Some media experts say news organizations should embark on a review of their coverage this election season. It’s not hard to see why.
The media often drew as much ire as the candidates, from charges of bias to reporter bans to CNN’s in-your-face hiring of panels of former campaign operatives.
In an election season that has seen unprecedented division and controversy, news organizations were not far from the fray.
Experts praise some news organizations for producing some of the strongest investigative reporting in any recent presidential election. And anchors like Chris Wallace of Fox drew kudos from both sides of the aisle for moderating one of the three contentious debates.
But improvements can likely be made.
“As a matter of practice, it’s valuable to a do a review of your coverage after a major news event,” said Butch Ward, a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute.
Elizabeth Jensen, the ombudsman of National Public Radio told Beltway News that she will review NPR’s coverage after the election.
Jensen said this campaign in particular posed challenges to journalists. For example, part of a journalist’s job is to present candidates in their own words, but what if a candidate routinely makes false statements?
“What protocols can we put in place to handle that and make sure we as journalists aren’t helping amplify that incorrect information?” Jensen said.
That conversation is already taking place at The New York Times. It recently used the word “lie” when describing Trump’s claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, said in a podcast that he does not recall a time that the paper has used the word “lie” in a headline about a presidential candidate, or anyone else.
“Newspapers struggle with using the word ‘lie.’ We struggle with them because they imply motive,” Baquet said in the podcast. “Usually politicians don’t simply lie, they are more complicated.”
Baquet contended that The Time’s coverage has been tough and accurate in its reporting of both Trump and Clinton.
The good and bad
This election season saw questions about bias, the role of 24-hour cable news and how the media covered Trump’s early campaign, with questions centering on how much news coverage helped Trump rise to the top of the Republican ticket.
Early in the campaign season, many newspapers and news stations quoted experts saying Trump would never become the Republican nominee, but Ward said if reporters had gone out and talked to regular citizens, they would have been able to capture the strong support for Trump.
“Every organization missed that story,” Ward said.
But was coverage biased?
According to a national Quinnipiac University poll released last week, 55 percent of likely voters surveyed said the media are biased against Trump.
Ward and others say every presidential election season brings accusations of bias.
Complaints about the media are easy to use as a campaign strategy either to try to get more positive coverage or as a way to “rally the troops,” said Dave D’Alessio, a professor of communications at the University of Connecticut who studies bias.
“Part of every campaign is getting your voters to the polling places, and the more riled up they are, they more likely they are to actually vote,” D’Alessio said,
D’Alessio said there is not enough evidence yet to definitely say if coverage was biased toward one candidate or the other.
For some news organizations, like Fox News and MSNBC, point of view is part of their business plan, and they do not shy away from having political slants, Ward said.
“To some degree, 24-hour television has begun to define what many people believe the media is in this country,” Ward said.
Still, charges of bias were also lodged against the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNN.
“For them it’s worth stepping back and asking if there is anything that should have been different, but they should be satisfied if the answer is no.”
Any review of coverage should also look at what the news organizations did well, Ward said. News organizations like The Washington Post and The New York Times were aggressive in their coverage of both candidates, including a review of both the Trump and Clinton Foundation.
“These reviews tend to emphasize the negative,” Ward said. “There was a lot of good work done.”
Jay Rosen, a press critic and NYU journalism professor, told Salon that journalists should not be afraid to call out lies and inaccuracies.
During the presidential debates, questions were raised about the role of the moderators and if they would do real-time fact checking during the debates. Lester Holt, Anderson Cooper, Martha Raddatz and Wallace all were praised after their debates for raising questions about claims made by the candidates.
Rosen said he wants journalists to not be afraid to call out inaccuracies.
“If journalists can’t be specialists in verification, what can they be expected to uphold?” Rosen told Salon. “It’s an incredibly elementary thing to me.”
In the days after the election, Rosen was quoted as saying there will be many calls for reflection on the media and its role. He said instead of trying to persuade people who hate the media, news organizations should return to their basic values, of verification and accountability journalism.