WASHINGTON – In the wake of Donald Trump’s stunning election as president, every major media outlet did stories questioning how the pollsters got it so wrong. But some of the biggest brand-names in journalism actually looked inward and published stories asking how the media got the election so wrong.
And their frank and startling admissions may be as stunning as the election results.
The self-criticisms are particularly striking in that much of them are what conservative critics have been saying for years.
One astounding mea culpa even conceded that some of the biggest names in establishment journalism were victims of their own biases, acknowledging the evidence was now indisputable.
That CBS article was particularly self-critical, accusing the media of having “missed the story, after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on.”
The Trump election spawned such headlines as:
- New York Times: A ‘Dewey defeats Truman’ lesson for the digital age.
WND asked Emmy-Award winning former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson: How did the media get things so wrong?
“We tend to surround ourselves by like-minded people who codify one another’s misconceptions,” she replied.
“We bury our noses in the propaganda and rhetoric of political parties and corporations, adopting their narratives, instead of picking up our heads and observing what’s really going on around us,” reflected the host of the nationally syndicated Sunday show, Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.
“I will say that I’m not a political expert,” the reporter acknowledged. “But,” she added, “the reason I long said Trump would win had to do with recognizing and ignoring the narratives being fed to us – and trying to see the real world around us. I’ve gotten pretty good at dissecting AstroTurf and the narratives fed to the public and press.”
And with the shocking election of Trump that shook the mainstream media to the core, some of the biggest forces in journalism have published pieces examining the narrative that led them so astray.
The commentary by Will Rahn, political correspondent and managing director of politics for CBS News Digital, was remarkably scathing.
He began by saying what most conservatives believe, but few in the media would admit: Almost every reporter was in Hillary Clinton’s corner.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, with a few exceptions, we were all tacitly or explicitly #WithHer, which has led to a certain anguish in the face of Donald Trump’s victory. More than that and more importantly, we also missed the story, after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on.
“This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’d be a winking ‘we did it’ feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic.”
Rahn not only admitted that much of the public hates the mainstream media, he asserted they had good reason to do so.
“The audience for our glib analysis and contempt for much of the electorate, it turned out, was rather limited. This was particularly true when it came to voters, the ones who turned out by the millions to deliver not only a rebuke to the political system but also the people who cover it. Trump knew what he was doing when he invited his crowds to jeer and hiss the reporters covering him. They hate us, and have for some time.
“And can you blame them? Journalists love mocking Trump supporters. We insult their appearances. We dismiss them as racists and sexists. We emote on Twitter about how this or that comment or policy makes us feel one way or the other, and yet we reject their feelings as invalid.”
He accused the media of talking down to conservatives and patronizing them.
“But much of that starts from the assumption that Trump voters are backward, and that it’s our duty to catalogue and ultimately reverse that backwardness. What can we do to get these people to stop worshiping their false god and accept our gospel?”
Rahn accused the media of hubris.
“We diagnose them as racists in the way Dark Age clerics confused medical problems with demonic possession. Journalists, at our worst, see ourselves as a priestly caste. We believe we not only have access to the indisputable facts, but also a greater truth, a system of beliefs divined from an advanced understanding of justice.”
He accused the media of still not getting the message and continuing to make the same false assumptions and same mistakes.
“This is all a ‘whitelash,’ you see. Trump voters are racist and sexist, so there must be more racists and sexists than we realized. Tuesday night’s outcome was not a logic-driven rejection of a deeply flawed candidate named Clinton; no, it was a primal scream against fairness, equality, and progress. Let the new tantrums commence!”
Rahn explained the flaw that he believes accounts for the reason the media continues to get the story wrong, even now.
“That’s the fantasy, the idea that if we mock them enough, call them racist enough, they’ll eventually shut up and get in line. It’s similar to how media Twitter works, a system where people who dissent from the proper framing of a story are attacked by mobs of smugly incredulous pundits. Journalists exist primarily in a world where people can get shouted down and disappear, which informs our attitudes toward all disagreement.”
He accused the media of a nearly pathological liberal bias.
“That the explainers and data journalists so frequently get things hilariously wrong never invites the soul-searching you’d think it would. Instead, it all just somehow leads us to more smugness, more meanness, more certainty from the reporters and pundits. Faced with defeat, we retreat further into our bubble, assumptions left unchecked. No, it’s the voters who are wrong.
“As a direct result, we get it wrong with greater frequency. Out on the road, we forget to ask the right questions. We can’t even imagine the right question. We go into assignments too certain that what we find will serve to justify our biases.”
Rahn prescribes a tough medicine for the media: Face reality.
“Our theme now should be humility. We must become more impartial, not less so. We have to abandon our easy culture of tantrums and recrimination. We have to stop writing these know-it-all, 140-character sermons on social media and admit that, as a class, journalists have a shamefully limited understanding of the country we cover.”
Perhaps most stunning of all, he concedes the media simply disrespect, and don’t even like, average Americans.
“What’s worse, we don’t make much of an effort to really understand, and with too few exceptions, treat the economic grievances of Middle America like they’re some sort of punchline. Sometimes quite literally so, such as when reporters tweet out a photo of racist-looking Trump supporters and jokingly suggest that they must be upset about free trade or low wages.”
Media columnist Margaret Sullivan didn’t mince words, either.
“To put it bluntly, the media missed the story. In the end, a huge number of American voters wanted something different. And although these voters shouted and screamed it, most journalists just weren’t listening. They didn’t get it.
“They didn’t get that the huge, enthusiastic crowds at Donald Trump’s rallies would really translate into that many votes.”
She implicitly identified the problem as liberal bias.
“Journalists – college-educated, urban and, for the most part, liberal – are more likely than ever before to live and work in New York City and Washington, D.C., or on the West Coast. And although we touched down in the big red states for a few days, or interviewed some coal miners or unemployed autoworkers in the Rust Belt, we didn’t take them seriously. Or not seriously enough.”
She essentially accused reporters of dereliction of duty because telling the truth would have made them uncomfortable.
“And Trump – who called journalists scum and corrupt – alienated us so much that we couldn’t see what was before our eyes. We just kept checking our favorite prognosticating sites and feeling reassured, even though everyone knows that poll results are not votes.”
Sullivan predicted the damage and fallout will be lasting.
“Make no mistake. This is an epic fail. And although eating crow is never appealing, we’ll be digesting feathers and beaks in the next weeks and months – and maybe years.”
She also accused reporters of disrespecting the views of average Americans.
“And although many journalists and many news organizations did stories about the frustration and disenfranchisement of these Americans, we did not take them seriously enough.”
New York Times
Jim Rutenberg, who has the title of mediator at the Times, bluntly stated the media simply missed “the story of a lifetime.”
He also implicitly blamed liberal bias for preventing reporters from seeing reality from the perspective of Trump supporters.
“It was a failure to capture the boiling anger of a large portion of the American electorate that feels left behind by a selective recovery, betrayed by trade deals that they see as threats to their jobs and disrespected by establishment Washington, Wall Street and the mainstream media.”
Rutenberg essentially blamed reporters for failing to report, causing them to lose touch not only with the story, but with reality.
“Journalists didn’t question the polling data when it confirmed their gut feeling that Mr. Trump could never in a million years pull it off. They portrayed Trump supporters who still believed he had a shot as being out of touch with reality. In the end, it was the other way around.”
He described how faulty polling reinforced faulty reporting.
“And that’s why the problem that surfaced on Tuesday night was much bigger than polling. It was clear that something was fundamentally broken in journalism, which has been unable to keep up with the anti-establishment mood that is turning the world upside down.”
As bad as the media missed the story, Rutenberg pointed out, it was not the first time. It was part of a larger pattern.
“What’s amazing is how many times the news media has missed the populist movements that have been rocking national politics since at least 2008. It failed to initially see the rise of the Tea Party, which led to the Republican wave of elections of 2010 and 2014, which was supposed to be the year the so-called Republican establishment regained control over its intraparty insurgency.”
He pointed to a myopia that amounted to a dereliction of duty on part of the media.
“And after each failure came a vow to learn lessons, and not ever allow it to happen again. And yet the lessons did not come fast enough to get it right when it most mattered.”
So, to gain insight from a seasoned and respected journalist on what actually did happen on election night, and why, WND turned again to Attkisson, who has always had a reputation for independent thinking.
“Americans, I think, were tired of what they see as systemic corruption by political insiders,” she offered. “Some also resent what they view as growing attempts by government to control and legislate their thoughts.”
She, too, saw shortcomings among her colleagues, and voters exacting their revenge.
“And they rebelled against what they see as media collusion with the cozy political and corporate establishment.”
So, what happens now, with Trump in power?
“I have no idea what to expect,” admitted a candid Attkisson.
“With each new administration I, as a journalist, have hoped to see less secrecy and greater accountability and transparency but have been disappointed.”