News Judgment

Note the volume of Google news searches here, which reflects the volume of news coverage. Two of these stories are documented scandals; one is not.

The total attention devoted to the Clinton Foundation (that second spike aligns with the AP’s irresponsible story and tweet) far outstrips the attention given to David Fahrenthold’s Pulitzer-caliber reporting on the Trump Foundation’s alleged illegalities. Do the lines above indicate a proper allocation of reporting resources? Do they indicate good news judgment? No.

In web search — a better indicator of prompted public curiosity than news search — the Alicia Machado spike beats all. It is an important story — like the Khan and Curiel stories before it — because it is revealing of Trump’s misogyny, bigotry, abuse of power, and character. But, of course, we know what also sparked media and public interest: sex and drama. We also know this story will fade as soon as Trump himself regains enough sense to let it die or his minions take away his phone.

Whenever I rail on about the failure of American journalism to inform the public — Trump’s candidacy is the evidence of our failure — someone will blame the public and its interests. It’s true: give us a juicy story about a beauty queen, a bully, and a problem we all face (fat), we will gather around it like buzzards on roadkill.

But news feeds the conversation and look what the news fed the public and what it didn’t. The volume of Trump coverage helped get him here. The lack of investigative reporting devoted to him kept him here. Thank goodness for Farenthold’s foundation stories and Kurt Eichenwald’s work on Trump’s business ties. Unlike Kurt’s Cuba scoop, the Trump foundation and business stories didn’t require leaks; they required raw reporting resources to make phone call after phone call. Why didn’t major news organizations devote those resources to investigating Trump months ago? Why does the public talk about the Clinton Foundation instead? That’s what we fed them.

After this election, the news business needs to enter into a brutal post-mortem of its performance and value.

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