Make no mistake, Donald Trump’s rise is not an aberration. It is the sum total of months of campaigning, where people had countless opportunities to reject him but didn’t. This was a conscious decision by the world’s strongest democracy.
The US media would have you believe this is an upset, a shock, a surprise. They’re wrong. The New York Times had a poll predictor running for the last few weeks, which put Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning at 85-90%. Many other newspapers, websites and TV channels made the same mistake, relying on pollsters instead of putting their ear to the ground.
The signs were in front of them — the massive turnouts at Trump rallies, a majority frustrated with joblessness and driven by a fear of terror, a general distrust of Hillary that she had been unable to shake off — but they chose to interpret everything in a way that suited them.
The second takeaway for the US media is how the trend of endorsing a candidate has backfired. In an endorsement titled ‘Hillary Clinton for President’, the NYT had called Trump “the worst nominee put forward by a major party in modern American history”. The Atlantic, too, backed Hillary — the third time in the magazine’s 160-year history that it made a presidential endorsement. These are just two names in a long list that threw its weight behind the Democrat candidate.
Except, none of it mattered. The media now has to introspect on two things:
One, whether endorsing a candidate does more harm than good, especially in a world where people want more control, not someone to tell them what to do, who to pick. This is even more relevant in a landscape where large sections of the population distrust the media, and could be put off by an endorsement.
Two, whether backing one candidate blinds a newspaper or website to the gains made by the other. Whether it affects neutrality in coverage, and whether it brings bias to reportage.
The US media will have fresh challenges now that Trump — a man who has called editors and reporters “dishonest”, “crooked” and “liars”, and accused them of rigging the elections in favour of Hillary — is president. Now more than ever, it must come out of its bubble and engage with the ones it criticises.