OPINION: Irresponsible reporting destroys national integrity

Jackson Hermann

The mainstream media’s coverage of the national election has contributed to false notions and contradictory ideas that are compromising our democratic values.

PolitiFact, a project ran by the Tampa Bay Times, is dedicated to fact-checking individual statements made by prominent US political figures and giving them a rating describing their accuracy. Over the course of the election both presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump, have had hundreds of fact-checks dedicated to what they say in speeches, press conferences and interviews.

Over the course of 293 fact-checks, Clinton has an approximate truth rating (percentage of all statements rated as True, Mostly True or Half True) of 74 percent, while Trump has a truth rating of 30 percent.

Despite this huge disparity in who has a grasp of accurate facts and policy knowledge, many are convinced that Clinton is a liar who compromised our national security and will say anything she needs to get elected.

This is because of a giant, nationwide emphasis by media outlets on covering issues like Clinton’s private email server instead of coverage dedicated to the actual policy issues that will affect our country. According to statistics from Media Matters for America, of the evening newscasts from the major three networks during the campaign, 32 minutes has been dedicated to coverage of the issues while an overwhelming 100 minutes has been dedicated to Clinton’s emails.

In a representative democracy, the entire point of the system is that an electorate will elect the candidate whose values best represent theirs. When television news, the largest source of information and reporting for voters, spends three times the amount of time on a single scandal instead of the actual values that a candidate represents, it becomes less an actual election about the issues and matters that will affect citizens and more about whether you personally like a candidate or not.

Shifting democracy from a discussion of national concerns to a popularity contest destroys our overall discourse and guarantees people will not have access to the information required to vote for the person who best embodies their beliefs.

This is not to say that the coverage of the Republican candidate has been much better. In August, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said on air that Trump, in an unrecorded discussion about nuclear policy, said “if we have nukes, why can’t we use them?”

Many media sources ran with this, saying Trump was woefully under-educated on foreign policy, even though this was never said on the record.

Additionally, when Trump made the argument that Barack Obama, U.S. president, and Clinton were the “founders of ISIS,” many fact-checked him, thinking he meant the statement literally.

Not being able to give the presidential candidate of a major party the most basic benefit of the doubt about figurative language just further reinforces that voters do not want to hear about the issues, only the gaffes and scandals.

This misreporting and irresponsible journalism creates an air of distrust and anger that fills our political landscape and discourages many from engaging with the process at all. It hurts our country and makes it harder for the nation to choose a candidate it is happy with.

This election’s candidates have had the two largest unfavorable ratings of any major candidate and with the coverage both have gotten over the past year and a half, it’s not difficult to see why.