Flat White

Trump and the media fail

14 November 2016

4:30 PM

14 November 2016

4:30 PM

BRITAIN-US-VOTE-MEDIAAs Rowan Atkinson playing the Devil said welcoming atheists to hell, “You must be feeling a right bunch of nitwits!”

Not since the Chicago Daily Tribune infamously predicted a Thomas E Dewy win over Harry S Truman in the 1948 US presidential election has any media been so blindsided as they were on November 9.

With a known Republican bias The Tribune later acknowledged it had had as low an opinion of Democrat Truman as he did of the paper.

In a different technological age when pages needed to be set several hours before printing, the time difference between east and western US was critical.

With a respected correspondent bravely predicting a Truman loss several editions were printed before the actual results proved different.

History was made and The Tribune was left with ink all over its face.

There will be a bunch people feeling right nitwits at the moment, particularly those Australian commentators who saw the whole US election through the prism of their own political bias ignoring all portents of an entirely different outcome.

A few bravely bucked the trend including former Australian editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell.

Mitchell presciently noted many polls are no longer accurate snapshots of opinion.

Perhaps he should have gone further and declared pollsters who pose questions to deliver answers which support pre-conceived opinions are the great modern deceivers.

Many contemporary Australian political commentators who allowed sentiment to override instinct have much to answer.

They should all now do the right thing by borrowing the newsroom Webley revolver, one round and the key to the pictorial library, and in their own time go on.

No one should ever again believe a word they write.

Particularly as they have spent the days since the election backtracking on their predictions, including those who didn’t even have the guile to declare they got those predictions completely wrong.

It was obvious from the beginning of this electoral campaign to anyone with half a brain Trump, for all his faults, was a serious contender.


When Clinton stole the Democrat nomination from Bernie Sanders, it was patently clear Trump was the only contender.

The Clintons have a proven record as deeply flawed people, voracious, ambitious and with a public service record which leaves no doubt about their main motives, power and personal gain.

Trump is also deeply flawed but he was first and foremost a salesman determined to clinch the deal.

While Clinton spruiked the regressive language of ambitious political elites, Trump engaged with Americans who felt abandoned, wondering why they were worse off than pampered minorities.

Donald Trump was first and foremost a salesman whose priority was to close the deal.

He said whatever he believed that alienated target audience wanted to hear, on whatever topic he believed would appeal to their base instincts; religion, immigration, employment, corrective discrimination by so-called intellectual elites which had left them poor, unemployed and in their minds disadvantaged.

Ignite their curiosity, stroke their bruised egos and feed their insecurities.

To the intellectual and political elites he was crass, vulgar and inexperienced.

He wasn’t part of the political establishment so he wasn’t to be trusted.

Of two appalling candidates he was portrayed as the worst.

Anyone who read widely in the US press and didn’t cherry pick opinions which only reflected their own sentiments saw months ago there was a very real possibility Trump could and would win the presidency.

A wonk like Kevin Rudd, Hilary Clinton spoke of policy and process.

Trump spoke of outcomes.

He did so in language to which those who believed they had been abandoned by the professional political elite could relate.

With a presumption the presidency was hers for the taking Clinton portrayed the non-politician Trump as unfit for the office.

Perhaps her greatest campaign error was to describe Trump supporters as “deplorables”.

They heard her and reacted accordingly.

There is a clear lesson for Australian politicians and political commentators who deride those disaffected voters who are listening to populist politicians like Pauline Hanson, Jackie Lambie, Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie and the parochial South Australian senator Xenophon.

They have successfully tapped into the same political disaffection Trump identified.

Mainstream political parties should not criticise their opponents’ supporters as Clinton did, because they will react savagely.

They would do better to identify the issues that engage those disaffected voters and offer real solutions.

Vacuous populist politicians may identify the issues but rarely offer solutions.

Like Trump, they are about closing the deal by attracting votes, espousing fear and prejudice over substance.

Trump’s victory will embolden Hanson, Lambie, Wilkie, Katter, Xenophon and their supporters.

People on the fringes of Australian society who feel threatened by Muslims, immigrants, indeed any minority who they perceive are being treated better by their government than themselves, will be listening to the populists’ empty rhetoric.

Because Hanson, Lambie, Wilkie, Katter and Xenophon will continue to ignite their curiosity, stroke their bruised egos and feed their insecurities in language they understand.

Politics has been turned on its head and a new paradigm has been applied.

Change, not necessarily for the better is in the political wind.

Ross Eastgate is a military historian, writer and columnist with The Townsville Bulletin. He is a  graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon, a veteran of service in PNG, the Middle East and East Timor.

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