Headlines coming out of the third and final 2016 presidential debate all followed a similar theme: Trump will not commit to accepting the election results if he loses.
The four largest newspapers in the country ran front page headlines that adhered to the same script, echoing post-debate comments from broadcast commentators:
- Washington Post: “Trump Refuses To Say Whether He’ll Accept Election Results”
- The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Won’t Commit to Accepting Vote if He Loses”
- New York Times: “Trump Won’t Say if He Will Accept Election Results”
- USA Today: “Keep You In Suspense: Trump Won’t Commit To Accepting Vote Results”
Out of a ninety-minute debate, viewed by more than 71 million Americans and covering a variety of topics, this was the major takeaway?
Despite the blaring and repetitive headlines, Americans’ view of this election and whether it’s rigged is unlikely to be shaped by an increasingly out of touch and out of time press.
The belief that Trump’s failure to commit to the outcome of the election was a major gaffe simply illustrates just how out of touch major news organizations are with the country they cover.
Americans increasingly believe the system(s) is rigged against them and view corruption as widespread in government and business. Few will be troubled by Trump’s “rigged” rhetoric since most already believe corruption is a huge problem in the country.
According to Gallup, three in four Americans (75%) perceive corruption as widespread in the country’s government. While this number is from 2014, it’s been steadily increasing since 2007.
So what do Americans fear most? Corrupt government officials. According to the 2016 Chapman University Survey of American Fears, six in ten Americans (61%) identified corrupt government officials as their top fear, eclipsing both terrorist attacks (41%) and not having enough money for the future (40%). Government corruption was also their top fear in 2015.
Americans’ view of government and government officials is dismal and their assessment of the economy and businesses are not any better.
Seventy-one percent of Americans think the U.S. economic system is “rigged in favor of certain groups” according to a June 2016 poll conducted by Marketplace and Edison . This belief was shared regardless of political affiliation or ethnicity.
In a follow-up poll conducted in October 2016, nine out of ten Americans who believed the economic system was rigged in favor of certain groups agreed the U.S. economic system is rigged to benefit politicians (89%) and corporations (86%).
Amidst this backdrop of distrust, why do journalists think voters care if Trump accepts the outcome of November elections? They probably don’t. If anything, they probably agree that it is rigged.
And as much as the legacy press highlights “the gaffe”, their ability to influence voters’ opinion on this topic is increasingly weak. Americans view the press just as negatively as the aforementioned government officials.
In a poll conducted in 2016 by the Media Insight Project for the American Press Institute, less than one in ten Americans (6%) have a great deal of confidence in the press. Four in ten (41%) Americans said they have hardly any confidence at all in the press. In the same poll, more than one out of three (38%) Americans said they have had an experience with a news and information source that made them trust it less.
One of the great challenges ahead is finding a way to restore faith in institutions and most importantly, the press. Sadly, the damage will take decades to repair. These types of initiatives are often generational and will require the passing of significant time before peoples’ memories of this era fade.
The first step to restoring faith in the press is for the media to admit there’s a problem. Second, media organizations need to accept reality and understand how the public actually thinks.
Too many journalists and thought-leaders view the country as they wish it to be and have segregated themselves into hive minds that shelter them from opposing opinions.
Journalists and legacy media are some of the worst offenders of this phenomenon, often opting to challenge the grammar of a dissenting voice than understanding the beliefs and judgments of the messenger. Granted, sheltering yourself, regardless of your profession, against the trolls and vitriol of social media is tempting. However, it skews your view of the country, which is a big problem if you’re a journalist.
Without trust in the press, it’s unlikely faith in any government or political institution will be repaired anytime soon. The divisions and distrust we see today will only continue to grow.
It’s high time journalists and the media return to reality, perhaps survey their audiences to learn how they think, focus coverage on issues the public actually cares about, and then report it accurately.