After the first presidential debate, Donald Trump relentlessly touted — as he did throughout the Republican primaries — his status as the winner of virtually every post-debate Internet poll.
This braggadocio incensed most of the national media, which went to great lengths to instruct the public about the difference between an unscientific Internet poll versus a scientific poll, only a few of which were conducted, but all of which declared Hillary Clinton the clear winner.
The online polls of which Trump is so fond are, indeed, unscientific. They are ruled by his legions of supporters who flock to anyone posting a poll on a website and asking, “Who won the debate?”
“I won them all,” boasted Trump.
But politically, Trump is not wrong to brag about his victory in the online polls. He declared himself the debate winner so early and so often that half of America, which does not read or watch traditional news, likely believes that the “polls” determined that Trump was, indeed, the victor.
Is there no validity at all in online surveys? There is when it comes to measuring one important factor – the enthusiasm gap. Clearly, Donald Trump’s supporters are the more enthusiastic between supporters of him or his opponent. If these polls are so easily manipulated – which they are – why don’t Hillary’s supporters rush to their computers to register their support for madam secretary?
What Trump understands, but most in the national media want to ignore, is that today’s digital audience – especially the younger set – makes no distinction between information sources, either in polling or news. For millions of voters, the scientific CNN flash poll which quickly declared Clinton the winner of the first debate carried no more credibility than the hundreds of Internet website polls which gave Trump winning results of 70, 80 and even 90 percent.
Whether in polling or news, millions of voters do not distinguish between the New York Times or the Huffington Post, or between the Washington Post or Reddit. Or, for that matter, between the Boston Globe or their best friend’s blog or, as Trump himself inartfully put it at the debate, some 400-pound guy on his computer in his basement. To today’s modern consumer, information is information. Their Facebook and Twitter feeds are their first choice for news and information.
Sadly, the New York Times, Washington Post and others have played into this narrative by their blatant partisanship in the 2016 presidential election and their surrender of traditional journalistic standards. No longer do the Times or the Post even pretend to be unbiased chroniclers of events, openly reviling Trump and his supporters while declaring Clinton the only viable candidate.
The New York Times was once reverentially referred to us The Gray Lady, but it is more accurately revealing itself to be The Hot Mess. Recent stories on Trump’s tax return from 20 years ago and the Miss Universe controversy from roughly the same period were so sloppily and sensationally reported tabloid-style by the Times and others that their “facts” and conclusions were quickly and successfully challenged by numerous outlets that spent more than five minutes looking into them. The major media would not have been so careless even four or five years ago.
The year 2016 will be remembered not just as the year that a billionaire reality TV host became president of the United States, but also as the year that the national mainstream media – print and broadcast alike – surrendered all claim to journalistic standards and became, once and for all, recognized arms of the Democratic National Committee. (Fox has long served such a role for the GOP, but it was always rather open about its niche as the conservative counterpart to the media at large, despite its “fair and balanced” slogan.).
No longer do our vaunted and formerly-respected traditional national media outlets carefully craft their stories as the first draft of history. Today, a New York Times headline on Donald Trump, complete with little more than rumors packaged as news, will be presented as breathlessly and sensationally as something found on TMZ about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
And so, in the year of our Lord 2016, the great, equalizing Internet has accomplished its ultimate destiny of democratizing all news and information, much to the delight of anyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection, but to the detriment of society and to concepts of truth and facts.
For the national media, information no longer need be vetted, fact-checked, edited or corroborated, the hallmarks of a style of journalism viewed as so outdated that it is only practiced now by small and medium market newspapers, some trying harder than others.
Today, information can simply be set forth unfettered upon the Information Highway, where it is instantaneously consumed and embraced. The result is that the basement dweller’s top-of-the-head blog posts are viewed by many – maybe a majority now – as every bit as reliable as a New York Times investigatory piece.
There is irony in the fact that in the presidential race, the main beneficiary of this development is not Hillary Clinton, despite the media’s embrace of her and her campaign. Clinton does not benefit because the bias in her favor is so clear to all consumers.
Instead – and this is what confuses the media – the beneficiary is Donald Trump. Every national media story that rips him apart, accuses him of lying, implies he is a racist or digs up some new, startling revelation simply plays into his narrative that it’s him against the establishment.
Trump realizes that to millions of voters, his 3 a.m. tweets are every bit as powerful and credible as a Washington Post headline or a feature on “60 Minutes.” Most voters make no distinction between them. Information is information. That is the world in which we now live, and there’s no going back.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.