Ethical Angle of an Event: America Couldn’t Stump the Trump

Dina Kraft, a faculty member at the Northeastern School of Journalism, began a post-election discussion panel with the sombre notion everyone woke up today to a different America we knew from yesterday. It was a statement that admittedly dismissed any Trump supporters in the room but one I completely related to (even if my Canadian passport is a ticket out of this country).

Let me start off by saying I am by no means a political junkie and there’s a lot of elements I don’t understand about American politics. There are far more students who are able to make far more insightful conclusions but here is my feeble attempt at trying to dissect this election.

The panel, which became more of an open-dialogue, touched upon a handful of topics such as (but not limited to) flaws in the media coverage, the inherent bias in polls and the role gender played during the campaign trails. Professor Dan Kennedy rightfully accused the media is guilty of false balance. Jonathan Kaufman raised the point the press got lazy and depended too much on reported information easily accessible online. Many students in the room criticized the blatant bias that spilled over all media reports. Although those criticisms are deserving, I felt there was a strong consensus in the room the media was heavily to blame for the outcome. As it was said at the event, the media did not elect Donald Trump. Had reporters reported it differently, I’m not sure I necessarily believe the country would be witnessing the first female president.

To be clear, the media was certainly not perfect. It’s true there was a strong emphasis on scandals and not enough spotlight on the actual policies and issues at hand. It’s true this was an unconventional election thus coverage adapted accordingly and evolved into unconventional reporting. The media, in my opinion, did a huge disservice to voters by not educating the average citizen enough, and instead made a comedy spectacle out of Trump and Clinton. But now we have an unqualified individual with access to nuclear weapons and it begs the question, how can the press learn from its mistakes and how should we cover the unexpected commander-in-chief going forward?

Personally, I think the first step is accepting the fact that he is going to be the next president and then looking back to history to see what was done well and what wasn’t. Trump can certainly be an eccentric character to say the least, but it’s not the first time it’s happened — Nixon, Bush Jr. to name a few. Going forward, the press needs to be more diligent and disciplined in identifying what is newsworthy and if a reporter cannot answer “Why do people need to know about this,” it’s probably not worth it. The press needs to call Trump out when he deserves to be called out, but he also needs to be praised when warranted. Many are expecting him to fail, to drive this nation to a historic low point and while I may fall under that category as well, the press would have already failed if we can’t enter his presidency with an open mind. As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, we must give him a chance to lead.

Another topic that was discussed during this panel was the role of WikiLeaks and leaked emails, documents, tapes etc. I don’t have too much to say about it except this: As Professor Kennedy pointed out in class, some of the best journalistic moments have come from leaked documents; think Pentagon Papers. That’s not to say I think any leaked information should be reported, but in the case of leaked emails, I do believe I would have made the same call and reported on it. In my opinion, almost anything and everything related to a presidential candidate is relevant.

It is terrifying to think of what Donald Trump can accomplish with a Republican Congress backing him. It seems like Obama has taken this country 20 steps forward, only for it to take 50 steps back and we have now given legitimacy to views that we have previously decided to relegate to the fringe of society.

Edit: In a previous version, I classified Reagan as an eccentric individual, pairing him with Nixon. It was pointed out to me that may not necessarily have been a fair comparison and have changed it accordingly.

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