In the media circus that has characterised the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, what has happened to balanced reporting?
Many of America’s mainstream media publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have abandoned balanced reporting for the US election, said Jonathan Holmes, former host of the ABC’s Media Watch.
“The idea that it’s enough to just report the ‘he said, she said’ in order to maintain your notion of purity or lack of bias, I think has been pretty much debunked,” he told The Newsroom.
Whether the media is departing from objective journalism or doing objective journalism properly for the first time, can both be argued strongly, he added.
“Partisan coverage from the left or the right is far more watchable and more interesting to most people that watch cable news than the straight down the middle thing because people want their prejudices confirmed.”
So why does Trump continue to receive so much coverage on the news? Because he makes money, ABC’s Media Watch host Paul Barry said.
“Trump has still got a shot at being America’s next president because the media and viewers can’t get enough of him,” Mr Barry said on the show.
“And it’s not just reporters who have been having fun. Trump boosts ratings, so the TV networks sell more ads. Which means the money has been rolling in.”
Last month, The New York Times said he “should not be president”. They also published a list of 282 people, places and things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter.
Earlier this month, the newspaper also published allegations of sexual assault against Trump.
But Trump’s legal team hit back at these claims and in a letter to The New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet, his lawyer said the article should be retracted.
“Your article is reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel per se. It is apparent from, among other things, the timing of the article, that it is nothing more than a politically-motivated effort to defeat Mr Trump’s candidacy,” the letter read.
His lawyer added the political motivation behind the article was why there was an “inadequate investigation” to ensure the claims were factual.
Other media have different approaches to reporting on Trump, such as The Huffington Post, which adds a note to each article about the presidential candidate:
“Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims – 1.6 billion members of an entire religion – from entering the US.”
‘Can the media trump Trump?’ Media Watch, October 3, 2016
The Washington Post and The New York Times took quite seriously the view that “news is one thing, comment is the other [and] you keep them separate”, Mr Holmes said.
“I think they still maintain, in their own minds, that they are sticking with that notion.
“But then it is their job to say on a factual basis if one side is uttering falsehoods and the other side is more subject to the truth and make that clear in their news stories,” he said.
“That’s the revolution that’s happened.”
Mr Barry said Trump’s often “outrageous” comments get him a spot on the news.
“The US media – left and right – are now almost unanimous in agreeing that Trump is not fit for office.”
But the editorial attacks against the presidential candidate haven’t been helped by Trump publicly criticising the media, Mr Holmes said.
The editorials against Trump from some of America’s most popular news publications have had a flow-on effect to media in Australia.
Fairfax Media’s The Sydney Morning Herald, like The New York Times, came out against Trump in an editorial and said he “should quit [the] presidential race”.
Mr Holmes said only a tiny number of Fairfax readers would be Trump supporters, so it was a safe move for the company.
The phony story in the failing @nytimes is a TOTAL FABRICATION. Written by same people as last discredited story on women. WATCH!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2016
But even News Corp’s The Australian is waging a war on Trump, publishing editorials slamming him.
Mr Holmes said: “Trump is in direct contradiction to a lot of those conservative values that The Australian has espoused for many years so it’s quite logical and consistent that it would in its editorial attack him.”
Both news companies hold a big stake in Australia’s news: The two most read newspapers in Victoria and New South Wales are owned by either Fairfax or News Corp, according to Roy Morgan Research.
By moulding “truth” to his own ends, Trump’s bluster has woken the media to their duty to tell the real truth, writer Lee Siegel argued in an article in the Columbia Journalism Review this month.
“Let journalists unbound by ideology or commercial agenda – or the increasing frequency of a combination of the two – provide the new consumers of truth with the real thing,” he said.
But the biggest indicator yet of how influential the media’s war on Trump has been will be determined in the coming weeks when more than 200 million Americans vote to decide the next president of the US. – Matthew Male and Matthew Buchanan
Photo of Donald Trump from his Facebook page and cartoon by Melissah Dierickx-Bosmans.