Help Me Be a Better Voter
Have journalists learned from their mistakes leading up to the 2016 Presidential election?
As Democratic contenders for the presidency announce their candidacy for 2020, I’m seeing little evidence of lessons learned. For example: What do we know about Kamala Harris? The Atlantic would have us understand, first and foremost, that the senator is a woman of color—as though a candidate’s gender and race tell us everything we need to know about his or her positions on key issues. Eager to rise above this reductionism, Elizabeth Warren has been communicating her policies to audiences in rigorous detail. Yet what does The New York Times choose to foreground in its coverage? That her “nerdiness” could distance voters. Wow. And here I thought transparency and factual detail were exactly what voters have pined for these last two years.
For the liberal press, it’s identity politics as usual, as though that tactic had such a spectacular result in 2016 that it bears repeating in the run-up to 2020. The titans have learned nothing, despite Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger’s mea culpa to subscribers in 2016. On the contrary, Times CEO Mark Thompson saw Q4 2016’s robust earnings as “vindication” of the Times’ strategic direction and readers’ preference for “quality journalism.”
I have a different theory. Battered daily by a tsunami of evermore strident tweets, posts, and messages, we readers reflexively seek refuge, not challenge, in our news sources. We want to be shielded, not just from people who don’t share our mindset but from information that might force us to change it. We crave a sense of community; we want to be shown a national identity that reflects our values. Even those of us who value diversity of thought want to be assured by our news sources that other people think as we do. Little wonder we renew our loyalty to an outlet that provides that illusion, even as such tribalism destroys all chance of actual national community.
Here’s what would make me not just a loyal subscriber, but the kind of voter this country desperately needs: straight reportage. I want to be informed, not educated, by reporters on the election trail. I want to be told, verbatim, what the candidates said at their rallies, so I can deduce their priorities and understand their positions. I want to be given enough background so I can see to what extent their positions align with or contradict their track record. I don’t want my conclusions preempted by opinions on how the candidate’s message might be received by the competition or the opposition. Rather, I want questions put to the candidate that reveal how she chooses to differentiate herself in a crowded field. Then—believe it or not—I can decide whether she warrants my vote.
What might have been the outcome, had the liberal press been less presumptuous, and more transparent, in its coverage leading up to the 2016 election? And what might be the outcome, in 2020, if the liberal press were to become less righteously indignant, and more reservedly…factual?
I hope we get to find out.