rethink their priorities, but unless we can publicly fund news, I do not have a solution. Capitalism has set up our society to desire money before anything else.
Now, there were some journalists that called out Trump earlier. One Washington Post article, written by Paul Farhi, from 2019 said “It’s (almost) official: The president of the United States is a liar.” This was three years after he was elected.
At least now we are seeing changes to the coverage, but too little too late.
The news networks should have called Trump out on lies from the very beginning. Once he was elected, it seemed like people were afraid to speak ill of him directly. But now that Biden has effectively won the election, that fear is no longer there and the media has been more relentless in their coverage of him. And I don’t think they deserve to get a pat on the back for it.
In the future, media should not hold back on calling out lies and holding people accountable for what they say from the very beginning, especially if they are a presidential candidate.