DONALD Trump didn’t just defeat Hillary Clinton.
defeated a global media establishment that, with very few exceptions,
was determined to destroy him. And it’s that media pile-on during the
2016 US presidential election that may go down as one of the biggest
strategic backfires in history.
“It’s a rigged system, folks,” the billionaire was fond of saying. That perception was widely shared by the public,
three quarters of whom believed the US media wanted Ms Clinton to win,
according to a survey taken the week before the election.
Never before has a presidential candidate so explicitly declared war on journalists.
Earlier this month, Washington Post writer Breanne Deppisch tweeted a picture from a rally in Minnesota of a Trump fan wearing a shirt that read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”
A few days earlier, fellow Washington Post reporter Jose DelReal tweeted about an encounter at another Trump rally. “Me: ‘Hey guys, I’m a reporter with The Washington Post, mind if I ...’. Star spangled middle aged man: ‘F*** you and The Washington Post.’”
Traditional political wisdom goes that you shouldn’t complain about the media because it makes you look weak.
for Mr Trump, the war on the media was a key part of his election
platform. At every rally, he would point out the assembled journalists
penned into their enclosure, encouraging the crowd of sometimes tens of
thousands to boo and jeer.
The idea to corral journalists like sheep — or alien creatures on display — reportedly came from Hope Hicks, his young press secretary. They became a handy prop, ambassadors from the establishment, the enemy.
people,” he told a rally in Florida, gesturing to the gathered
reporters, “are among the most dishonest people I’ve ever met, spoken
to, done business with. These are the most dishonest people.
has never been anywhere near the media dishonesty like we’ve seen in
this election. Don’t worry, they won’t spin the cameras and show the
massive crowds. They won’t do that.”
Seth Stevenson, a journalist with left-wing website Slate, described the experience.
“We were a vital element in Trump’s performance,” he wrote. “He never
once failed to invite his crowds to heckle us. He was placing us on
display like captured animals.
“And it worked. The press pack,
collectively, looked nothing like the crowds at Trump events —
particularly in more rural towns. We’d file into these places with our
sleek luggage and our expensive tech gear and our better haircuts.
were far more diverse than the people in the stands. When the crowds
lustily booed us, we’d sit there impassive and stone-faced, and this
only further served to convince the rallygoers that we were snobby,
superior pricks. The pen was an amazingly efficient means of othering
Already largely distrusted as a profession, journalists with media outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post,
CNN and MSNBC did themselves no favours with their constant attacks on
Mr Trump, often on social media but just as often as their official
In January, The Huffington Post, whose
founder Arianna Huffington was revealed to be discussing with the
Clinton camp “using Huffpo to echo our message without any perceived
conflicts”, according to WikiLeaks emails, began posting a disclaimer at the bottom of all stories about the Republican candidate.
to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe,
racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban
all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering
the US,” the note read.
Collectively they went all in, overplayed
their hand, and quite possibly hurt, more than helped, their chosen
candidate. “If Hillary Clinton becomes the 45th US president, the 2016
election will be remembered as one in which much of the mainstream media
all but admitted aligning itself with the Democratic Party,” Carl
Cannon, executive editor of the influential RealClearPolitics website, wrote last month.
Michael Goodwin, veteran media columnist with the New York Post, described this election as the “low-water mark of American journalism”.
“Never before have so many media organisations, old and new, abandoned
all pretence of fairness to take sides and try to pick a president,” he
“It is hard to escape the conclusion that playing favourites, while pretending to be neutral, is business-as-usual.
only difference is that WikiLeaks exposed the ugly truth. Much of the
media world has long tilted left, but this year, the bias became open
and notorious war because the liberal bell cow decided that Trump was
not deserving of basic fairness.
“When The New York Times crossed the Rubicon by allowing reporters to express their opinions in so-called news stories, the floodgates opened across the country as imitators followed suit.”
explicitly antagonising the media in their penned enclosure and
labelling journalists variously “disgusting”, “dishonest”, “crooked” and
“sleazy”, Mr Trump invited ever more attacks on himself.
only amplified the sense, both among his supporters and those in the
swinging middle, that he was right — look how the system was rigged
against him. But it also inoculated him against those same attacks.
By mid-October, when a series of women began coming forward in The New York Times and elsewhere accusing Mr Trump of sexual assault, to most of his supporters it was like the boy who cried wolf. They simply weren’t listening any more.
They were on Facebook and on Twitter. They were on r/The_Donald, Reddit’s boisterous Donald Trump fan community with nearly 300,000 members. They were reading alternative media like Breitbart and Infowars, and listening to alt-right personalities with massive followings like Paul Joseph Watson, Milo Yiannopoulos and Mike Cernovich.
consumption was no longer passive. In all those places, Mr Trump’s
supporters would take the mainstream media’s stories and pick them
apart, dissect and quite often debunk them, all the while seething with
In the aftermath of last week’s shock win, CBS News correspondent Will Rahn made a rare admission.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, with a few exceptions,
we were all tacitly or explicitly #WithHer, which has led to a certain
anguish in the face of Donald Trump’s victory,” he wrote.
knew what he was doing when he invited his crowds to jeer and hiss the
reporters covering him. They hate us, and have for some time.
can you blame them? Journalists love mocking Trump supporters. We
insult their appearances. We dismiss them as racists and sexists. We
emote on Twitter about how this or that comment or policy makes us feel
one way or the other, and yet we reject their feelings as invalid.
“It’s a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing.”
So was the President-elect right about bias, the “double standards” in the media, as Mr Trump told 60 Minutes on Sunday night?
Well there was the time MSNBC’s Steve Benen wrote an article titled ‘Khizr Khan’s words won’t soon be forgotten’ about the Gold Star family’s comments at the Democratic National Convention, a week after he penned a piece titled ‘RNC manipulates the pain of a grieving mother for partisan gain’ about Pat Smith, the mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith.
Or the time Salon writer Joan Walsh tweeted, “Are we seriously talking about Hillary Clinton’s health as a serious issue? Really?”, after writing a piece in 2012 titled ‘What’s wrong with Mitt Romney?’
that included the words, “Maybe we should be asking to see his medical
records ... his struggles are our struggles; he’s running to be our
Or the time The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote a piece titled ‘Can we just stop talking about Hillary Clinton’s health now?’, two days before a piece titled ‘Why I wrote about John McCain’s health in 2008 (and don’t think we should write about Hillary’s health now)’, three days before a piece titled ‘Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign’.
Or the time Salon, in 2007, published an article titled ‘‘Nazis’ and ‘Hitler’ — the Right’s casual, trivialising political insults’, before nine years later casually pondering, ‘Is Donald Trump a new Hitler?’.
Or the time The Huffington Post published an article titled ‘Speculating about candidate health is mudslinging, not medicine’, after publishing a piece in 2008 titled ‘Is John McCain mentally fit to be president?’.
Or the time Slate published an article in 2012 titled ‘In defence of the Electoral College’, before this week’s take which declared, ‘The Electoral College is an instrument of white supremacy — and sexism’.
Or the time the media had a collective meltdown when Mr Trump said he might not accept the result
of the election — conveniently forgetting that Al Gore challenged the
2000 election all the way to the Supreme Court — before hailing violent
anti-Trump protests in the wake of the election as “only the opening act of years of discord”.
Or there’s that small matter of violence. When a Trump supporter punched a protester in the face
at a rally, news networks around the world ran the footage on high
rotation for a week. The man, 78-year-old John McGraw, was charged with
assault and disorderly conduct.
But when undercover journalists
provided concrete evidence that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was paying
professional protesters to infiltrate Trump rallies and assault his supporters, the media was silent.
When Trump supporters were punched, chased and pelted with water bottles and eggs at a rally in California, or in dozens of other violent incidents at rallies across the country all year, there was a distinct sense from the media: they had it coming.
After all, Donald Trump is literally Hitler.
It’s the same story since the election. While the media obsesses over a highly dubious wave of hate crime in “Trump’s America”, usually consisting of “I’ll ride with you” style friend-of-a-friend’s-sister Facebook posts, it largely ignores actual video evidence of violent attacks on Trump supporters.
of this has led many to completely disconnect from what they have taken
to calling by the German word “lugenpresse”, or “lying press” — a term
used by Germans angry at the media for actively suppressing negative news about immigrants, notably in the wake of the Cologne mass sexual assaults.
The whole situation is neatly encapsulated by Time magazine’s take, which described the phenomenon in an article titled ‘Donald Trump supporters are using a Nazi word to attack journalists’.
Because if people don’t like you, calling them Nazis should do the trick.