‘Rigged’: How the Media Became an Enemy

“Rigged.” It’s a word we’ve been hearing a lot.

From who? Trump. To whom? Towards the media itself. In the weeks leading up to the final debate and the election itself, the media – whose job is to shine the spotlight on the candidates – has been feeling the heat.

It started in Trump’s speeches. The “rigged” claim was first pointed to the election system itself, claiming that voter fraud and corruption was already in-play and being used against him.

“Remember, we are competing in a rigged election,” Trump said at a Wisconsin rally. “They even want to try and rig the election at the polling booths, where so many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is all too common.”

But GOP establishment figures, like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, have distanced themselves from these claims, painting them as senseless and baseless.

“This election is not being rigged,” Rubio said in a recent Florida Senate debate. “There is no evidence behind any of this, so this should not continue to be said.”

With members in his own party debunking his “rigged election” claim on the political end, where does he turn? The media.

According to Trump, the media coverage against him has been completely unfair. Instead of wall-to-wall coverage on Wikileaks’ Podesta e-mails, Trump’s trouble with women has been dominating the headlines.

While it’s understood the Trump allegations are an easier sell because sex always triumphs over substance, [the ratios of] 23:1 [minutes] and 11:0 [stories are] a prime example of a media that has gone off the rails with no hope of redeeming itself for some time, if ever,” writes Jim Concha, media reporter for The Hill.

While the “fairness” tabulations vary vastly – ratios, minutes of airtime, number of articles, column inches – any casual peruser of the news could come to the conclusion that while the Wikileaks scandal is receiving coverage, Trump’s issues with women have clearly landed in the A-blocks and front pages more frequently in recent weeks.

To Trump supporters, this imbalance of coverage is completely unfair. Not only is it biased against the GOP candidate, but they say it is part of a ploy to rig the election completely in Hillary Clinton’s favor. Trump’s offense has shifted to respond to the media hellfire on his tail, and his supporters have been following suit.

From Trump supporters using the taboo word “lügenpresse” to calling members of the media “traitors,” the campaign trail has been growing increasingly hostile for the press. According to The New York Times, both “CNN and NBC News have their own security at Trump rallies to protect their reporters and cameramen.” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spoke out about the matter in a conversation with Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway:

“I hope in these final days [Trump] doesn’t continue to point at them as he does at these rallies (and say), ‘Look at them, they’re disgusting,’ because God forbid, there could be an ugly incident and it worries me every time I hear that,” Blitzer said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has also spoken out, claiming that a Trump presidency would be a “threat to press freedom,” and that Trump himself shows nothing but “a contempt for the role of the press beyond offering publicity to him and advancing his interests.”

But Trump’s attacks on the press go beyond the scenes at rallies. His attacks have hit the very core of what journalism is, its purpose in society, and its dignity as an American institution.

A recent Gallup poll shows that public trust of the media has hit the lowest level in the organization’s polling history: only 32 percent of Americans claim to trust the media “a great deal” or “a fair amount.” This number saw a spike in 1976 due to investigative pieces on Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, but since then this percentage has been on the downtrend–and it has been below the majority mark since 2007.

That is a huge issue. If the media has lost the trust of the American people, the people who the media are meant to work for, something is certainly wrong.

The institution of journalism is the Fourth Estate, an essential pillar of American democracy. Many journalists hold this fact in high esteem, and do well to honor the duty that they have chosen to bear. But questions like, “Which news source do I trust?” and “Am I getting objective information?” have become increasingly commonplace in American political discourse, and such questions undermine the sole purpose of journalism–to inform the public accurately, honestly, and objectively.

Donald Trump did not start the trust issues between the public and the press – this distrust has been stewing for decades. But by calling the media “dishonest,” “sick,” and “corrupt,” Trump fuels a skepticism inherent in a large part of the population – for better or worse.

So, in the 12 days left of the 2016 election cycle, who do the people trust? Trump TV? MSNBC? Fox News? CNN? ABC? Whether the system is just flawed, broken beyond repair, or actually “rigged,” the American people will have to decide for themselves.

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