Tuesday, November 1, 2016

When does Fair and Equal Mean the Same Thing

Michael Galloway

With Halloween ending and November beginning, the media coverage of the 2016 Presidential Election is at an all time high. This election is one to be put down in the history books. Regardless what the country decides, the decision will be one to be remembered. The media coverage has been called into question as to what is fair. However, what is fair? What is considered equal coverage?

Both sides of the elections, both supporters of Donald Trump and supporters of Hillary Clinton, have attacked the media on multiple occasions for unbalanced and unfair media coverage. Both sides are quick to pull the fair treatment card when a negative story is written about their candidate.

In an article by John Sides, a writer for, “The Washington Post,” Sides deconstructs these claims. A group of data journalists created an algorithm to depict which candidate received more coverage. The data also depicted whether said coverage is more negative or positive for each candidate. The end result was that Trump had more articles released about him than Clinton (shown in Figure One) however the data also showed that both candidates' coverage was, on average, neutral stances, meaning not largely for or against each candidate (seen in Figure Two). 

So more stories are coming out about Trump? How is this a fair representation of Clinton if all people hear about it Trump? Why is the media not aiding in a fair election? All of these questions are answered in Jack Shafer’s article, “The Case Against JournalisticBalance,” published by, “Politico Magazine.” The article dives into the ideals that the media is not a part of the government. A good story is not always a perfectly balanced story. There are instances when a negative story of one candidate is released, this does not mean that a negative story about the other candidate must be released either. 

Shafer quotes British journalist Bernard Levin by saying, "The press is not the Fourth Estate; it is not part of the constitutional structure of the country; it is not, and must never be, governed by any externally imposed rules other than the law of the land."

This is a true statement, however there is a common concern that I will raise. Even though the media is not a registered part of the government, they are the only source of information the people have. The media controls a lot in the realm of politics because without the media coverage of each candidate, the general American population would be clueless to the issues at hand. 

By me making this claim, I am not asserting that the media should have to report one hundred percent fair at all times, it does however mean that, as journalists, we need to acknowledge our power in the country. Shafer also says, “Creating a perfectly balanced story isn’t the same as creating a good story…”
My interpretation of this quote is that as good journalists, we must recognize what is newsworthy. If a scandal is surfaced about either candidate, we should make it our responsibility to report on it as truthfully as possible. However, this does not mean we must find a negative story or scandal from the competing candidate before publishing the first story to create an equal and fair environment.

Figure One

 Figure Two

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