As this election finally whimpers to an end, we will all soon mercifully move on. But before we do, it’s worth pointing out how feckless and insipidly shallow the election media coverage has been. Media outlets had an opportunity – and some would say, the responsibility – to focus on platforms and policies. Instead, networks took the cheap, lazy way out and chose to inundate us with shallow stories, egging politicians on (the carrot being extended airtime and coverage) to give them juicy, inane quotes that the media could easily pick at, like a festering wound.
It is seldom mentioned that media outlets make a lot of money off of elections. Not just the millions of dollars spent on political ads, but also the fact that network election coverage is easier and cheaper than say, reporting on the Olympics, or the complex milieu of issues our society faces.
From the beginning, Donald Trump offered media a veritable feast. With his divisive comments and loutish behavior, he was a gold mine to media outlets who quickly pounced and raced each other to churn out reactionist commentary blissfully free of any actual thought or analysis.
However by filling the airwaves with Trump’s inane quotes and boorish behavior, the effect was the media legitimizing a misogynistic, xenophobic, historically awful candidate. The hundreds of television channels we have today result in an insatiable, bottomless programming void that networks seek to fill with whatever they can find. Trump did the media the favor of filling that void, providing networks with a plethora of facile quotes, tweets, sound bites and stories easily packaged with trite talking points that the media could sprinkle in as they raked in advertising dollars. In return, Trump received the lion’s share of media coverage – an extended spotlight in headlines and news that has helped him overcome his inexperience, lack of a platform, and many egregious blunders.
Trump continues to be propped up by a media too afraid to lose their bestseller, despite scandal after scandal – or perhaps because of it. His continued refusal to play his role and present fact-checked, focus group-approved messages is akin to an actor breaking the fourth wall on stage and revealing the whole thing is a production. Meanwhile, rather than trying to institute some measure of accountability, our media instead enlarges, packages, and prolongs the charade – in order to handsomely profit from it.
It’s tough to underestimate the dangers of Trump’s legitimization by the media – it has elevated an inept buffoon to one of the two options for president of the United States. The chances to avoid this happening again appear fairly grim – after all, media made oodles of money and Trump won legitimization. Next time, perhaps our only method of recourse will be to simply turn off the television.