One thing that cannot be forgotten in the aftermath of one of the most remarkable and shocking nights in American history is how we were failed by our fourth estate. Polls and projections, save a few here and there, for months gave Donald Trump little to no chance of securing the presidency Nov. 8.
This is not because of a slant or bias in polling data but, a complete lack of awareness for a ground swell of sentiment that was made very clear once actual numbers started pouring in on election night, rendering the theoretical data we’d seen for months obsolete. Donald Trump’s shocking victory was not a product of media bias but of a total media ignorance for what can now be classified as a majority of the country’s feelings when it came time to pull a lever or fill in a circle.
This is not to say the media should have given credence to the percentage of voters who cast their ballots Tuesday with less than the purest of intentions, but instead to the political pundits like Corey Lewandowski and Sean Hannity who for weeks used their platforms to warn of a silent vote lurking, waiting to finally make their voices heard when the time was right.
What it should do is light a fire under the people now tasked with covering an administration and constituency that believes in opening up libel laws — making frequent lawsuits against journalists far more likely — and has repeatedly accused the media of trying to rig our most sacred freedom as Americans in favor of the other candidate.
Our work as journalists will never be more difficult, less appreciated or more important than it will be in the next four years. We need to fundamentally change the way the job is perceived and defined by the millions of voters who selected Trump, no matter how difficult that task may be, or how wrong we may believe they are. Unfortunately, perception is reality. I shudder to think that perhaps a chunk of voters decided to stay home Tuesday because polling numbers suggested the race was over weeks ago.
A large part of our job as journalists is covering the town, village and school board meetings that tend to have a more immediate impact on everyday life than federal politics. They are woefully vacant in most cases and admittedly covered in lackluster fashion. That falls at the feet of the media and the public. The lesson that should be gleaned across the board from this election cycle is that apathy and ignorance are not acceptable excuses.
And for those who believe there was a media conspiracy against your candidate, who simultaneously fight tooth and nail for the sanctity of the Second Amendment, don’t forget about the importance of the First Amendment. It’s what allowed pockets of Trump supporters in corners of the nation to spew their passions free of persecution, and that’s the way it should be. Images of a T-shirt worn at a Trump rally made the rounds this week. It read across the back “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” Don’t forget, the same laws protect journalists, and there probably will be a day during this administration when you’re glad we’re on your side.
Alex Petroski is the editor of the Port Times Record.