In an era of real-time news and growing media consumption, came a presidential election like no other. Did the media create the Donald Trump phenomenon? Or is he merely the embodiment of an anti-establishment Tea-Party style takeover of the GOP?
Then came the Muslim ban, turning a blind eye to (and retweeting) white supremacists, the Russian connection and allegations of sexual assault.
With such frequent scandals, TV anchors and journalists often failed to remind viewers of Trump’s contradictory policies.
Similarly, Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate. She seems unable to recreate the enthusiasm we saw over for President Obama. Many worry she doesn’t understand the plight of the common American. Or why she maintained a private email server.
The problem is one of false equivalency.
The thinking: because both candidates are flawed, it is an equal playing field. It isn’t. It’s the difference between authoritarian-style rule and democracy. And the consequences are severe.
Trump threatens the very core of what the U.S. stands for: religious liberty, freedom of expression, particularly when it comes to the press and the integrity of our nation’s democratic process.
From his unorthodox debate antics to his strongly nationalist stump speeches, Donald Trump has provided big-league ratings for media both online and TV. CNN, MSNBC and Fox caught Trump fever, allowed him to call in 24/7 and debated his tweets like policy prescriptions.
As Leslie Moonves, the head of CBS, candidly noted about Trump’s rise back in February: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Clinton’s Achilles’ heels also made prime time: her private email server and her tenure as Secretary of State during the Benghazi attacks. The FBI never indicted her for the emails, while various GOP-led committees ultimately exonerated her for Benghazi.
Bottom line: Millions were spent — Not on the people’s business, but settling political scores. Where was the press outrage?
In fact, despite the recent Comey letter to Congress, the media continued re-litigating Clinton’s issues, dangerously equating them with Donald Trump’s lack of fitness for the office of President of the United States.
This is the danger of false equivalency.
The mainstream media has normalized a wholly new type of politician. It is mind-boggling that a candidate who said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters,” has better than a one in three chance of becoming our next Commander in Chief.
Despite that, or perhaps because of such outrageous remarks, Donald Trump earned the highest ratings ever seen from a politician. Why wouldn’t every news channel cover something that viewers can’t stop watching?
Moonves’ quote captures the crux of the media’s role in the 2016 election. The goal of many news outlets has not been to report on the candidates' merits or fitness for the presidency. It has been to maximize viewership and readership by highlighting the extremes.
And the losers are the American people.
A failure to draw a clear distinction between the network's news and entertainment divisions is a lethal blow to a free press tasked with being a watchdog to power.
And while the Fox network has pointedly condemned any non-GOP candidate and failed to cover the Benghazi findings, other mainstream outlets, perhaps fearing a charge of bias, haven’t always denounced dangerous zealotry, despite the evidence.Be clear: On Election Day we are not voting for the lesser of two evils. We are voting for two vastly diverging outlooks on what path we will take as a nation, both at home and abroad.