Elections are won, not by money but by narratives, and we, in the media, helped to fashion Donald Trump’s victory.
When a playboy billionaire with half a dozen golf courses successfully manages to woo a base of disaffected poor people, it can only be because he was helped from without.
Donald Trump owes his victory to the very media that tried to destroy him and that should give every journalist in the country some pause.
Of course, if you want to, you can believe that the main reason he won the election is because the silent majority is made up of racists and deplorables, or that “Middle America” is not ready for a female President, but the truth is that we, in the media, helped create his movement.
By suppressing even the slightest pretence of neutrality, we stopped doing our jobs and became propagandists. We treated this election as a coronation from the start, creating an atmosphere of complacent expectancy until the moment we were forced to inhale Trump’s success.
When you start leaking debate questions to influence an election, solicit advice from one campaign on how to interrogate another, and treat an FBI investigation with levity because you want one candidate to win, you have willfully abdicated your responsibility to the public.
By behaving like a cartel, the mainstream media allowed Donald Trump to seize on a message of widespread corruption and gave him the narrative that he was scratching for in the sand.
Suddenly, the playboy billionaire who has never been poor in his life, who has the personal phone number of almost every lawmaker in the country, who was entertaining Michael Jackson in his casinos while we were listening to his cassettes, went from ultimate insider to infuriated revolutionary.
And instead of treating his movement with the seriousness it deserved, we were too busy trying to guess who Hillary Clinton would appoint to her cabinet.
To his credit, Bill Clinton understood what the mass media didn’t. He saw the importance of making the Democratic campaign about Hillary Clinton rather than her colourful opponent.
In his speech to the DNC, he repeated again and again that his wife was the “best darn change maker” he had ever met in his life. It may not have been the most subtle attempt at trying to create a campaign message, but he recognised the danger of his wife becoming the status quo candidate.
It is almost an unwritten rule that at the end of an eight-year presidency, the change candidate finds it easier to enthuse the voting public. But we, in the media, didn’t want much of a change, so we decided to make this election about safeguarding the prevailing orthodoxy.
“A spectacular miscalculation.”
It was a spectacular miscalculation.
When I say these things, I do not want to appear like an apologist for Trump’s conduct.
Donald Trump is an objectionable candidate, without a doubt the most odious man running for President that I have ever seen. But we, in the media, called the election before the public had even voted, and thinking that the race was all but won, Hillary Clinton relaxed while her rival broke his back.
For someone who has supposedly wanted to be President all her life, it was astonishing to see the extent to which she was outworked by her rival. That is the fact that we, on the left, seem not to want to mention.
Donald Trump and his surrogates worked harder than Mrs Clinton did. The President-Elect’s breathless schedule tipped the scales in his favour while his opponent waited to be declared the glorious victor.
The irony is that the journalists who were fairest in covering this election almost all work under the banner of Fox News, an organisation famed for skullduggery and petty partisanship.
With the exception of Sean Hannity, who doesn’t even pretend to be a journalist, it was the Fox team that held the President-Elect to account most successfully. Some of Trump’s most difficult interviews were conducted by Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly, while the clear winner of the third debate was Fox moderator Chris Wallace.
It was like watching the world turn upside down.
In any functioning democracy, those who seek power must be placed under the utmost scrutiny. But when we openly start supporting one candidate over another, we not only reduce the dignity of our profession but sometimes also set in motion the very things we sought to prevent.