Home Election 2016 How the Media Has Shaped the 2016 Presidential Election

How the Media Has Shaped the 2016 Presidential Election


By John Ubaldi

Contributor, In Homeland Security

Note: The opinions and comments stated in the following article, and views expressed by any contributor to In Homeland Security, do not represent the views of American Military University, American Public University System, its management or employees.

When Americans vote in November 2016 for the next President of the United States, they face two distinct choices: vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump or Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The unfortunate aspect for the American electorate is that most voters revile both candidates. This begs the question…how did we end up with these despicable choices?

There are many reasons the country ended up with Trump and Clinton as the only choices for president. But one has to look no further than the media and how it shaped the 2016 presidential election.

Media Demonstrated Lack of Investigative Journalism

In 2015, two pivotal events impacted the 2016 presidential election before the primaries even began. The first event was the email scandal in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a private server and email to conduct all government business. The second event was the entry into the presidential race of the bombastic billionaire businessman and television reality star Donald Trump with his over-the-top rhetoric.

The Clinton email scandal began in March of 2015, when the New York Times broke the story that Clinton had exclusively used a personnel email server to conduct all government business. At a press conference at the United Nations, Clinton repeated many false narratives or changed her positions many times over the course of several months.

Clinton stated that she opted for convenience in using a personal email. She said that it would be easier to use one device instead of multiple devices. One of the most highly charged of her statements was “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.”

Many of the statements made by Clinton were altered or changed in later months. As time moved on, very few of the mainstream media covered the changing dichotomy of this highly charged story, which would have torpedoed any other candidate into oblivion.

Even on Sunday, when Chris Wallace interviewed Clinton on Fox News, Clinton stated that FBI Director James Comey cleared her in regard to her use of a private email server while she served as Secretary of State. Clinton stated: “Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to retroactively classify certain emails.” This was a blatant lie, but the mainstream media barely covered it.

Media Fails to Investigate Clinton Foundation

Another aspect of this Clinton scandal erupted with the release of Peter Schweizer’s book,“Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.” This scandal was intertwined with Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, but it was largely ignored by the mainstream media.

Why is there a lack of investigation by the media into both of these scandals, especially for someone running to become the President of the United States? Only the media can answer this question.

Where’s the Investigation of Trump’s Businesses?

The other major story of last year was the entry into the presidential race by entrepreneur billionaire realtor and television personality Donald Trump. At first, Trump was just a novelty. Many political pundits on both sides of the political spectrum thought he would just fade away with each over-the-top bombastic comment, especially after Trump announced his candidacy.

Trump also criticized Senator John McCain’s war record as not being a war hero, because McCain was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Ironically, Trump had four deferments himself and never served in uniform.

As the campaign moved forward into the debates, Trump’s rhetoric and harsh comments regarding immigration and other topics provided the mainstream media with a revenue bonanza. The Republican debates became a ratings goldmine.

It did not matter that Trump’s populist rhetoric lacked any clear substantive policy understanding of national or domestic issues. Even in one debate, Trump did not know what the “nuclear triad” was and was taken to task by Republican challenger Senator Marco Rubio.

Throughout this period, the media conducted little, if any, research into Trump’s business dealings. There was ample evidence of misconduct, such as the failed Trump University, various business bankruptcies and Trump’s impact on small businesses. Trump also surrounded himself with unsavory business associates and business partners. The media never investigated this aspect on which Trump campaigns so vigorously. It was only after Trump received the Republican nomination that the mainstream media is now looking into his previous business dealings. Even now, Trump continues to control the media narrative.

De Tocqueville’s Words Ring True in 2016 Election

About 184 years have passed since French diplomat and political scientist Alexis De Tocqueville wrote “Democracy in America.” De Tocqueville commented on American journalism. He stated, “The characteristics of the American journalist consist in an open and coarse appeal to the passions of his readers; he abandons principles to assail the characters of the individuals, to track them into private life, and disclose all their weaknesses and vices.”

De Tocqueville continued, “In the United States, each separate journal exercises but little authority; but the power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people.”

As in De Tocqueville’s day, the same principle applies to many modern journalists, but now it’s been placed on steroids in the digital age. Basically, “what sells” continues to drive the media narrative; the news is devoid of actual substance.

Criticism of Journalism Has Historic Precedent with Russian Author Solzhenitsyn

Even Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn made unflattering comments toward the media during a commencement address at Harvard University in 1978.

“What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to the readership or to history? If they have misled public opinion by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, even if they have contributed to mistakes on a state level, do we know of any case of open regret voiced by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No, this would damage sales. A nation may be the worse for such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. It is most likely that he will start writing the exact opposite to his previous statements with renewed aplomb.”

He chastised the press: “Yet one would like to ask: According to what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible?”

Today’s Media Focuses on Disputes, Not Substance

Some may say it is the responsibility of the other Republican and Democratic candidates to have challenged both Trump and Clinton. But if these candidates cannot get their message out via the media, how can they challenge Trump or Clinton?

The Republican debates were more about what Trump would say and how he said it. Last fall, CNBC showed the fatal flaw in the media coverage by focusing more on the disputes by the candidates than the actual substantive policy by each aspirant to the presidency.

Because of the lack of proper investigative journalism by the mainstream media, coverage that would have exposed the weakness of both Clinton and Trump might have changed the trajectory of the presidential campaign. Now, we will never know.