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TODD SMITH: How the media botched the presidential election

TODD SMITH

The inauguration was barely over when President Trump attacked the press, and scarcely longer for his advisor, Kellyanne Conway, to introduce a novel concept: “alternative facts” in response to reporting that the crowd at the Trump inauguration fell below its predecessors. Thus, the battle between the media and the president has been ignited.

While news organizations in these early days have been aggressive about pointing out the new administration’s factual errors, it’s impossible to predict whether this sudden media vigilance is going to be their position going forward, especially given how they performed during the campaign. That was a performance that brought them little glory.

Whether you think the election of Donald Trump is the nadir of modern American politics and the end of America as we know it, or a revolt of the masses that was long overdue, just about everyone agrees that the media’s election coverage failed staggeringly. You already know the voluminous instances of media neglect, disproportion, bias, and other missteps – a kind of greatest hits of misconduct – emails, FBI director James Comey, Russian hackers, WikiLeaks, insults, threats, tax returns, mystery illnesses, and on and on.

Here are the major bungles the media committed, according to the Columbia Journalism Review:

1. They turned the election into a sporting event.

Every election cycle, we hear condemnations of the “horse-race” aspect of coverage. According to a report from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, 42 percent of the general election coverage in a survey of 10 major media organs was devoted to polling and the horse-race–more than four times the number devoted to policy, which is, theoretically at least, the reason there is a race to begin with. This really is a case of putting the cart before the horse.

2. They blew the numbers.

It is bad enough that the winning/losing issue dominates coverage. But the focus on polling in this election was especially troubling for a very good reason: many of the polls were simply wrong. For a model of good reporting, look at Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post, who turned in some of the best reporting of the campaign by actually talking to voters. Her pieces read like scouting reports.

3. They cast a pall of negativity over the entire campaign.

Negative campaign coverage is hardly novel. It is virtually compulsory. The Shorenstein report found that the coverage was overwhelmingly negative in 2016, both in the tone with which subjects were approached (59 percent of the horse-race stories; 91 percent of the controversy stories; 84 percent of policy stories; 80 percent of personal qualities stories; and 73 percent of leadership/experience stories), and in the way the two candidates were treated. During the general election, Trump’s coverage veered between 65 percent negative to 91 percent negative, Clinton’s from 47 percent to 79 percent.

4. They neglected policy.

We elect leaders to govern, but the press tells us next to nothing about how they would govern. According to a report from Andrew Tyndall, in the entirety of 2016, NBC, CBS, and ABC devoted only 32 minutes – combined – to policy issues in their election coverage. By comparison, the three networks spent 100 minutes on Hillary Clinton’s emails. The press actually criticized Clinton for being too policy-oriented. Trump saw the weakness. He played to the press’s desire for controversy and its disdain for substance.

5. They failed to discriminate between the values of the candidates.

We warn constantly against media bias, and what greater bias could there be than comparing values? And yet this has long been nothing more than a convenient excuse by the mainstream media to avoid getting bashed, especially from the right. A value-neutral media may seem as if it is exercising objectivity, but it is really a cop-out, and it serves the nation no better than a fact-neutral media–and in this campaign season we have suffered grievously from both.

Value neutrality and false equivalency are the twin banes of modern journalism. To pretend Trump’s values and Clinton’s values are equally valid is nonsense and the media must finally admit it.

No one much likes the press these days. Focusing on truth, ethics and values are the only ways the media can regain their legitimacy, vitality and credibility. The media must uphold what is best in us, and The Spin Cycle hopes that begins anew in 2017!

Women’s March reinforces viral power of Facebook

Facebook has taken lots of heat for fueling fake news during the post election cycle – and the modern fantasy that it was making the world “more open and connected” was shattered by the political echo-chamber effect, pizzagate and a few horrific live-streaming incidents.

Yet the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and its many “sister marches” around the U.S. and globally wouldn’t have happened without it. It’s very possible the Women’s March was the largest protest in U.S. history – an estimated 3.7 million across the U.S. participated.

The official Women’s March Facebook Page shows 234,000 attended. However, various counts reported that more than half a million people marched in Washington, D.C. And third-party estimates put the D.C. protest at three times the size of the crowd attending the inauguration.

A Hawaiian grandmother, Teresa Shook, disappointed by the results of the November election, suggested to one of her Facebook groups that there should be a march. Within 24 hours, thousands of people had expressed interest. It was spread and amplified from there and ultimately became the massive demonstrations that took place on Saturday.

We now take it for granted that this dynamic can happen in the era of social media. But if you step back and reflect, it’s amazing that a single person in Hawaii was able to make a suggestion on Facebook, which resulted in this global event – and potentially a new political movement.

This is not something that a brand marketer or other commercial entity could replicate in a calculated way. But it nonetheless reaffirms that Facebook and social media broadly are incredibly powerful communications tools unlike anything else we’ve ever seen – and are redefining political activism.

Golden Mic | Mary Tyler Moore’s spunk & panache heralded women’s equality

Mary Tyler Moore’s witty and graceful performances on two top-rated television shows in the 1960s and ’70s helped define a new vision of American womanhood, and her spunky style as a TV news producer on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” became a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

Moore was a star in TV and the movies, including an Oscar-nominated role in the 1980 film “Ordinary People” as a frosty, resentful mother whose son had died. But she was most indelibly known as the incomparable Mary Richards on the CBS hit sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Broadcast from 1970 to 1977, it was produced by both Ms. Moore and her second husband, Grant Tinker, who later ran NBC and who died last year.

In her signature show, Moore consistently stood her ground to boss Ed Asner, who played Lou Grant, and Ted Knight, the vain, scatterbrained anchorman, Ted Baxter – and started a revolution. For that clarion call for equality, Mary Tyler Moore takes the Golden Mic.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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