The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign has presented unusual challenges to the reporters and media outlets covering it. One of the tenets of serious journalism in America is balance, but controversial statements from the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, and allegations from the right of a liberal bias among the media in favor of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, have spurred debates, transforming political reporting itself into one of the election storylines. There is uncertain terrain that the news media are trying to navigate in this election campaign.
The media have become protagonists in the 2016 presidential campaign, and that is mostly due to Donald Trump, said Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute.
“Donald Trump in particular, and the Republican Party more general, made the press a character in the campaign, by saying that the press was incompetent, out to get them, a level of demonization of the press that we don’t usually see,” he said.
Bipartisan bias claims
While the Trump surrogates claim bias, Clinton’s supporters have accused the media of “false balance,” suggesting that things she has said - presented as evidence of her not being honest - are not equivalent to the evidence of Donald Trump not being honest.
“But if my job today in the story, is to examine what Hillary Clinton said and is it true or not, I am going to go after that, as hard as I can, I am not going to say, ‘Well, I think this is only three quarters as serious as what Donald Trump did yesterday in the story I did, so I am only going to cover it at three quarters intensity.' You don’t!”
Dori Toribio, a Washington correspondent with RTVE, Spanish Radio and Television, says she does not believe that reporters have been biased.
“Media are criticizing Donald Trump because of what he does, and what he says. It’s not because of an ideological or political bias,” she said.
Latino reporter covering Trump
Toribio said, even though it has been particularly hard for her as an immigrant and a woman to cover Trump, who has denigrated immigrants and women. she has striven to be neutral.
For Thomas Burr of the National Press Club, the job of a reporter is to tell fact from fiction.
“That’s doing the critical, vital role a journalist has to have in a democracy, to educate voters and the public about what a candidate is saying, whether it’s truthful or not,” he said.
Observer mode best
But Rosenstiel said there would be an enormous cost if journalists played arbiter.
“What we need of our journalists are people who say: my commitment is to be an observer on behalf of other citizens, to find out the truth about what happened, what was said, why, what the motivations were, but ultimately it is the job of the citizen to determine what that means,” he said.
In the end, whoever enters in the White House next January, this will have been a memorable and unusual campaign, for the candidates in the race, but also for the reporters covering it.