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Campaign '16 Marked by "Inane and Destructive News Agenda," Opines Prof. Jeff McCall '76

Campaign '16 Marked by "Inane and Destructive News Agenda," Opines Prof. Jeff McCall '76

November 11, 2016

"The 2016 presidential campaign was characterized by a harshness and superficiality that made citizens cringe," writes Jeffrey M. McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, in a column which is appearing in newspapers across America this weekend. "Certainly, Trump and Clinton were unpopular candidates who tarnished the political arena in many ways. But the news media, particularly television, failed to provide civic leadership and buckled to the circumstances with an inane and destructive news agenda. In this regard, the media world must be held to account for degrading the political sphere and failing the obligations it inherited when the First Amendment was created."

According to Dr. McCall, "The free press was established to be a surrogate for the public, to hold the powerful accountable, and lead the conversation of democracy. Instead of guiding a thoughtful dialogue about the campaign, however, the news media largely focused on distractions, the frenetic and wonkish political mechanics. When citizens most needed focus on substantive issues, television news played small ball. Polls indicated that voters wanted most to know about the economy, education, healthcare and terrorism. Instead, the media covered tweets, insults and petty distractions. It is little wonder that confidence in the media is cratering at historic lows."

The professor, who is a 1976 graduate of DePauw and a former journalist, characterizes the three presidential debates as "rhetorical muddles," adding "The responsible discussion of issues that did take place was totally overlooked in post-debate coverage. The media frenzy after the first debate was about a beauty contestant from 20 years ago. The second debate sparked days of news regarding Trump’s boorish comments and behavior around women. The third debate’s news surge centered on whether Trump would accept the election results. Those matters do constitute news, but not at the exclusion of everything else discussed on the debate stage."

Coverage of the campaigns was not issue oriented, McCall observes, and notes that polls indicate voters on both sides perceived that media outlets were not fair.

He concludes, "Noted 20th century journalist and cultural analyst Walter Lippman once wrote, 'When distant and unfamiliar and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth suffers a considerable and often radical distortion.' Indeed, the media’s challenge is difficult, but it is the news industry’s duty to serve truth and minimize distortion. The media’s failure leaves our nation’s civic dialogue in a state of chaos and confusion."

You'll find the complete essay at the website of Nevada's Elko Daily Free Press.

A Rector Scholar and communication major at DePauw, Jeff McCall earned a master's degree from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. He is the author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences.

The professor is regularly called upon to analyze media issues. McCall discussed the notion of a Donald Trump television network with The Hill on October 26 and appeared on Chicago's WGN Radio four days earlier to discuss the three presidential debates and the communication challenges of the candidates.  He'll again be a guest on WGN tomorrow, and made his 14th appearance on Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor last week.

Source: Elko (Nev.) Daily Free Press