What the Media Needs to Stop, Start, and Keep Doing in 2018

After a pretty disastrous year in 2016 that is best captured by the Berkman Klein Center report titled: “Partisanship, Propaganda and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 Presidential Election,” the media began to improve their performance in 2017. Over time we witnessed them coming to grips with things like Trump’s habit of lying and name it for what it was rather than hide it in euphemisms. We also saw fewer attempts at mischaracterizations like “bothsiderism” when it comes to being honest about the extremism of Republicans. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room for improvement.

These days when we talk about the media, it is important to acknowledge that there are actually two groups that rarely overlap. In addition to what is commonly referred to as “mainstream media,” there is the right wing version. It surprises no one that the latter has basically become a kind of state propaganda arm for the president. But when talking about the worst of 2017, the morning show “Fox and Friends” has claimed a special spot in infamy. Based on Trump’s twitter feed, he obviously watches that show obsessively. And even though he has the entire federal bureaucracy and intelligence community as his fingertips, the president has consistently shown that he relies on “Fox and Friends” as his major source of information. Here is the latest example:

So among right wing news outlets, “Fox and Friends” stands out for special recognition as the worst of the worst.

When it comes to mainstream media, one of the worst performances came after Trump decided to bomb Syria for the use of chemical weapons. The fawning was immediate and presaged the ongoing attempts to find a moment what Trump pivoted to become “presidential” whenever he did something that didn’t draw an immediate face-palm. For the most part, those moments proved to be so misguided that we’ve seen fewer of them lately.

Perhaps the biggest failure of the media in 2017 came with the ubiquitous stories about Trump voters. Everyone did them, including NPR, Bloomberg, the New York Times, Politico, the Washington Post and the Associated Press. Many of them published stories repeatedly on this topic.

I understand the curiosity that drove all of this. It is hard to imagine anyone actually voting for Donald Trump—much less sticking with him during his horrendous performance this first year.  But the exclusionary focus on one group of voters came at the expense of all others. That probably explains the failure of the reporting in the run-up to the Alabama special election when so many outlets published stories about the lack of enthusiasm among African American voters in that state. There was no familiarity with them, so they didn’t see what was coming.

This is a big diverse country and any newsrooms that want to get ahead of the story that is developing for the 2018 midterm elections needs to get out and explore what is happening outside the world of Trump supporters. That will be key to accurate coverage this year.

Over the years I’ve had a lot of performance reviews. The most informative came in response to three simple questions: What should Nancy stop, start, and keep doing? Taking that as a framework for a performance review of the mainstream media, here is what I would suggest:

  • Stop pretending that Trump voters are the only group that matters.
  • Start covering various groups involved in the resistance who are fueling a potential blue wave in 2018.
  • Keep fact-checking this administration and documenting their attacks on our democratic institutions.

In the spirit of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, I’d ask readers to give us your response to those same questions when it comes to our performance here at Political Animal. What should we stop, start and keep doing in 2018? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments and will take them to heart in the coming year.

Meanwhile, if you appreciate the job we’ve done in 2017, please consider making a donation to the Washington Monthly. Your support is critical to keeping this platform alive because we couldn’t do it without you. Thanks!

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.