How Post-Truth Politics Wins Hearts and Confuses Minds
5 December, 2016

What You Need to Know:

✅   Mainstream American journalism has been heavily scrutinized for their coverage during the most recent U.S. presidential elections. Cable news networks especially have been put in the spotlight for their reporting of Donald Trump.

✅  Ann Cooper, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, argues many voters now cherry-pick attractive news which reinforces their own opinions. The former NPR Moscow bureau chief says the electorate had access to all the information needed about the candidates for the White House

✅   Journalists are uncertain of the future level of access to Trump’s administration and the White House. The president-elect has frequently lambasted the media at campaign rallies. Despite this, Ms. Cooper says sources such as government employees and whistleblowers will still allow for investigative journalism

✅  Ms. Cooper says she’s concerned by an underlying sense in the media that it’s their fault for Donald Trump’s election victory.


The 2016 U.S. presidential elections set the stage for the full emergence of ‘post-truth’ politics. In the weeks of campaigning ahead of the November 8 showdown, many major TV news networks dedicated hours of airtime to panelists combing their way through statements of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to separate the truth from the tales. Fact checking websites sprung up, such as PolitiFact. Their inventions such as ‘truth-o-meters’,  ‘PunditFact’ and ‘scorecards’ meant website visitors could indulge in information safely in the knowledge it is verifiable and accurate. Yet with a seemingly endless stream of news, TV ads, social media posts, campaign brochures and political statements, the reach and impact of any truthful journalism on the electorate, seen traditionally in high-quality print media titles, is slowly fading.


Ann Cooper, the international director at Columbia Journalism School says the journalism standards of much of the media remained high during the months of election campaigning. Yet, she argues there is an increasing trend of people to cherry pick the media they consume.


“There's increasingly this tendency to decide, well I am going to read this because it reinforces my view, even if you're not consciously thinking that. You know, that's what people are attracted to...It's not journalism's role to tell people how to vote”, Ms. Cooper says.


Some journalists have expressed concern that access to Trump’s team will be limited, given his open dislike of the media. In the past, he’s called them ‘liars’ and ‘lightweights’ and openly lambasted top titles such as the New York Times and CNN (although their respective readership and viewership increased because of their coverage). Yet, Ms. Cooper says the sharing of information in the public interests has slowly decreased over previous presidential terms.  


“Even with the Obama administration, many people thought he would be a great friend of the media. Well actually, not so much. I think even if Hillary Clinton had been elected, we probably would have seen an increase in that trend towards less access... The worrisome thing is if Donald Trump keeps an ‘enemies list’. By the way, Richard Nixon, who was president decades ago, had an enemies list and there were a bunch of journalists on it.”


Watch our interview with Jacob Weisberg, U.S. political journalist here.


The American media soul searching has begun, evaluating and revising political journalism as we know it. Yet, as the way ordinary citizens consume media transforms, it seems ever more up to the audience to find what is true or not.


Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk interviewed Ann Cooper, the international director at Columbia Journalism School and former National Public Radio bureau chief in Moscow and Johannesburg in November 2016. Ms. Cooper can be found on Twitter here