Holding the media to account – US elections, Macron, #MeToo
Experts had a lot of (rather patronising) advice for the media in the weeks before, and then after, the US presidential election. Most had to do with not buying into, or amplifying, the baseless messages of vote fraud that many feared the Trump campaign would put out (and then did).
News outlets ended up, by and large, doing a pretty decent job of handling attempts to manipulate the truth. It’s unclear if the scolding/schooling had much to do with it. More likely, four years of Trump animosity towards the press turned even former friends at Fox against him.
Media are a popular scapegoat for people on different sides of the spectrum, be it for the reality they cover or how they cover it.
A recent example of the latter involved reporting on France’s crackdown on Islamist groups following several terrorist acts, including the decapitation of a history and geography teacher, as well as daylight assassinations in the streets of Nice.
French President Emmanuel Macron himself led the charge in criticizing “Anglo-Saxon” media, calling Ben Smith from New York Times and penning a letter to The Financial Times (which removed it’s own, earlier article on the topic citing factual errors).
Macron was right on the factual errors in the outlets’ reporting, and the broader issue of media interpreting events through the prism of their own culture wars (especially US identity politics).
But that doesn’t really help – a moment of reflection in Ben’s column was followed by defensiveness, accusations of Trumpism and suggestions that Macron was deflecting from a weak economy and challenges to his presidency.
Generally speaking, attempts to influence coverage from outside are doomed to backfire. That’s the feature, not the bug, of editorial independence. But can constructive feedback be delivered at all? Are media organizations capable of self-reflection?
The experience of Denmark’s #MeToo wave – which started from the media sector (and a few years later than in most countries) – is an interesting case in point. Much of the coverage was focused on experiences and self-examination, starting from “marginal” voices within newsrooms (like interns and freelancers) and ending on the executives themselves. The discussion about how to best carry out such a national conversation is still ongoing.
Sadly, such stories are rare and often succeed despite, not because, of how the industry works. It is hard to conceive where change will come from. We can hope a new generation, more confident, diverse and open to challenges, will lead and engage in dialogue about the narratives they are missing or distorting (inadvertently or not).
Until then, question yourselves about what you are missing (as we will), and have a great week!