You're nuts if you think it's over, this U.S. presidential election. What it has sown will be reaped. Apart entirely from the possible ramifications of Donald Trump braying about a rigged election, there is the matter of his poisonous position on the media.
The vitriol unleashed by Trump has been going on for so long that it's easy to forget how uniquely vicious it is. There was some shock and dismay last week when Trump called out NBC's Katy Tur at a rally, claiming she failed to report the size of the crowd. Here's a reminder – 10 months earlier Trump tweeted that Tur "should be fired for dishonest reporting," and in August of 2015 Trump was singling out Univision TV reporter Jorge Ramos for derision at public events. The sheer volume of his attacks on the media mean that the attacks will echo long after Tuesday's vote is counted.
According to pundit Darrell Delamaide writing for MarketWatch, a financial information website that's a subsidiary of Dow Jones & Co., blatant bias against Donald Trump may hasten the end of mainstream media. The gist of the argument, a common one, is that "getting Clinton elected is something of a collaborative effort" for the traditional media.
He's not alone. Howard Kurtz, who does dopey media criticism for Fox News these days, said Trump "has been hit with the most sustained wave of hostile coverage ever aimed at a major-party presidential nominee." He's suggested the mainstream U.S. media are "stained" by their election coverage and that the "distrust of the media will not go away."
Hate to say it, but he's probably right. There is such sustained animosity against journalists in the United States that, while the election is ending, the war against media is just beginning. If Donald Trump loses, his campaign will leave two legacies. First, greater attention will be paid to his base of supporters, those angry people left marooned in the old industrial states by dropping wages, fading hopes and feelings of intense insecurity. Second, disagreement with the mainstream media will be dealt with by abuse, vitriol and aggressive claims of agenda-driven coverage.
Anger aimed at the media has become so sustained and acceptable that it has entered the bloodstream of public discourse. And not just in the U.S. during this election campaign, but here in Canada too. It is little wonder that more and more columnists and critics are abandoning social media, especially Twitter, because the level of abuse becomes intolerable. And it is not just obnoxious individuals who engage in aggressive attacks. Such is the debasement of discourse on social media that organizations that would in the past have written a letter to the editor to disagree with a columnist now take to social media to demonize the journalist.
In this context we should hardly be surprised that police forces feel free to secretly monitor the phones of journalists. The reaction to that sort of interference in the activities of journalists – as happened so recently in Quebec– is rather muted precisely because it has become so common to disparage and vilify the media. It is thought of as common wisdom that what's called "corporate media" is to be despised while somebody with a Twitter account and an attitude deserves praise.
Part of the reason is, of course, the echo-chamber effect of social media. So many people want to hear only what is in agreement with their existing views. This applies to everything from their political affiliation to their favourite TV show. Trust me on that one.
During the U.S. election one could see the impact of the anti-media wave. On television, panels discussing candidates and issues got bigger and bigger. Instead of talking to a representative of the main parties and an independent voice, CNN, for instance, took to unveiling panels so sprawling in number that, clearly bigger studios are on the horizon. The idea, I think, is to mimic social media – a CNN panel discussing a turn or twist in the election has so many voices it is meant to mimic the cacophony of voices found on Twitter.
It doesn't work, mind you. The babble becomes unwatchable. What it all amounts to is a defensive measure against loud allegations of bias. However, it might be too late to be defensive. The war against the media is long under way. It didn't start or end when Trump attacked Megyn Kelly on Fox News or held Katy Tur of NBC up for ridicule.
No matter what happens on Tuesday night, of the many outrageous things Donald Trump said, this is one that will have profound impact: "The corporate media in our country is no longer involved in journalism. They're a political special interest no different from any lobbyist or financial entity with a total political agenda. And their agenda is to elect crooked Hillary Clinton at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy. For them, it's a war and for them, nothing at all is out of bounds."
What it has sown will be reaped.