The country’s major news organizations, as surprised as anybody by Donald J. Trump’s ascension to the presidency, faced a question from their audiences on Wednesday that was laced with a sense of betrayal and anger: How did you get it so wrong?Times executive editor Dean Baquet accepts that criticism:
The question came in letters. (“To editors and writers of The NYT,” one reader wrote, “you were so wrong for so long. You misled your readers and were blinded by your own journalistic bigotry.”) It came in Facebook posts. (“You were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans,” the filmmaker Michael Moore wrote in a post shared more than 100,000 times.)...
The NBC anchor Tom Brokaw ... lament[ed] that for all its efforts at advancing diversity, the news media was still “pretty confined” to “the Eastern Seaboard.”
... in an interview in his office, [Baquet] said, “If I have a mea culpa for journalists and journalism, it’s that we’ve got to do a much better job of being on the road, out in the country, talking to different kinds of people than the people we talk to -- especially if you happen to be a New York-based news organization -- and remind ourselves that New York is not the real world.”Margaret Sullivan, the former public editor of the Times who now writes for The Washington Post, made the same argument yesterday:
To put it bluntly, the media missed the story. In the end, a huge number of American voters wanted something different. And although these voters shouted and screamed it, most journalists just weren’t listening. They didn’t get it.I don't know what stories Baquet and Sullivan were reading, but I felt there were stories about rural Trump voters -- who are they? what do they want? -- practically every day in the mainstream media.
They didn’t get that the huge, enthusiastic crowds at Donald Trump’s rallies would really translate into that many votes. They couldn’t believe that the America they knew could embrace someone who mocked a disabled man, bragged about sexually assaulting women, and spouted misogyny, racism and anti-Semitism.
It would be too horrible. So, therefore, according to some kind of magical thinking, it couldn’t happen.
Journalists -- college-educated, urban and, for the most part, liberal -- are more likely than ever before to live and work in New York City and Washington, D.C., or on the West Coast. And although we touched down in the big red states for a few days, or interviewed some coal miners or unemployed autoworkers in the Rust Belt, we didn’t take them seriously. Or not seriously enough.
I frequently take shots at the press, but a narrative is being constructed that's going to hurt non-media liberals as well. According to the narrative, the media didn't show white working-class voters enough respect, the media is liberal, therefore what's harming the white working class is liberalism.
A big part of the problem, Rutenberg says, is that elite journalists in their elite bubble thought Hillary Clinton was going to win. Look, I like taking shots at the press as much as the next guy, but I'm going to be a press defender here: The media thought Clinton was going to win because polls and polling averages that had accurately predicted winners in the past said she was going to win.
I think the problem with polling this year was that it didn't reflect the possibility of changes in voting likelihood. It didn't take account of the fact that working-class white conservatives who don't meet "likely voter" criteria really were more motivated this time, or that previous regular voters -- maybe some who regularly vote Democratic but aren't very politically engaged -- might have decided that the choice of candidates this year was too dispiriting. It also didn't acknowledge that some Democrats, primarily non-white Democrats, were being prevented or discouraged from voting by voter ID laws, polling-place closings, and so on.
We could apply 20/20 hindsight and say that maybe every poll needs to come with some asterisks: Here are the top-line results, and here's what the numbers would look like if this or that newsworthy development shifts the vote. But pollsters didn't know that, or didn't know that it was a thing they should focus more deeply on, because their methods worked in the past. And thus journalists didn't know it, either. That's not elitism. That's not contempt for white people. We shouldn't let that narrative take hold.