I will attempt to use no proper pronouns in this post.
Just the other day, a friend told me she’s moving with her new boyfriend from Portland to Washington, D.C. I quipped that at least she wasn’t making plans (yet) to move to Canada. We exchanged one of those looks that liberals are giving one another during this presidential election cycle. Actually, let me amend that: It doesn’t matter that we’re politically liberal. Nowadays it’s simply just rational folks exchanging that look.
My friend said: I think it’s the media’s fault that he’s risen to such prominence. Don’t you think this country wouldn’t be voting so crazy if he weren’t on every front page -- and hadn’t been for the last umpti-umpth number of months?
I told her I couldn’t agree more. She said, Let’s write a letter to the editor. Let’s let them know that it’s their fault. I told her that I would.
This post is that letter.
First, a caveat: For all intents and purposes, I’m a member of the media. And the institution I love and revere and even got a master’s degree to be a legit part of is making me angry. I may not agree with the media writ large, but if I’m a member of it by dint of what I do on a nearly daily basis, aren’t I at fault, too? Well, I suppose since I cover politics not at all, I can excuse -- rather than recuse -- myself from believing I’m personally at fault for keeping a certain thug candidate’s mug in everyone’s above-the-fold news diet.
What goes on in your daily editorial meetings? Does the most influential reporter in the room insist that you-know-who go on your front page? And then you say, OK, and -- splat -- there he is? Because if that’s not the content and outcome of your meetings, you could have fooled me.
It seems that last fall, much of the citizenry -- including pundits on radio and TV programs -- wondered at his increasingly well-publicized appearances and figured his seemingly rising popularity was a fluke, was mere entertainment, and he would fade away as quickly as he rose.
But then the unexpected happened: His star did keep rising, as he batted away at the competition and people’s right minds (if not having his heavies at certain rallies literally doing that job for him). And you kept right on publishing the shock value. Not buried on page-11, but on page-1.
If the media were not only shocked by his ascendance but even frustrated -- if not angered -- by it, why oh why did you make the day-after-day decision to keep him and his ongoing story front and center?
Even the BBC recently led with his triumphant swing through New England. A decidedly not “brilliant” editorial decision on the Brits’ part.
We’ve learned from Britain’s mistakes before; now would be a good time to learn from them again.
I’d posit that had the candidate’s story still been told but relegated even half the time to inside pages, or to the bottom of the hour, he would not be the juggernaut he’s become. Fewer shoulders would now be raised in the defeatist “oh well” gesture, and less blood-pressure medication would be ingested by many in your readership.
There’s still time. I challenge you to a publication experiment: Tell the story, but hide the story. Do it day after day for, say, a week or two at least. Then watch the polls -- and listen to the pols -- and see what story they tell.
I firmly believe in the media, particularly their power. Use that power for good. Like a good dog. Here’s the bone. Now go bury it.