By SHUMAN ZHENG Z5042565 H10A
“Objective journalism is one of the main reasons that American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long.” Hunter S. Thompson
It is no secret that journalism is an unbiased discipline. Every journalist, although claiming objectivism, will have their own political agenda. In the lead up to the U.S. election, citizens are lost in a sea of information.
In comparing the reporting styles of Cable News Network (CNN), FOX News and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver of Donald Trump it is evident that all have their own agenda. The characterisations and evaluation of Trump through each network exemplify their political stance in an attempt to sway public opinion.
A report conducted by the PEW Research Centre in 2012 indicated that CNN had a 50% Democrat following. FOX News stood at a 60% Republican viewership and in the same report The Daily Show, the original beginnings of John Oliver, sat with a 45% Democrat support and 42% Independent. All sources evidently suggest that all entities are of different political standing.
Using Trump as a case study this article intends to explore the reporting of the election of all three different media entities with different political viewership. It will investigate what visual and language techniques they use in order to position their audiences to see Trump in a negative light in order to attempt to stop the electing of Trump as president. It will do so by looking into the reporting of events such as Trump’s self-branding, his immigration policies and his sexist comments.
TRUMP: “The cornerstone of his brand” – John Oliver
Gamson (2011, pp. 1066) describes self-branding as creating and marketing oneself without industry support. Trump has previously been described as the “human logo” (Linnett, 2003). It is no secret that, although outlandish, many of his business ventures from designer water titled Trump Ice and the infamous Trump Steak have plastered his name all over world.
CNN as a news conglomerate attempts to present the news as objectively as possible. However, it is evident in the presentation of news about Trump that they use tone, and sources to assist their characterisation of Trump as unfit for candidacy.
In the article “Donald Trump’s brand is ‘plummeting,’ biographer says,” the title itself uses a direct source from the biographer to insist on the article’s legitimacy. On top of having a strong reference, the article quotes Mark Cuban, a well-known successful billionaire, in stating that all Trump business ventures as “toxic and unemployable.” They also insert an image of Cuban’s tweet also defaming the nominee.
Additional to the visual of the tweet, they have inserted the clip of the biographer discussing Trump’s brand and how it will plummet. The article also discusses Trump’s sexual assault allegations and remarks, which was not completely necessary to the article itself. Although appearing objective, the article uses what appear to be credible sources using harsh language to describe Trump. Although minor details, they all come together to sit with the audience’s understanding of his brand as an unsuccessful and under a lot of fire due to sexual assault charges.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was born out of Oliver’s minor reporter role on the parody news programme The Daily Show, where many of the fans followed Oliver in his new venture. Although parody and from subjective stand points, both these shows are a legitimate sources of political news for many viewers, using comedy to entice their younger audience (PEW research centre stating that 39% of the Daily Show viewership was aged 18-29, 36% at 30-49, and so forth), but with a strong set of sources and guests to maintain their legitimacy.
Oliver positions his audience to view Trump’s self-branding schemes as unsuccessful, which in the minds of many of his supporters is one viewed as luxurious and successful. Oliver uses scripting and his performance skills to create this view in his “Donald Trump” report.
Within the scripting there is heavy use of similes to create humour. For instance:
“… he has spent decades turning his name into a brand. Synonymous with success and quality. And he has made himself the mascot for that brand like Ronald McDonald or Chef Boyardee.”
By comparing him to affordable brands he lowers the perception of Trump being a luxurious brand. He also lists all the unsuccessful business ventures Trump has invested in. The key factor in getting his message across is his performance as Oliver lists the investments, states what happened to them and then makes a humorous remark about why the company was unsuccessful. Including Trump Steaks:
“And not only can you buy them anymore, but why did he sell it at the Sharper Image? That is a weird choice.”
And Trump Mortgage Company, a company that Trump announced would start up in 2006, which was just before the Global Financial Crisis. This particular example Oliver uses characterizes Trump’s business skills as horrible as it is evidence of his inability to make sound business decisions.
Oliver characterises Trump as an unsuccessful businessman, he does this in order to both teach the audience that Trump isn’t as glorious as he makes himself to be, but as well as appeasing his audience and ensuring that all perspectives are seen of Trump before his election.
Using different techniques, CNN and Oliver report Trump’s self-branding scheme as unsuccessful, by creating this image, audiences can lose trust in his campaign and therefore choose not to vote for him.
“The greatest wall you’ve ever seen”: Trump and Immigration Policy
Azari (2016, p. 678) implies that Fox News plays heavily into the Republican Party network assisting in the party’s goals. It is evident though that due to the feud with news anchor Megyn Kelly, the network was “going after Trump, acting in concert with the preferences of other party elites” (Azari, p. 678), however they were unsuccessful in preventing Trump from winning the nomination. So the network has opted for other means of ensuring he isn’t elected. Particular to Trump’s immigration policy the network has exposed readers to Trump’s flaws.
Within the article “Team Trump tries to define immigration policy by contrasting Clinton’s plan,” Joseph Weber positions his readers to view Trump’s immigration policy as unclear. The article does this by pointing out his flaws and by using other sources to clarify his policy.
For instance, he notes Trump’s less severe approach in his “wall” policy due to his need for the minority vote. He also quotes both Trump’s spokeswoman and vice president nominee attempting to justify Trump’s policy. Having the vice president nominee confirming policy details:
“What you heard him describe there, in his usual plainspoken, American way, was a mechanism, not a policy.”
In order to create trust with the public it is a required skilled, as the nominee of the Republican Party, to be clear on his own policy, this creates the image of him being vague and uncertain about important policies that impact not just American society but the world. By outsourcing his information of Trump’s policy and pointing out his flaws, Weber has characterised Trump as being reliant on his team to inform the media of his policy.
Oliver’s “The Wall” report like his original Trump piece positions his audience to view the proposed immigration policy in a humorous light. Within the segment, Oliver’s crew heavily relies on a combination of effectively sourcing other news reports and editing with a sharp comedic timing. Within the introduction of Trump’s wall policy, seventeen seconds of four clips of Trump speaking about his wall was edited together. The clips used all featured Trump self-branding the policy as the “Trump” wall, adding his own flair to the policy and characterising him as narcissistic.
Oliver evaluates his policy choices by using these sourced clips, as the basis for explaining the policy in terms of budgeting. Backing up his position by using all other sources of information to amplify his credibility, such as the Washington Post, which covers this topic with a professional construction economist who creates a rough budget for the wall, which exceeds Trump’s proposed budget exemplifying the illegitimacy of the policy.
The use of credible sources combined with a quick punchy editing style with perfected comedic timing, effectively demonstrate the inconsistencies in Trump’s policy talk. By positioning his viewers to see the flaws, Oliver can potentially sway people to vote (if choosing to vote) against Trump benefitting his neutral to left leaning political agenda.
By both reports exemplifying Donald Trump’s flaws in his strongest policy along with the need for guidance in his policy it is evident that he is characterised and evaluated as an unsuitable president.
“Grab them by the p***y”: Trump and sexual harassment claims
Progressively throughout Trump’s campaign, women have progressively been declaring sexual harassment and sexual misconduct claims against Trump. The campaign had not been shaken by these claims until a recording of Trump in 2005 was exposed, stating that:
“…when you’re a star you can do anything. Grab them by the p***y.”
This was highly controversial, as before this, all of the sexual harassment and sexual misconduct accusations were just claims. This was evidence of Trump’s privileged mentality, in which his fame allows him to touch females without consent.
Since the incident, CNN have incorporated this characteristic into most of their articles, positioning viewers to see Trump as both sexist and immoral. Within the article “Trump: Clinton is behind sexual assault allegations,” reporter Daniella Diaz shapes the article to implying that Hilary Clinton is the victim in the debates.
The article is topped with an edited down video of the debate itself, it is edited so it continuously targets Clinton and her campaign having Trump noting, 7 times, that she was the one organizing the women to speak up about the sexual allegations. The video depicts Clinton as a victim as her reactions are visible, her performance creates sympathy as it feels as though she is holding back emotionally lashing out. The video also does not include her response, making her appear as a silent victim. The article, however, finishes off with Clinton’s response:
“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”
Although this may be a choice in order to keep audiences interested by not having long clips, the piecing of the article allows for Clinton to appear to be a victim but with the addition her quote, also viewed to be fighting for the people. By characterizing Clinton as a victim, it implies that Trump is the culprit. CNN leave their audience understanding there is clear negative press on Trump that he then shifts the blame over to Clinton, victimizing her legitimacy as a presidential candidate.
On the other hand, Fox News’ approach involved not mentioning Clinton at all, potentially due to their predominantly Republican viewership. In the article “Trump slams ‘corrupt’ media, as more women make sexual assault claims,” also uses a video clip, along with listing credible sources to imply that his sexual assault claims are not to be taken so lightly.
The video attached to the article has a footer flashing between three titles “Trump: this whole election is being rigged,” “Trump: Only thing Clinton has going is the media,” and “Trump: Claims against me are horrible lies.” The language of the video both in its footer and Trump’s speech is quite provocative and bound to increase ratings. In comparing CNN’s video footage of the debate, the choice of using a video from one of Trump’s rallies and speaking to his supporters about the incident is specific to the goals of Fox News in creating an article that grabs their audience. Trump’s performance is captivating and charismatic, and as the video plays automatically it grab’s viewer’s attention. As well as grabbing the attention of their audience, the video features clips of Trump claiming that the media is deceiving them about the sexual assault claim. The article juxtaposes this by listing all the recognized claims as sent out to reputable media conglomerates such as the Washington Post, the Times, and so forth. This creates the implication that Trump may be creating conspiracies to dispute the claims.
Finishing off the article with Michelle Obama, a prominent female in politics, opposing his behavior. Along with Barack Obama too opposing Trump’s behavior:
“…Trump was determined to ‘drag this election as low as he can possibly go’ and warned that ‘democracy is on the ballot’ in November.”
By listing the sources and juxtaposing it with the Obamas’ opinions of the sexual assault remarks scandal, the article creates the image of Trump as the culprit of the sexual assault claims.
Although both news entities lean completely opposite in political viewership, both use similar techniques with the editing and sourcing of their video footage along with their choice of quotes to source. The same techniques are used to characterize Trump as a criminal. This benefits both parties as it is evident that both media companies wish for their audiences to see Trump as an unsuitable president.
In most cases, traditional media conglomerates will position their audience with their intended audience’s perspective in order to maintain their ratings or following. The reason for this is to maintain revenue. Although passion for journalism and politics does effect the overall role of journalists underlying everything is revenue, without revenue the companies would not exist. All three entities in this article are basing political agendas on their viewers, in this unstable economy it is unlikely any of the reporters of the companies would attempt to sway their viewers any other way.
Although all three come from different political agendas, all three different forms of journalism characterise and evaluate Trump’s behaviour has unorthodox and not fit for presidency through choices of sources, editing and language used between the different mediums of television, online media and online articles. Although every platform agrees on this, his following is still strong. Scholars have suggested that this is due to his use of “hybrid media campaigning,” (Wells et al. 2016) which is a combination of having previously been a prominent figure in popular media; being more available for press conferences in comparison to his other Republican counterparts; and being more open to using social media without a politically correct filter. His “hybrid media” campaign has set him apart from his other competitors as he has had the ability to connect with the working class in his appearance of being a “blue collar billionaire,” (Wells et al. 2016, p. 670).
John Oliver is very aware of Trump’s approach of understanding that “any press is good press,” by attempting to ignore his campaign for the first couple of months. However, he also notes that reporting on Trump is no longer avoidable due to his position as the front nominee for the Republican Party. So instead of avoiding the topic all three conglomerates choose to position their viewers to see the flaws in his candidacy. Although framing their reports to criticize Trump’s motivations as a candidate, it also proves that Trump’s method of exposing himself in every way (whether it be good or bad) has been effective in his campaign.
More research into different media entities, with different political leanings, and their approach to reporting the election is required in order to understand completely how the media landscape characterises and evaluates Trump’s policy, scandals and overall personality would assist in a broader understanding of how journalism can manipulate voter’s choices.
This article itself may have a political agenda. It’s up to you to decide if you believe it.
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Weber, 2016. ‘Team Trump tries to define immigration policy by contrasting Clinton’s plan,’ FOX News Politics, viewed 22 Oct 2016, <http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/08/29/team-trump-tries-to-define-immigration-policy-by-contrasting-clintons-plan.html>.
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