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Trump Tapes, Clinton WikiLeaks And Viewers Who Care Less Every Day

16/10/2016 9:23 AM IST | Updated 19/10/2016 9:18 AM IST
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Mike Segar / Reuters

The US presidential election has been a rollercoaster ride, with tantrums, conspiracy theories and tabloid-worthy revelations at every turn. In one of the most intense presidential fights ever, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been aiming for each other's jugular, with frenzied media coverage to match. In fact, so frenzied has the pace been that onlookers have been left exhausted—according to Pew Research, most Americans actually wanted the elections to be over by as early as July this year as they felt oversaturated by the coverage.

At this point, the high-pitched media narrative is turning away the common person from the election cycle in sheer disgust at the players involved.

In my opinion, there are three problematic areas that need to be addressed in the media coverage of the elections—allegations of media collusion and debates around this, the timing of the general news narrative and a selective amnesia syndrome.

Media camps

A large part of this failure has been a partisan view adopted by the media that a particular candidate is superior to the other in terms of both moral and political standing—this is something that is borne out by analysis from WikiLeaks on popular news media personalities. A popular news channel, with centre-left leanings, is alleged to have its debate panels completely lopsided. For example, there are two Republican sympathizers (who are strategically placed right next to each other to avoid a broader reach) and the rest of the nine-member panel comprises either Democrat or Democrat-leaning anchors! Is it any better on the other side? Not really. The news channels with a conservative bent practice pretty much the same practice except that they are more direct in their preference for the Republican candidate. Either way, it doesn't help the cause of having a fair and nuanced debate.

The question of timing

The biggest grouse from the Republican camp on the latest Trump recordings is the timing of both the tapes and the accusations surrounding his personal behaviour. Everyone across the spectrum has (correctly) condemned the tapes across the spectrum, but valid questions have been raised about the timing: why now?

In my view, the key aspects for the media to understand here is a) the issue, and b) providing the platform for the accusation and the counter-narrative to be aired. Besides the timing, most news channels treated these accusations as the definite truth—which is not the job of a journalist but a legal investigator. While Trump's track record is consistent with the latest revelations, as a journalist I think it's imperative that accusations are treated in an objective manner and that the Trump camp is given equal time to respond to these charges. The timing and also the extent of coverage given to these stories have been disproportionate compared to the other happenings in the Clinton camp as a whole. This brings me to my next point.

Selective amnesia

If the left-leaning media houses are obsessed with the allegations against Trump (even as they gloss over Hillary's part in the allegations of sexual misconduct against President Clinton), then the right-leaning media houses are obsessed with the WikiLeaks story on the Clintons (again, glossing over the allegations against Trump). The gravity of both matters is undeniable, but what I'm truly aghast at is at how the mainstream media practices selective amnesia depending on their ideological priorities. Some media organizations may protest and, for instance, say they did "mention" the WikiLeaks story. However, a "mention" is disproportionate to the hyper-coverage of other issues. The public deserves an objective and balanced news cycle which reflects the flaws and strengths of both candidates. You know you have a problem when news channels focus extensively on the positives of the candidate they explicitly or implicitly support while remaining conspicuously silent on problem areas.

In conclusion, I think it's important for media houses to reflect on how they are shaping the news agenda. An objective media cannot be partisan in a debate, regardless of how tempting it is; it is imperative that these temptations are quashed. At this point, the high-pitched media narrative is turning away the common person from the election cycle in sheer disgust at the players involved. It's time for the media to take a step back and provide a balanced picture in order to regain the trust of viewers across the spectrum.

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