Trump supporters and the mainstream media both believed what they wanted to believe.
If you’re looking for a word to describe the feeling in the nation’s newsrooms after a Donald Trump win, “shell-shocked” would probably be a good one. How is this possible when every poll and prediction site said that Hillary Clinton would win? How could everyone have gotten it so wrong?
The inescapable fact is that most of the mainstream media got it wrong because they simply couldn’t believe that Americans would elect someone like Donald Trump. Denial can be a powerful drug.
In part, that’s because much of the East Coast-based media establishment is arguably out of touch with the largely rural population that voted for Trump, the disenfranchised voters who looked past his cheesy exterior and his penchant for half-truths and heard a message of hope, however twisted.
As the editor of Cracked put it in a very perceptive essay: “If you don’t live in one of these small towns, you can’t understand the hopelessness. The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around every city is now a hundred-foot wall called ‘Cost of Living.'”
But there’s more to it than just that. As I tried to explain in a previous post about Trump’s rise, he took advantage of a media landscapethat has never been more broken, more fragmented and more open to misinformation, disinformation, and even outright hoaxes and lies.
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In the end, all of the fact-checking, all the digging done by people like David Farenthold of the Washington Post, and all of the editorials and endorsements were like spitting into the wind.
One of the downsides of the fractured media landscape is that it’s easier than ever to sit in an echo chamber or filter bubble and preach to the converted. Newspaper readers believe what they want to believe, and so do those on Facebook—and never the twain shall meet.
Much of what mainstream media did to try and puncture Trump’s ascendance, including reporting on his offensive remarks about women and his “dog whistle” comments on immigration, probably had the opposite effect. They reinforced his image as an outsider, as someone in tune with “real” American values—as a “force for change.”
That’s not the only blame that the media deserves either. Much of the early coverage of Trump, and even well into his campaign, treated him as a joke, as entertainment, as a sideshow.
The assumption was that Trump was such a buffoon, such a huckster , that the American people would surely see through his tricks and lies. All that was required was to point at him and laugh, to reveal the ignorance of his campaign or the poverty of his ideas. And that was a fatal mistake.