National media not doing its job this election, visiting prof says
In the midst of perhaps the most contentious presidential race in history, the national news media has dropped the ball, a visiting journalism professor said Tuesday night at the DePauw University Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media.
With the specter of the biggest media faux pas ever -- the infamous "Dewey defeats Truman" Chicago Tribune headline -- displayed on the video screen behind her, award-winning former Washington Post journalist Miranda Spivack told a Greencastle League of Women Voters-sponsored gathering that the national media has failed to do its constitutionally protected job during the current election.
"I don't know how much the media has improved since this fiasco," Spivack said, gesturing to the front-page photo and headline behind her before jumping ahead to 2016.
"With two weeks to go," she said, "I guess everybody's wishing it were over. It's been pretty exhausting."
With more than 40 years experience in journalism, Spivack noted that the 2016 election marks the first time she's found herself on the sidelines for a national campaign since she began her career. But that has left her with a chance to observe her colleagues and what they have or haven't done in reporting the Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton showdown.
"As a consumer," Spivack said, "I've been really disappointed in my colleagues everywhere."
Spivack, the Pulliam distinguished visiting professor of journalism at DePauw, acknowledged that some of the coverage -- "drips and drabs and pieces" -- has been very good.
But ever since it became obvious Trump was in the race for real, the national media has missed the mark and has "treated him more life a reality TV star" than a presidential candidate, she suggested.
But that has all changed since the "Access Hollywood" tape laden with Trump's bashing of women was made public by the Washington Post.
"It's been the turning point in this race," Spivack said, "also the turning point in coverage, which has gotten a lot more probing since then.
"It took a groping video about white women to turn the coverage, to turn the tide," she said.
Until then, she continued, "it hadn't mattered that Trump had trashed Mexican-Americans and blacks and had said some pretty terrible things about women already."
Admitting she's "not a big fan of Donald Trump," the visiting journalist nonetheless gave him credit for saying "some things about elitism in the media" that she tends to agree with.
"Not every Trump supporter is a misogynist racist," she added, but instead "can be somebody who feels left out. I think (elitism) is a real issue, and it has shown up in the coverage.
"Somehow," Spivack said, "he's tapped into this world and it would behoove journalists to do so too."
As far as Trump's suggestion that the election is rigged and the media is party to a conspiracy against him, Spivack had an easy answer.
"Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows we would never be organized enough to do anything ... sometimes it's a miracle we get the newspaper out every day or every week."
Spivack suggested not enough coverage has been given to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy and the Senate's refusal to act on President Obama's designee.
"This whole election could be about that," she said, noting that "not enough has been written" about the court vacancy and how a new justice might impact Roe v. Wade or 2nd Amendment rights in the future.
Likewise, the Clinton emails and the missing tax records of Trump are stories that have needed better coverage in this election, she said.
"Trump may never pay taxes, we don't know," Spivack added. "Why aren't people enraged by that? Why aren't journalists all over that?"
Instead, the media love poll stories, yet the discrepancy in polling numbers should be an issue, she suggests.
"We write about polls like they're fact, and I'm not sure they are."
She cited four pollsters that were given the same data and numbers to crunch and came away with four different results.
One thing impacting the coverage is fewer reporters. Spivack acknowledged that newsroom numbers have been shrinking since the Internet began impacting news coverage.
"My colleagues are understaffed," she said, "it doesn't matter whether it's the Washington Post or the Banner Graphic. So they do sort of have to pick and choose what they put their energy into."
Meanwhile, the interest shown by early voting, particularly in Indiana and other states, likely means voters are afraid of long lines that might keep them from voting on Nov. 8.
"Or some are just over all of it," she said of the contentious election.
Asked if this presidential race might produce a Halloween surprise or a November surprise, Spivack said only time will tell.
"I think more emails are going to come out (which was proven right Wednesday) ... Clinton's planting stories with the news media? What a surprise! You don't think Trump's not doing that?
"You could have a Truman-Dewey surprise," she added, "you just don't know."