Presenting an Argument – The Illusion of Equality
2016 brought my mind further into the political sphere than it ever had before, and I’m not alone. The 2016 US election had the world talking about the stakes of two candidates that the majority deemed undesirable at best and dangerous at worst. We all saw our futures determined by the outcome of the election and so Trumps marginal victory spawned a litany of conversations addressing what exact factor led to his victory. How could a man this unfit to be president end up the most powerful man on earth? Vox, an American news website, has an interesting argument that is more reflective than Russian hack complaints and more complex than Democratic complacency.
A reflection on the Media’s role in Trump’s victory has been a popular topic but upon watching ‘Comedians have figured out the trick to covering Trump’ I found Vox’s perspective to be incredibly enlightening as to the evolving nature of Journalistic identity and, furthermore, how it has strayed. We hear ‘the media took Trump too seriously’ often but what is actually meant by this statement is a little unclear. In Vox’s video, Carlos Maza uses the example of Late Night Comedy and journalistic satire to show how the journalism industries bid for truth and equality has actually led them, in many cases, to obscure it.
Trump is far less a factor of influence than he is of reflection, as his rise to power pulls back the curtain on the rot that has been developing in mainstream media for quite some time. This rot is curtesy of the general consensus within most media organisations that to find the truth we must present both sides of the story in an unbiased light… however when this happens it can often result in the presumption that there is equal merit on both sides of the story. As Sophia McClennen explains in the video, traditional media thinks that in the case of Trump, they have to ‘take it seriously in order to be taken seriously’. This attitude towards Trumps campaign justified him as the candidate for a position he was in no way fit to hold.
On the other side of this approach to storytelling lies comedy hosts like John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Seth Meyers who build their shows on the back of Trump’s bullshit. Unlike brain numbing debates that make every issue seem unsolvable and every angle perfectly plausible, these short programs cut through the bullshit like butter and call Trump out for what he is; a narcissist, a demagogue, and a scam artist. Most of these programs also raise counter-arguments to their positions, however they take these arguments with their authentic weight, and in the case of many of Trumps statements, thats often light as a feather.
Satirical programs like this often seem bias, but the fact is that satire relies on calling out nonsense and revealing things as they truly are. Rather than taking events ‘seriously’ they take them literally and double down on the truth; something that only seems bias because America has, in fact, elected a pussy-grabbing, bankruptcy collecting, racist man child as their president. A statement like that may seem biased, but it is simply blunt. To put Donald Trump next to Hillary Clinton as equal candidates for the presidency was a devastating mistake and reflects that the attempt to even the playing field throws proportion and importance out the window.
McClennen stresses the need for journalists to stop defending arguments and start defending reason. As she puts it, whilst we assume the journalists job is to “show all sides of the story”, their job is, in fact, “to show the truth”. Here I agree with McClennen completely. In a bid to even the coverage of both candidates Trumps controversies were skimmed over as networks scurried to cover his next extreme comment, whilst Hillary’s side was bogged down with her email scandal. This made Hillary’s discrepancy look enormous and important, whilst Trumps could barely be remembered. This false-equivalence that was perpetuated by the media led Hillary to seem as damming as Trump when in fact one of Hillary’s controversies were temporally equivalent to a good 30 of Trumps.
Trumps victory shows us that we have begun to equate the truth with bipartisanship, but the fact is that the truth is not always a bipartisan issue, and the public rely on journalists and the media as a whole to dissect each issue and point us in the way of the truth. When it comes to news media we trust journalists not to overwhelm us with mundane arguments from each and every side, we trust them to cut through the bullshit and deliver to us the events with their true weight, meaning, and consequences. We all know by now that there are at least two sides to every story, journalists need to be able to tell us which one, if any, is the right one.