By Angela Stevens
Many journalists and commentators have stated that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the most disliked presidential candidates in modern history. But as the election draws closer, Clinton’s lead slowly widens while Trump seemingly prepares for a gracious and sporting loss – with claims the media is rigging the election.
Echoing his September statement to CBS News anchor Scott Pelley, “they [the media] write lies, they write false stories, they know they’re false,” Trump posted a series of tweets last week expressing his disdain at the media for “rigging” the election in Hillary’s favour:
He even condemned Saturday Night Live’s satirical re-enactment of the second presidential debate:
Regardless of whether you believe Trump’s “rigged election” claims amount to serious accusations or merely conspiracies, CNN anchor Hala Gorani told Fairfax earlier this month that the US media had definitely turned on Trump in their portrayals of him.
Furthering this, Jeremy Au Yong from the Straits Times published an article on 2 October stating, “when USA Today, one of America’s most widely read newspapers, broke a 34-year-old tradition of staying neutral in elections, it did so because it found Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “unfit for the presidency”… an increasing number of news outlets are starting to take a stand against the tycoon.”
But that begs the question, what of the Australian media? Can they too be accused of portraying Trump as an unfit candidate and positioning their audiences to view him in this regard?
Indeed, analysis of a range of articles from Australian newspapers confirms that the Australian media does characterise Donald Trump as an unfit candidate and a threat to Australia’s security. This analysis spans from looking at a range of current headlines to analysing in-depth a variety of news and views journalism articles.
If you search for ‘Donald Trump’ on Google news or a journalism database such as Factiva, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an Australian headline with anything positive to say about him. In fact, if you look at a range of headlines from Australian newspapers, it becomes evident that they generally all characterise Trump as an unfit candidate:
Donald Trump exposes vital flaw during disaster week 2.0 – 12 August 2016 (news.com.au)
Why we should be scared. Very scared – 24 September 2016 (SMH)
US Presidential debate: Donald Trump lost and he knows it – but it may not matter – 28 September 2016 (ABC)
Donald Trump should quit presidential race – 11 October 2016 (SMH)
US election: Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton favoured by “rigging” – 17 October 2016 (The Australian)
Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump at his own game – 21 October 2016 (Business Insider Australia)
Donald Trump is a vile misogynist – but he’s not the only one – 22 October 2016 (The Guardian AU)
With nothing left to lose, Trump lashes out at Michelle Obama – 22 October 2016 (The Guardian AU).
As shown in bold, these headlines clearly position their readers to view Donald Trump as the less suited candidate and even as a potential threat to Australia’s security. For example, by stating ‘Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton favoured by “rigging”’ and putting the word rigging in quotation marks, it reinforces that this is a direct quote from Trump rather than an actual fact, and encourages the reader to question its legitimacy. Further, the last headline starts off by saying that Trump has “nothing left to lose.” Therefore, before the reader has even read the article, they are positioned to view Trump as losing the election and therefore being an unfit candidate. Saying he “lashes out” at Michelle Obama, suggests he is dangerous and unpredictable.
To reinforce how the Australian media portrays Trump as a far more serious threat than Clinton, it is particularly interesting to compare the headlines written about Clinton to those written about Trump. For example, these headlines were written in the aftermath of the third Presidential debate:
Voters already knew all they need to know about dangerous Donald Trump – 20 October 2016 (SMH)
Donald Trump’s lies really matter. Here’s why – 20 October 2016 (SMH)
Red, White and Blue make up Hillary’s Patriotic pantsuits for the Presidential debates – 21 October 2016 (news.com.au)
Drop everything: Hillary Clinton wore something other than a pantsuit – 21 October 2016 (The Huffington Post AU)
That’s right people, drop everything. We’ve got a “dangerous,” “lying” and “vile misogynist” running for president, but drop everything because Hillary Clinton just wore something other than a pantsuit.
Clearly, by focussing on Hillary’s clothing choices and Trump’s danger and lies, these newspaper headlines position their audiences to consider Trump as a far more serious danger to Australia’s future should he become President.
Whilst analysing these headlines is interesting, it is necessary to delve deeper in order to prove such a broad claim that the Australian media generally characterises Trump as a more unfit and dangerous candidate than Clinton. To establish this wider trend, it is necessary to conduct an in-depth analysis of a variety of news and views articles.
Let’s start with Kirrily Schwarz’s hard-news style article, ‘Trump claims new groping allegations are part of a plot against him’, published 15 October on news.com.au. Due to the nature of the hard-news style, Schwarz indirectly characterises Trump as not to be trusted and positions her audience to question Trump’s credibility in denying the sexual assault claims. This is clear right from the lead:
“Donald Trump says new reports of groping are part of a plot against him, as two more women claim he sexually assaulted them.”
Interestingly, Schwarz chooses to use Trump’s claim that the reports are “part of a plot against him”, as opposed to just saying Trump has denied the reports. Assuming the reader shares her worldview, she relies on the warrant that a “plot” sounds more like a far-fetched conspiracy theory than a factual claim, especially when said alone with no factual evidence as Trump has done. She then furthers this call to question Trump’s credibility by following Trump’s claim with, “as two more women claim he sexually assaulted them.” Immediately following Trump’s denial of the claim with a statement that “two more women” have come forward positions the reader to doubt Trump’s claims. In this she communicates a worldview where “two more” women coming forward is a contradiction of Trump’s denial, especially given that the list of women keeps growing. Should the reader share this perspective, it is likely they will accept the author’s negative characterisation of Trump.
Schwarz’s attribution of sources prompts further evaluation that Trump’s claims are lacking in credibility. She uses the statements of two of his alleged “victims”, and provides lengthy statements from both of them. She also uses statements from Michelle and Barak Obama, which also encourage the readers to view Trump negatively. This contrasts with the small section of the article she allocates for Trump’s denial of the claims. Even here, she choses a statement that appears to be vague, and therefore lacking in reliability:
“The Trump campaign issued a statement saying the candidate only “vaguely” remembered her.
“To be clear, I never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago,” he is quoted as saying.”
Another way Schwarz positions her readers to evaluate Trump’s trustworthiness and credibility is by bringing up the video that was recently released, where he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
“It’s been a tough two weeks for Mr Trump, whose campaign is struggling to recover from a video in which he brags about groping women in 2005.”
By inserting these facts about the video in an article that is meant to be about Trump denying sexual assault claims, it certainly encourages the readers to question the credibility of his denial.
Finally, it is worthwhile analysing Schwarz’ use of images in her article. She uses three images in total: Two of Trump speaking publicly and one of Summer Zervos, the former contestant of The Apprentice who claims Trump groped her in 2006. The two images of Trump are quite similar:
They both reveal attempted carefree expressions on Trump’s face. In the first, he is throwing his arms up as if to say the accusations are ridiculous, and in the second, he is pointing at himself as if to say, “Me? That’s ridiculous. I couldn’t possibly have done that.” It is arguable that Schwarz purposely chose these images where Trump’s composure appears to be irrational and worked up, both characteristics which do not typically make for a reliable Presidential candidate.
It is interesting to compare these two images with the one used of Summer Zervos, where, contrastingly to Trump, she appears calm and collected:
Hence, although she maintains an objective style, Schwarz’s wording, attribution of sources, choice of facts, and choice of images indirectly positions her reader to view Trump as an unfit presidential candidate, due to his lack of credibility.
Ben Hoyle’s article, “US election: Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton favoured by ‘rigging’”, published 17 October in The Australian, similarly uses the objective voice of a hard-news style to characterise Trump as an unfit candidate. In doing this, he positions his readers to evaluate the ridiculousness of Trump’s claims and question his credibility.
This is evident from the start:
“Donald Trump has attacked the legitimacy of America’s presidential election as he approaches the final three weeks of the campaign facing a yawning gap in the polls, a bleak electoral map and a stark financial disadvantage.
The accusation came after ten days in which voters heard the billionaire bragging on video about grabbing women “by the pussy” and nine women came forward to say that he had forcibly kissed or groped them.”
Firstly, Hoyle’s description stating Trump has “attacked” the legitimacy of the election has connotations of aggression and hostility, both qualities that would constitute an unfit candidate. Secondly, it is interesting how Hoyle immediately follows this statement with the fact that Trump had been caught just days before bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy”, and nine women had come forward with sexual assault claims. In doing this, Hoyle indirectly points out the irony of Trump’s attack on the legitimacy of America’s presidential election. He communicates a worldview where it is ridiculous for a man accused of 9 cases of sexual assault to be questioning the legitimacy of America’s election system. Should the reader share this perspective, it is likely they will evaluate Trump in a negative light.
Hoyle follows this opening with an update on Clinton’s lead in the polls, as a way of informing readers that Hillary is currently seen as the better candidate. He then lists some of Trump’s recent claims: that he is “the victim of a conspiracy” and that Clinton was “meeting in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty” and enrich “global financial powers, her special-interest friends and donors”. He also states how Mr Trump called for a drug test before the final debate after suggesting that Clinton was taking stimulants. Interestingly, Hoyle does not follow these statements with a quote from Clinton in her defence. Instead, he reiterates, “Clinton leads her rival by 5.5 per cent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls.” In doing this, he positions his readers to share his evaluation that Trump’s claims are so ridiculous they do not warrant a response from Clinton, or anyone else in her defence. Instead, the only response that is needed is a reiteration of her lead in the polls. Thus, Hoyle achieves the total effect of positioning the reader to dismiss Trump’s claims, and then evaluate Clinton as the more suitable candidate.
Finally, Hoyle concludes his article with the attribution of Ari Fleischer, who was George W Bush’s press secretary, who “said that if Mr Trump refused to accept defeat with grace his supporters would question the legitimacy of the government. ‘That’s destructive and corrosive.’” Using engagement, Hoyle indirectly positions himself with what Fleischer has said in order to position his readers’ evaluations of Trump. Hoyle then inserts factual events that have taken place, such as a Trump Rally on November 8 where many Trump supporters spoke of violently revolting if Trump doesn’t win. He attributes the following quote from one supporter:
“We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes…There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed … I would do whatever I can for my country.”
Although his voice remains objective, Hoyle positions his readers to make a connection between the “ridiculousness” of Trump’s rigged election claims and the violence beginning to show from his supporters. He therefore portrays Trump as not only lacking in credibility, but also as a dangerous influence.
Both of these news articles hence maintain an objective voice and convey the same persuasive evaluations about Trump via the words of quoted sources and choice of facts. However, it is interesting to observe how views journalism articles are able to provide the same perspective on Trump in a more explicit way with the use of the subjective voice. This is especially so in Jonathan Bradley’s article, ‘Voters already knew all they need to know about dangerous Donald Trump’, published 20 October in the Sydney Morning Herald. While Hoyle and Schwarz rely on facts and attributed sources to make their claims, Bradley’s piece is mostly opinionated. His principal claim is that Trump’s unsuitable behavior at the final Presidential Debate was to be expected by voters. This principal claim is explicitly stated in the headline. Bradley then opens his article painting Trump in a negative light:
“He resisted Hillary Clinton’s attempts to needle him — well, at least some of them. He responded to moderator Chris Wallace’s questions with studied facts and focused arguments — on a couple of occasions. He even managed to maintain a calm presence on camera, without weird sniffles, rude interruptions, or furious facial expressions.
For the first half-hour.”
In this Bradley is likely to persuade his readers by appealing to customary practice – he lists the way Trump should have been behaving according to the customary practice of political debates, before correcting himself and listing how Trump actually behaved. This method of listing the customary practice, then correcting himself with what Trump actually did, is persuasive as it encourages the reader to compare the proper conduct of a Presidential candidate to Trump’s behaviour, and conclude that Trump did not behave in a suitable way. Whether this is effective would depend on whether the reader shares the same worldview as Bradley. That is, that a good presidential candidate is one that sticks to customary political debate protocols and mannerisms. He continues to describe Trump’s performance in the debate with an evaluative claim: “Trump barrelled back into his all-too-familiar train-wreck debate style.” This leads him to his evaluative justificatory claim of why the final debate did nothing to change Trump’s image:
“Even if a practised, proficient, and perfectly behaved Trump had shown up to the debate, his behaviour over the past year and a half, and especially over the past week and a half, would still disqualify him as a candidate worthy of serious consideration for the presidency.
Conversely, anyone who has not already given up on Trump was unlikely to be dissuaded by any new depravities he might display.”
Bradley furthers his claim that voters should already have been aware of how dangerous Trump was, stating:
‘The Republican nominee has been revealed in a secret recording to have bragged about using his celebrity status to sexually assault women. Subsequently, 16 women came forward to affirm, yes, they had been sexually assaulted by Donald Trump.”
In this claim Bradley is appealing to ethics, relying on the assumption that his readers will share his worldview that a person who brags about sexually assaulting women will not make a suitable Presidential Candidate. He furthers this appeal to ethics later on in the article, stating, “He has already shown that he is morally unsuitable for the job, as a man who wilfully disrespects women’s autonomy and the US democratic system’s integrity.”
Bradley concludes his article with an evaluative claim, appealing to popular opinion:
“Americans knew every single one of these things before either candidate uttered a word at this last debate… the debate told them only what every serious-minded person already knew… Donald Trump is so dangerously unsuited to the American presidency that he is a danger to America itself.”
With this statement, Bradley appeals to popular opinion by persuading his readers that all “serious-minded” Americans feel the same way about Trump and that this view is universally accepted. He is also appealing to consequences, by stating the danger that will result if Trump becomes president. Bradley is likely to persuade readers who share his worldview that an irrational and unpredictable person who is accused of sexual assault and threatens to “lock up” his opponent is dangerous and unsuitable for the presidency.
Similar to Bradley’s article, Mark Beeson’s article ‘Trump or Clinton: Who will be the best for our Asia-Pacific region’, published 6 October on ABC, argues a primary claim that Trump becoming President will have catastrophic consequences for Australia. Unlike Bradley however, this principle claim is not made clear from the headline or the lead. Instead, Beeson reveals it after the lead, with an evaluative claim and appeal to consequences:
“The consensus is that no matter who becomes the next president, it will be bad.
If it’s Donald Trump, though, it could be apocalyptic.”
Beeson furthers these evaluative claims with appeals to authority, by stating, “most serious analysts hope she [Clinton] wins.” He then follows this statement up with an appeal to consequences: “The alternative [Trump] is too awful, unpredictable and frankly alarming to even contemplate.” Although this is an opinionated statement, it is enhanced by his previous appeal to authority.
The rest of Beeson’s article is primarily opinionated in this way, however he does make one factual claim. He does this when claiming that many Americans are “remarkably ill-informed” about foreign policy, which provides justification for why Trump’s “neo-isolationist” policies have been so favourable. He says, “the average American thinks something like one-quarter of its $US trillion national budget is spent on foreign aid. In reality it’s less than a miserly 1 per cent. Trump may share this misapprehension for all we know.” By making this factual claim he is pointing out how many of Trump’s supporters, and even Trump himself, are uneducated about foreign policy and therefore unjustified in their beliefs that America is too involved in “seemingly intractable conflicts in places they neither know nor care about.” Suggesting that Trump is uneducated links back to his primary claim that he is an unsuitable candidate who’s Presidency would be catastrophic for Australia.
Finally, another way that Beeson persuades his readers to view Trump as a threat to Australia’s future is by appealing to comparison and comparing him to Clinton:
“Clinton is clearly the establishment candidate and consummate insider who can be relied upon to do the right thing as far as Australia and the world is concerned… she is one of the architects of the so-called “pivot”, or shift in American strategic priorities to the Asia-Pacific region and response to China’s seemingly inexorable rise.”
Providing the reader shares a worldview that prioritises the Asia-Pacific region, Beeson is likely to persuade his reader that Clinton is a more suitable candidate than Trump through this appeal to comparison.
It is clear from this analysis that the Australian media generally portrays Trump as a dangerous and unfit Presidential candidate. Interestingly, views and news articles are able to convey this same perspective even though they argue in different ways. Whilst news articles position their readers to view Trump in a negative light through facts and attribution of sources, views articles subjectively convey the authors opinions in persuasive ways.