The 2020 US presidential campaign has been one of the biggest stories of an incredibly news heavy year. And almost as big a story as the election campaign itself was how the media (both traditional outlets and social media platforms) handled it.
This continued after voting ended, with traditional TV networks ABC, CBS and NBC cutting away during a White House speech in which President Trump made unfounded accusations that the election was being stolen from him. Internet platforms have also issued warnings over misleading commentary about illegal vote counts and election fraud.
The New York Times columnist Ben Smith has emerged as a leading media observer and critic in the US. He previously ran the news website of viral content site Buzzfeed, which broke some highly significant stories about Trump during his tenure. In this Q&A, Smith gives offer us some insights into the world he covers every day.
Misinformation on social media has been one of the biggest media stories of the Trump era. Do you think the social media platforms have done a good job dealing with this? And what about traditional media? Which handled it better?
Both social media and traditional media have grown more sophisticated about their roles in spreading misinformation, and have reacted very aggressively – sometimes too aggressively – during this period. The mainstream media – including Fox – has been mostly just ignoring the wildest claims aimed at undermining the election, rather than giving them a platform. The platforms have been aggressively blocking them. The result has been that this hasn’t really been a major story in this election period – though I think social media from the Trump family and allies will persuade some of his supporters this election wasn’t legitimate. That’s a long tradition though.
There were rumours that Rupert Murdoch had been contacted directly on election night to complain about Fox News’ calling Arizona for Joe Biden. What is the perception of Murdoch’s influence in American politics?
Many Americans see Murdoch both as a central force in enabling right-wing populism – which he is – and as a sort of political mastermind, pulling strings, which he usually isn’t. He’s used the Trump administration to good regulatory effect but has really bailed on Trump since the voting started.
President Trump seems to have outperformed expectations. Is the US media elite still too out of touch with mainstream America?
Well – polling forecasts were wrong. I don’t think it’s really possible to be “in touch” with the country that allows you to guess at small percentages of the vote in Georgia! I do think some in the media missed dynamics among some minority groups that were not as homogenous as they imagined.
Polling was off again. What should the media do about this?
It’s a mess. I think just realising the limits of polls as a predictor, and using them instead to judge trends.
Media outlets including the New York Times have clearly benefited from the craziness of the Trump era. Do you think this is at risk of fading away?
Yes – though the Times and its competitors also benefited from a broader shift to digital subscription which isn’t going anywhere.
There also appears to be a drift away from digital outlets like BuzzFeed and HuffPost and a resurgence for traditional media over the past four years. Do you think that will change?
I think Trump really elevated legacy brands with his obsession with them. But the internet isn’t going away and some digital brands have great reach and relevance.
Are more conservative outlets like Fox News and the New York Post as powerful and influential as non-Americans believe?
Fox is enormously powerful – the only real political institution on the American right, though much of its power resides with its hosts.
Do you think Trump will remain a major media figure?
Source: Thanks smh.com