Trumped : The Demise of Journalistic Integrity in the Age of Partisan Politics

As Trump faces a potential Season Two in the White House, Conor Daly talks to Motley about how the great virtue that is journalism is being undermined by politics. 

It’s a field that has historically been a respected and central part of how societies, particularly democratic ones, operate. The last four or five years have seen an unequivocal shift in the way we talk about news and the way we perceive media, particularly journalism. This can’t solely be attributed to the 45th President of the United States but he has definitely played a significant role. Journalism has become noticeably more political as any story speaking-ill of Trump for example, is labelled as ‘fake news’ or is part of some global conspiracy against him and American freedom. Similarly, the President has on several occasions publicly opposed journalists who question him in press conferences. Unfortunately, in the position we find ourselves in 2020, proving someone wrong has become more important than being right. Opinion has taken the place of facts, and fear and frenzy dominate both social and political discourse.

Trump supporters have been blinded by his equivocation since his campaign beginnings in 2015 and it seems the global pandemic has further exacerbated this. The US has undergone a period whereby support for political candidates, particularly the two main parties, has become increasingly divisive and partisan. Statistics released in recent months show that the political middle ground in America is becoming less populated. The people who have historically been passive supporters of their respective parties or may have even voted for both, are becoming more and more entrenched in their beliefs. This entrenchment is directly linked to journalism as supporters, particularly those on the Republican side, grow more and more skeptical about mainstream media and its objectivity. 

The first Presidential Debate was farcical and many Americans, including news anchors and political commentators, were ashamed by the behaviour put on display. Some went as far as to call it “the political equivalent of a food fight”. That night drove the wedge even further between both sides. Republicans were still loyal  to Trump and Democrats were equally as convinced that they couldn’t stand another four years with him at the helm of a ship they feel is sinking. 

The second debate, on the surface at least, regained some respect for this presidential campaign. There was more moderation, less shouting but unfortunately, less accurate information as well. Both candidates aided the spread of  disinformation during the debate, which was subsequently flagged by analysts. After the debate, Daniel Dale of CNN described Trump’s strategy for re-election as one of “serial, deliberate dishonesty”. This however isn’t the primary concern. The concern is that many voters just don’t care about this. Trump has secured some people’s vote and nothing he could do or say will jeopardise that.

Social media has almost become the primary source of reaction to these types of events which is part of the problem in terms of journalistic integrity. Many ‘news outlets’ are merely using these situations to drive engagement with clickbait headlines, further perpetuating the seemingly ever-diminishing integrity  of the journalism industry as a whole. We saw it in 2016 and the recent Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma shows just how dangerous misinformation has become. One statistic in that particular show stood out; Misinformation on Twitter spreads six times faster than fact. Consequently, the tech industry is just as responsible as Donald Trump for the fragmented political scene in America as we approach November. How can people make an informed decision when they are uninformed and in many cases, actively misinformed?

It seems this partisan approach to politics that has been popularised in recent times could cause huge problems after this election. When you see the political angst in America already with Black Lives Matter and how people reacted to the death of George Floyd, it’s not out of the question that things could boil over after the election. There will be extreme anger and disappointment on both sides regardless of the result. Republicans may believe the election has been rigged and will be anxious about the perceived corrupt reputation of the Democratic party. Similarly, the seemingly unprecedented support for Joe Biden during this campaign could manifest into sheer frustration and exasperation, with many dreading the fact that there is no way of knowing what Trump could do with another term.

The outcome of this election is eagerly anticipated worldwide however some are wondering if the result even matters. Will Trump actually leave the White House if he loses? It has been speculated that he would distrust any outcome other than a re-election and worryingly many of his supporters are starting to share this belief. RTE correspondent Brian O’Donovan has discussed this recently following comments made by Trump during the summer.

The Guardian reported this week that Biden is ahead in almost all the polls, including those of the swing states. But, if we learned anything from 2016, it’s that these polls aren’t always a reliable mode of prediction.

 Taking all that into account, the real situation to look out for in terms of the election is the aftermath. The result is a formality, but it appears that the fallout could be rather spectacular.