The election of Donald Trump stunned many Americans, particularly the media who predicted a landslide victory for Hillary Clinton. Between the shock and the fake news site controversies, the mainstream news media messed up and they knew it. The Atlantic magazine published an article on the media’s ‘woeful’ unpreparedness to cover a Trump presidency and media commentators such as CNN’s Brian Stelter had multiple segments calling the media’s grave miscalculation on election night “one of the biggest media failures in many years”, and calling for journalists to do some ‘soul searching’ to regain public’s trust. Segments included panels of long-time journalists discussing how they can avoid their previous mistakes in covering when Donald Trump begins his term.
While I appreciate the awareness that something in journalism needs to change, they are still getting it wrong. First of all, if you’re going to have a panel on how journalism lost the people’s trust, you might want to talk to the people whose trust you lost in the first place. It does little good to have a discussion on your mistakes amongst yourselves.
Second, the mainstream media did not get the election wrong simply because of polls. One of the reasons I turned away from mainstream news during the election was because of its one-sided coverage of voters of color. Mainstream portrayal of African-Americans, Latinos and Asians as monoliths is nothing new, however the distortion of the black and Latino voting blocs were so brazen and obvious, it was unwatchable. As early voting statistics came in with Latino voting up and black voting down, CNN and MSNBC dubbed Latinos as the voting bloc that would save Hillary while black voters were presumed to be sitting home apathetic because Barack Obama was not on the ballot.
The fact that this was the first election where strict voter ID laws and cut backs in early voting were in full effect in swing states like North Carolina was completely ignored. Mainstream news also made the inaccurate presumption that Latinos were so terrified by Trump’s platform, they would vote in droves for Hillary Clinton. Although Latino voter turnout did increase, the partisan divide kept pace with previous elections. Trump won 28% of Latino voters, more than Mitt Romney in 2012 but less than John McCain in 2008. Hillary failed to match Obama’s enthusiasm with Americans of color but her most reliable voting bloc was black women. Just as there are differences in the black voting bloc, there are differences among Latino voters. CNN, MSNBC and other mainstream news media ignore them at their peril.
The reality is black and Latino voters are complex voting blocs that the media needs to take time to get to know. Part of the problem is that mainstream journalism is mostly white, even in 2016. As the country browns, the mainstream media let alone the political system, will continue to get it wrong as long as this remains the case.