Oppenheim: Aftermath

Nov 11, 2016

For months, I’d been gauging my view of what would happen in the presidential election based on what I read and learned. I looked at polls. I read the New York Times. I consumed traditional media – and more often than not, trusted it.

After all, my background as a journalist trained me to find reliable sources and data – and make judgments based on those facts. The math told me that Hillary Clinton would win comfortably.

Some relatives of mine weren’t convinced – and insisted things were still uncertain. But I didn’t believe it. Just before Election Day, I gave an interview for a news station and was asked if I thought there was great uncertainty in America. “No,” I opined; that for Clinton, there were many paths to win; far fewer for Donald Trump.

My resistance to reality lasted a while. On election night, a student kept telling me Trump was winning, but I dismissed that information. Then my wife called to tell me Trump was beating all expectations. And I told her Clinton would still win.

Now I not only feel stupid, I feel resentful of a media system that bases so many resources and reporting on polls that are way off. Why was I spending so much of my time studying this if it didn’t mean anything?

The morning after the election, the spokesperson for the Trump campaign, Kellyanne Conway, said a lot of the media reporting had been filled with “conclusions looking for evidence,” a mindset against her candidate.

I think that’s going too far. In fact, at the beginning of the campaign cycle, Trump got a huge assist from the media who loved his showmanship and ability to draw in readers and ratings.

But obviously there was something tone deaf about the polling and the reporting, an inability, in such sophisticated times, to detect the mood and to assess the real story.

In the end, I trusted what I thought was factual. I believed in data I was given. And maybe, like many modern media consumers, I flocked to sources that told me what I wanted to hear. Maybe.

But I think that’s only part of the story. As a member of the pre-election media audience, I feel I got burned. And next time, my job is to be a lot more skeptical.