Election night panelists critique media

The Media School Report • Nov. 9, 2016
The Franklin Hall commons area was election central Nov. 8, with three panels and live streaming on the big screen. (Gena Asher | The Media School)
The Franklin Hall commons area was election central Nov. 8, with three panels and live streaming on the big screen. (Gena Asher | The Media School)

The Media School and the Department of Political Science staged campus’ own “election night central” in the Franklin Hall commons Nov. 8, with coverage on the big screen in the Franklin Hall commons and a series of panel discussions focusing on national and international media coverage topics.

Attendees heard three groups of panelists and asked questions after each presentation. The event also was live streamed on Facebook, and PBS affiliate WTIU broadcast during its live coverage from a setup on the second level overlooking the commons.

Student-run WIUX radio used the school’s audio booth, also in the commons area, to broadcast updates throughout the evening. The crew was joined by Dean James Shanahan, who sat in on the broadcast for most of the evening.

Here are recaps of the panel discussions. See more on Facebook or Twitter, #MediaSchool_ElectionNight. Learn more about the event and panelists online.

Media coverage

By Zoe Spilker

From left, associate professor Julia Fox, professor Marjorie Hershey (political science), assistant professor Jason Peifer and doctoral student Edo Steinberg served on the panel that examined media coverage. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)
From left, associate professor Julia Fox, professor Marjorie Hershey (political science), assistant professor Jason Peifer and doctoral student Edo Steinberg served on the panel that examined media coverage. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

The first panel of the evening examined the role news media has played in the election and how coverage of each candidate differed.

Serving on the panel were associate professor Julia Fox, assistant professor Jason Peifer and graduate student Edo Steinberg, all of The Media School; and professor Marjorie Hershey of the Department of Political Science. Moderator was assistant professor Bernard Fraga of the Department of Political Science, who started off the night by asking the candidates their thoughts on the role of the media this year compared to previous years.

“When you add in the internet and social media,” Fox said. “that broadens the landscape considerably and takes a lot of power from the media gatekeepers. It gives us a lot more access to information.”

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Social media played a large part in this year’s election. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been vocal on Twitter, and this election was no exception. Because Trump’s thoughts did not need to go through the filter of traditional media before getting out to the world, Peifer said, he was able to use Twitter and his entertainment background to his advantage.

Because each candidate used his or her own form of media, specifically social media like Twitter, Americans were not necessarily exposed to news they did not want to read, Steinberg said. In this era of social media, people seek out their own news.

Fox said the corporate structure of the media has an effect on the election. When candidates lie, journalists may not want to outright say they lied in fear of sounding biased. Objective media does not work in this model because the media still feels the need to report on what people want to hear, what will drive audiences.

Political humor also played a large role in this election. The panelists explained that people struggled with taking the election seriously, until they had no choice but to take it seriously.

“The blurred line between the news media and entertainment –what’s the distinction there?” Peifer said.

Hershey suggested a metaphor to explain the blurred line. Universities have departments, and journalism is separate from political science. Outside a university, people do not see the walls between the two departments; people see the departments as one, especially when their news comes from satirical sources.

“Fake news shows us how fake real news is,” Hershey said.

Peifer’s metaphor used a referee. When athletes badger the referee enough, they may get the outcome they wanted. He said Trump did something very similar, working the media in a way that makes him seem like the victim to get an outcome he is hoping for.

Audience members asked why the media does not work to minimize hatred. Hershey responded by saying that drama drives audiences. While the news media often reports on new political drama, what America should be focused on is what stays the same, because that is what really matters.« Collapse content

International perspectives

By Ellen Glover

Doctoral student Diana Sokolova, who is from Russia, explained how the presidential campaign is viewed in that country. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)
Doctoral student Diana Sokolova, who is from Russia, explained how the presidential campaign is viewed in that country. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

The second panel of the evening featured a discussion of how the U.S. election campaigns are viewed in other parts of the world.

Sergio Berensztein, a political analyst and adviser, discussed Argentina; doctoral student Umberto Famulari, who studies documentaries and nonfiction films, discussed Italy; assistant professor Julien Mailland discussed France; and doctoral student Diana Sokolova, who studies mass communications, discussed Russia.

Moderator and professor of practice Elaine Monaghan asked about the countries’ general perspectives on U.S. candidates this year.

“Russia wants Trump to win,” Sokolova said.

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She explained that Russian president Vladimir Putin wants to hurt Hillary Clinton (and, by default, support Donald Trump) because of Clinton’s previous comments about the Kremlin. Sokolova cited hacking and trolling (via “trolls” on social media that are hired to anonymously sway political opinions on major issues throughout the world) as some methods the Kremlin has used to convince Russia that the U.S. democratic system is flawed and that the Russian government can serve as a savior. If Trump wins, Sokolova said, Putin will use him as a puppet because Trump isn’t as knowledgeable on international affairs.

Mailland said what most surprised him about this year’s election was America’s media coverage of it. He said due to different, more strict television regulations, the French press gives each candidate equal time on air and serves more as a source of information to the constituency. But American media, according to Mailland, “incites the circus.”

Also, the American media is “picking the wrong battles,” said Mailland. He added that America spends too much money preventing curse words and too much time listening to political commentators who act as “surrogates for Clinton and Trump,” which is ethically a problem.

Famulari immediately started drawing similarities between Donald Trump and Benito Mussolini.

“Mussolini was elected and then pushed the limits of democracy,” said Famulari. “And Trump is, too.”

Berensztein said not just Argentina but Latin America as a whole is watching the U.S. right now in fascination. Latin American countries have been controlled by men just like Donald Trump but, Berensztein said, it is “strange to see it take place in the U.S.”

Next, Monaghan asked how each of the countries thought the election would play out.

Sokolova said this election represents a “bigger picture of troubled times.” No matter what, said Sokolova, Putin will continue to paint the West, especially America, as a troubled place to minimize trust and ensure that his reelection.

Mailland said although France gets excited during American presidential elections, the affects aren’t really felt in day-to-day French life. However, as a whole, Mailland said President Trump would ease relations between France and the U.S.

Obama, said Mailland, is an “interventionist” and projects American ideals on other countries without much consideration for what the other countries actually want; he says Clinton would probably be the same way. But Trump, although he is “unstable,” according to Mailland, has been less of an interventionist in his rhetoric.

Both Famulari and Berensztein said that they can draw similarities between Trump and their own politicians. However, a President Trump would have different results in the different countries. Famulari said electing Trump in America would give fuel to the similar right-wing movements happening in Italy. Berensztein said “relations will not be good with Argentina” if Trump wins.

After a couple more questions, Monaghan handed the microphone to the audience members. One asked about the international view on Hillary Clinton.

Sokolova answered with the personal perspective. She said, until a couple of weeks ago, she was quite uncertain about Clinton. However, after watching a documentary in which she learned more about her past, Sokolova gained more respect for what Clinton became as a leader, saying that the two go hand-in-hand.

“She has changed,” said Sokolova. “But politics changes you.” No politician is clean, said Sokolova, adding that “of the two evils, Hillary is the less evil.”

Mailland said France looks at Clinton the same way it looked at Obama in 2008: the ideal.

“Hillary is a saint in France,” said Mailland. As a result, according to Mailland, the people of France don’t look at her critically and fail to see that she and the other candidates are more complex than they appear.

“Seventy-seven percent of Italy would vote for Hillary,” said Famulari, citing a recent poll. He is worried that this is not the case in America because her email scandals have consumed her image nationally.

“Eighty-six percent of Argentina would vote for her,” said Berensztein, quoting a different poll. He added that the Argentinian people don’t concern themselves much with her personality. They view her as a member of the “Clinton dynasty” and not as a person.

Finally, the conversations turned to the more specific aspects of American elections, such as local and state elections and the electoral college. How did other countries react to these things, if at all?

“Americans don’t understand this,” said Sokolova. “Russia is used to one person deciding everything.” She added that, because of this, the Russian people can’t comprehend voting for representatives because they are so used to having a man like Putin make all of the decisions.

The French don’t understand the system either, said Mailland, they really understand only the presidential elections. Not only do they think state elections are strange but, according to Mailland, they also think voting for legalization of marijuana in one state and not the other is odd. As for the electoral college, Mailland said France doesn’t understand it, but “the U.S. is confused, too.”

Local elections are not discussed in Italy, said Famulari. He added that they try to have tutorials on systems such as the electoral college but, like France, Italy cares only about who wins.

The story is a little different in Argentina, said Berensztein, because the country’s constitution was modeled closely on the U.S. constitution. As a result, said Berensztein, the Argentinian people don’t really understand primaries but they understand the electoral college because they have something similar.

After the panel was over, the watch party continued and the projections and percentages beamed on the big TV.

“I don’t know where this is going to go,” said Sophie Millsops, a sophomore studying journalism. “But I am eager to see what will happen.”

According to the panel, so is the rest of the world.« Collapse content

Media coverage and ethics

By Taylor Haggerty

Political science assistant professor Bernard Fraga, left, was moderator for the first panel. At each panel, audience members took to the microphone to pose their own questions. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)
Political science assistant professor Bernard Fraga, left, was moderator for the first panel. At each panel, audience members took to the microphone to pose their own questions. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

The final panel of the evening focused on the ethical norms of political media coverage during the election season. It featured assistant professor Nick Browning, professor of practice Elaine Monaghan, associate professor Mike Conway and undergraduate political science senior Sara Zaheer. Doctoral student Kyle Heatherly moderated.

The panelists addressed the influence of social media on political campaigning and the difficulty of finding legitimate and credible sources for news.

“There’s so much out there that it’s hard to fight your way through it,” Monaghan said. “Social media has changed news irrevocably, and it’s never going to be the same.”

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Students asked how to identify fake news sources when scrolling through sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and how to make sure that they are informed.

“Social media adds a second layer to the news that we didn’t have before,” Browning said. “But Facebook doesn’t make the news. Sometimes it’s a journalist, and sometimes it’s a hack. People forget that there’s someone behind that layer, and they don’t pay attention to it.”

Zaheer, the only student speaking on the panel, expressed her own concern about identifying sources that can be trusted.

“I’ve experienced challenges with parsing through all the information,” she said. “It raises the question of, do you value the facts? And how do you know what those facts are?”

The panelists also touched on the state of media today, including the current distrust of news organizations by the general public.

“Americans’ trust in institutions has dropped dramatically in in the past few decades, and journalism is just one of those institutions that is held in lower esteem these days. There’s a tendency in politics to blame the messenger,” Conway said.

Conway said media can become a “scapegoat” during political campaigns, increasing the distrust that the public feels.

After the panel was over, attendees turned their attention to the big screen to watch election results come in.« Collapse content