By Sara Setargew
The media plays an undeniable role in democratic elections. It provides a platform for the political parties to communicate their message giving voters access to information about parties and the candidates’ policies, while allowing voters a place to engage in public debate. However, the primary concern of media coverage in an election is whether voters are getting balanced and accurate information. The recent coverage of political candidates shows a bias that is unfair for those who aren’t frontrunners.
“[T]he bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict and laziness,’’ said Jon Stewart. This has been the case in this 2016 election so far. Since the first Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump has garnered more attention on the nightly news than 16 rivals combined, according to CNN reporter Brian Stelter. Also, Hillary Clinton gets 14 times more network coverage than her opponent, Bernie Sanders.
This 2016 election coverage shows that many candidates have been treated unfairly, but most importantly some candidates have been obviously favored by the media. The motive behind media coverage goes deeper than just conservative or liberal ideology. They are about getting ratings, about making money, about doing stories that are easy to cover, Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota said.
About 2000 Bernie Sanders supporters rallied at the Hollywood CNN building early this month to protest the network’s political coverage, according to NBC Los Angeles. “Sanders’ supporters said they were unhappy that corporate news media has covered Donald Trump’s campaign extensively, but ignored issues that Sanders is focusing on,” NBC Los Angeles continues. Some may think it’s not important that the candidates get coverage in network television, with the prevalence of Facebook and Twitter, but Jonathan Stray, a reporter for the New York Times, said that the importance of network television is more crucial than we think. “What voters know about campaigns comes to them almost entirely second hand from television, newspapers, and magazines,’’ he wrote.
Good or bad, maybe the important thing is just to be talked about. This was the case in the 1960’s election, when 47-year-old vice president Nixon, and 43-year-old Massachusetts senator Kennedy debated for the first time on TV. People who had listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon had won, while those who watched it on TV thought Kennedy came on top. Despite the fact that more than 70 million people watched the first debate, for the next 16 years there were no televised presidential debates held, according Time Magazine. The main reason was the debate showed how risky it could be. The U.S voting population cast their votes along strict party lines, elections are decided by swing voters. So the more air time candidates get, the more they get a chance to show who they are and spread their message.
This could be the most significant election of our lifetime: the Affordable Care Act, war in the Middle East, climate change and immigration are on the line. So the important role that the media plays by representing the candidates reliably and with transparency is more crucial than ever. The press is a political player—there is no way to avoid that—but we can choose not to be a sheep when the media becomes the shepherd.