No, this is not a salacious sex scandal, but an indictment of the contemporary media.
When I was thinking of going to university as a mature student in the late 1970s, journalism was one of the professions I considered after graduation.
So I got hold of various books on the subject, one of which – I suspect Journalism Made Simple – said that the job opened the door to a much wider range of people than virtually any other career and was probably the only one in the world where you could meet a president in the morning and a prostitute in the afternoon.
And yet, the appalling reporting, analysis and commentary in the last few years and the astonishment at Brexit and the rise of nationalism-cum-populism across Europe and the United States show that the Western media, along with the political and academic elite, have now almost totally forgotten how to do their job.
The five “Ws” are fundamental to journalism, and indeed to much research:
What, Who, Where, When – and above all Why?
But journalists with degrees from elite universities who work at leading news organisations now have a considerable track record of admitting they are surprised and out of touch:
In Hampton, I dropped by Fast Eddie’s Diner for the breakfast rush. “He has my vote,” Karen Mayer, a sixty-one-year-old human-resources manager, told me. Already? “Already,” she said. Her husband, Bob Hazelton, nodded in agreement. I asked what issue they cared about more than any other. “Illegal immigration, because it’s destroying the country,” Mayer said. I didn’t expect that answer in New Hampshire, I remarked. She replied, “They’re everywhere, and they are sucking our economy dry.” Hazelton nodded again, and said, “And we’re paying for it.” [emphasis added].
Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, 31 August 2015 issue. Osnos graduated magna cum laude from Harvard.
Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed… They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams … Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle [out] because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.
David Brooks, New York Times op-ed, 18 March 2016, Brooks studied history at the University of Chicago.
The American journalist Hilary Andersson, who read politics at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, echoed Brooks several months later. Interviewing white Trump supporters in Bakersfield, California for the BBC’s weekly flagship investigative and current affairs programme Panorama in July 2016, she too did not get it when a Trump supporter said
“What they should do is they should shoot ’em as they get to the top [of Donald Trump’s proposed wall], and if they fall over on the Mexican side, then we’re in the clear, if they fall up on the American side, then we pay for their [bleep] medical [bill!]”
“I’m an American,” Andersson tells us, and “I expect robust opinions here, but this took me aback.”
Trump’s Angry America at https://vimeo.com/175317448
It is invidious to name names, but clearer examples of incompetent journalism would be hard to find, yet these admissions from staff writers at some of the most prestigious media organisations in the world stand for the profession at large.
Although they are reporting on their own country, they, and most other western journalists, have long become the domestic equivalent of the parachute journalists who drop into a far and distant land to report on the latest hotspot without knowing its history, politics, culture, language(s) and economy.
In contrast to most parachute journalists, however, at least they knew the local language, but this did not help.
In fact, Brooks and the rest of the media get it wrong when they claim that “Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed… They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams …”
Trump is widely touted as nicht salonfähig – not acceptable in polite society – due to his character, but nevertheless, graduates from elite universities at America’s conservative think tanks and elsewhere, as well as educated people from the middle-class, while not necessarily approving of Trump’s behaviour, will vote for him due to their antipathy to the current direction of the United States, the policies of President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton.
It is indeed odd that the two candidates most likely to gain the Democratic nomination were Clinton and the probably unelectable socialist Bernie Sanders.
It is difficult to forecast the election result. Trump’s status as nicht salonfähig means that many people do not tell pollsters of their intention to vote for him.
Some at ESC believe that this “hidden vote” will be enough to give Trump victory due to the rage in Middle America, but this remains to be seen.
What is certain is that journalists are falling down on the job. They have forgotten the basics, and even in the rare cases when they do actually interview people from outside their own circle, class and echo chamber, they disdain what they hear and are totally unable to empathise with views and situations often diametrically opposed to their own – the result is massive cognitive dissonance.
Cocooned in their liberal metropolitan fortresses, journalists are as out of touch as the West’s political and business elite.
Their whole approach reeks of mediaeval scholasticism – which, as we show here, is still alive and well in the academy itself.