The amount of Donald Trump think pieces, op-eds and one-takes in the media have reached dizzying levels over the past year. Intentional or not, he has stolen the show with an estimated $3 billion in free publicity. We all know the reasons, at least when it comes to live broadcast: Trump comes on the show, ratings jump, ads sell for more, profits increase, etc.
Some say that Trump is making journalist’s job easier with so many new gaffs to write about each day. But on the contrary, the amount of falsehoods spewing from the mouth of the Republican nominee actually make him harder to cover. Unless you work for a fact-checking blog like Politifact or Snopes, the sheer number of questionable statements given by Trump can be too overwhelming to address. A few recent encounters between Trump and journalists have displayed this particularly well (see this forum hosted by Matt Lauer or this one with CNBC).
More than any other election cycle, I’ve heard one thing said over and over: there’s never been anyone like Trump (which really is debatable, but true to some degree). Indeed we have watched countless reporters [link] fumble their way through interviews, grasping at a way to confront Trump’s unique blend of confidence, audacity and brashness. They can’t figure him out. He’s not another Senator trying to stick to the script. There is no script. There’s only Trump.
Unfortunately, this has led to some reporters simply letting Trump speak and allowing the people to decide. But of course, this all rests on a faulty assumption that the American electorate is as informed, trustworthy and unbiased as possible. Psychological studies have clearly shown this to not be the case: people naturally seek out views that agree with our own, regardless of the facts. It’s called confirmation bias and with the ubiquity of huge filter bubbles like Facebook, it has become more and more common.
In short, some (certainly not all) in the media have resigned to let Trump give whatever statements he chooses unchallenged, with a shrug of the shoulders and a casual, “well, that’s just Trump being Trump.”
Maybe so. But it’s also Trump playing the system. It’s Trump betting on the fact that saying something with enough confidence, and then covering over that falsehood with a whole different web of falsehoods will be distracting enough to lure people away from the truth: he just lied.
Yes the work is hard, and yes it’s usually the job that no one else wants to do. But fact-checking has never been more important in an American election cycle than it is with a candidate like Donald Trump. As journalists, it should be a founding principle and natural instinct. A second natural instinct should be to call out other media members when they fall asleep on the job.
For more information on fact-checking see here. For good sources to verify statements from both candidates from this election, check out any of the following sites: