A Writer’s Apology

A+Writers+Apology

A few weeks removed from the 2016 election, here is what’s obvious: first, Hillary Clinton lost the election, which left the glass ceiling painfully intact. Furthermore, the Republican party was not dismantled by Donald Trump, and they now hold significant political control. And, perhaps most apparent, the media was completely wrong. Journalists were caught red-handed with personal bias, and the political cycle was the victim.

For contributing to that mess, I am sorry.

When Trump first announced his candidacy, many speculated that his odds of winning were nonexistent. Then he ousted Governor Jeb Bush, who was the stereotypical Republican nominee. As the latter-half of the primary revealed Trump’s despicable views regarding Muslims, many projected his downfall. It was presented as fact, based on historical precedent. Yet, instead of faltering, his populist message strengthened — Trump easily won the Republican nomination. When Clinton finally wrenched the Democratic nomination from Senator Bernie Sanders, a year of stunning overconfidence began.

Running up to the election, there were few polls that predicated Clinton’s loss. While the USC/L.A. Times poll projected Trump’s victory, it was lambasted frequently for its data analysis. And when FiveThirtyEight’s prediction — which was 100 percent correct in 2012 — gave Clinton a 70 percent chance of a winning the election, few in the media gave Trump’s campaign credence. What was foolishly forgotten is that his campaign, from its inception, had defied the odds. This fed into Democrat’s confidence in a landslide, which impacted voter turnout rates, and inevitably lead to Hillary Clinton’s loss.

A quick look through election data reveals that Trump didn’t outright win the election; rather, Clinton lost. Over the last three election cycles, the Republicans have averaged the same number of voters. Alternatively, the Democrats have declined significantly since president Obama’s first term. On Nov. 8, Republicans rallied at the pools, afraid of an imminent Clinton victory. For Democrats, however, many voters failed to turnout. While it’s difficult to identify each contributing factor for this low turnout, one reason is painfully clear: overconfidence.

Trump’s rabidly populist movement is unprecedented in many ways, especially when one considers his lack of military or political experience. His campaign was predicated on attacks against numerous ethnic bases. Despite claims of sexual assault, he effortlessly brushed these allegations aside. Historically, Trump was the easiest opponent to beat. Yet, he won — thanks, in part, to Clinton’s overestimation of success in traditionally Democratic states. Mainstream polls assured her advisors that in regions such as Florida, Colorado, and the Midwest, Clinton would likely win.

Although Clinton did secure Colorado, she lost key states in the rust belt, and the pivotal state of Florida. Running up to November 8, few pollsters predicted this outcome. However, as it became obvious that Trump would win, this gaff became apparent; indeed, bias had turned Clinton’s win into fact. According to Politico, while coverage of Trump was widespread, “Nearly all of that coverage (91 percent) [was]…hostile.” Furthermore, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “only 38 percent of voters believed that Trump was qualified to be president.” 

Herein lies why I feel the urge to apologize.

As journalists, our primary responsibility is to report stories that are free of fiction or bias. Defining this line is slightly harder while writing editorial pieces, but columnists are still held to the same ethical standards. Therefore, while few polls projected a Trump victory, personal disdain leeched into numerous stories. Looking back, 12 of my articles either mentioned or centered around Trump’s unscrupulous campaign. Of those 12 articles, not a single one praised the president-elect. Although these articles weren’t circulated nationally, they contributed to “groupthink,” which is the practice of thinking in a way that discourages creativity. Put simply, these articles added to a defining chorus that chanted “Hillary Clinton can’t lose!” Polls from the Washington Post, New York Times and FiveThirtyEight were used almost exclusively. Therefore, inherent bias stemming from these projections was masked.

While I cannot revise my writing prior to Nov. 8, there is a stark lesson to be learned: being critical of information is absolutely vital. If journalists had taken Trump’s campaign seriously, they would’ve critiqued Hillary Clinton for spending more time with wealthy donors than in Wisconsin. If CNN hadn’t aired Trump’s full speeches repeatedly, fewer Republicans would’ve normalized his message. If more Democrats had turned out to vote, well, Clinton likely would’ve won. As for me, the lesson has been learned.

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