Making a Sinner Look Like a Saint: Condemning the Mainstream Media’s Portrayal of Trump


The media is abuzz with the most notorious name of 2016: Donald Trump. He is impossible to escape, appearing on every cover page of every news outlet as we come even closer to the finishing line of the Presidential Election Campaign. Given the omnipresence of news coverage on Trump, one would believe that his inflammatory history of xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and generally rude behaviour, his chances of being a successful Republican candidate in the run for presidency should have been long ruined. This is not the case: not only do his wrongful actions fail to arouse large-scale condemnation but his presence in the mainstream media is continuously reinforced and empowered.

There are undoubtedly a multitude of factors that fall into the equation of Trump’s success. In this article, I will tackle the role of mainstream media in the upkeep of Trump’s thriving image and condemn it for failing to utilise the potential of its influence to show the public that he does not deserve to be democratically voted in by the people. This article does not support any form of anti-Trump propaganda but rather argues that a harsher treatment of both left and right-wing mainstream outlets could have been used to better inform the masses of Trump’s malevolent behaviour and the dire consequences at stake if he were to come to power.

Inspiration for this argument comes from a prior article on the Western media’s coverage of North Korea. In this piece I criticized mainstream portrayals of the DPRK as harmful to the productivity of organizations such as Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), who already work arduously to acquire the funds and execute the actions necessary to assimilate refugees and help those who wish to leave the country. Following suit, this article’s argument posits that the mainstream media coverage is not being utilised to the potential that is has to dismantle Trump’s legitimacy as a nominee in the presidential race. There is a lot of incriminating information accessible online that journalists could use to defile Trump’s reputation, yet it is not adequately taken to scrutiny. This is unsettling, as well as unjust if one would compare popular media representations of Trump during his presidential campaign to that of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Although the Internet and its explosive evolution brought the world the promise of equality and transparency regarding public access to information, this presidential campaign has shown that one of the consequences of Web 2.0 is that it creates echo chambers amongst communities. Within these online communities, similar ideas are shared amongst those of a similar mindset, while different schools of thought are shunned from publication in these circles. This cycle of information-sharing stunts the proliferation of alternative ideology to other internet communities, thus creating various bubbles on all sides. Timothy Garton Ash tackles this issue in his article Do you live in a Trump bubble, or a Clinton bubble?, identifying “media polarisation” as the phenomenon that leaves both Clinton and Trump supporters misinformed.

For example, during the first presidential debate National Public Radio (NPR) released a live-updated and comprehensive fact check of the debate’s transcript, which included the corrections of numerous factual inaccuracies that Trump stated. The collaborative effort involved in the creation of this live annotation is remarkable, as anyone can easily access a page in which the nominees are held accountable for everything they say, a service that is not provided by mainstream news channels nor the debate moderator. Politico Magazine also released a critical piece entitled Trump’s Week of Errors, Exaggerations and Flat-out Falsehoods, which includes a video reprimanding a collection of Trump’s remarks that were made in the span of a week.

News article headline from Newsweek.
News article headline from Newsweek.

But the downfall of such published work lies in the unlikelihood that this article has been read by those who are already immersed in left-wing political discourse. This is the content that we need but it is not reaching the people this information needs to reach. This includes supporters of Trump and Clinton, as well as those who identify as neither.

To quote Ash from his previously mentioned article, “only if citizens can hear all the relevant arguments and evidence, as ancient Athenians did when they gathered on the Pnyx at the foot of the Acropolis, will they be able to make an informed choice and therefore meaningfully be said to be governing themselves.” Media sources, particularly those in the mainstream, need to work meticulously to spread information on a national (and even international) scale. It is crucial that this information is not only factually accurate, but also corrects those that are inaccurate. As the web develops and expands this will become even more of a challenge, but the priority of creating an environment in which all audiences are exposed to such content is paramount, especially for an event as consequential as the upcoming election.

There is a multitude of evidence on Trump’s incriminating behaviour online yet there is a startling lack of correlation regarding the amount and quality of attention such information would receive in mass media. It would not be unfounded to say that proof of similar behaviour and activity, if found in politicians such as Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama, would receive much more attention and judgement on a massive level. This in part due to his gendered and racial privilege as a Caucasian male, who also has great financial wealth and power with access to politically advantageous resources and networks. For example, The New York Times (NYT) published an article on October 1st 2016, stating that the publication obtained records showing that Donald Trump declared a $916 million loss, taking advantage of a legal loophole that could have allowed him to avoid paying taxes for 18 years. While the media would have vilified politicians who belong to one or more minority groups, Donald Trump’s alleged 18-year tax evasion has been set up in a framework where reports make it seem less like an abhorrence and more of an expectation.  Headlines such as: Trump advisors Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani says his ability to avoid taxes is ‘genius’ throws away yet another opportunity to publicly condemn the severity of his misconduct but chooses a quote that takes away attention from the crime at hand and instead indirectly compliments Trump’s ability to avoid paying taxes for almost 20 years. Even when journalists bring Trump-related scandals to the forefront, there is a noticeable choice in semantics that give him the benefit of the doubt or simply presents the information in a way that softens the severity of his actions. This is not a luxury the media equally affords to those who do not have equal racial or other socially salient privileges, such as Obama. Clearly there is something faulty with the way in which mainstream media prioritises and disperses its content.

What I am calling for is not the mainstream demonization of Donald Trump; but rather a stark media portrayal that forces the masses to see Trump for what he is.