Oliver Callan casts a wry eye on US election comedy show
Our own media has questions to answer about coverage of the last election
The US election is a straight-to-video movie that can only be rescued by Kurt Russell in an eye-patch, walking from a slow-mo fireball as parts of Trump-Hillary rain down to the beat of electro synth. The cast of Cocoon proved past their best in one dimensional roles with a script so predictable and sexist it could’ve been written by a teenage Michael Bay. Still, the make-up effects were incredible.
This presidential race has brought out the worst in everyone. American newspapers have a long history of endorsing candidates but even those who don’t broke with tradition. USA Today told readers “Don’t vote for Trump” after 34 years of neutrality. Richard Benedetto, a retired USA Today White House correspondent said it was a violation of its founding principle to build public trust by presenting the news as objectively as possible.
Clinton endorsementNew York TimesWashington PostHillary ClintonMitt Romney
The Clintons’ sins have been widely reported but less prominently than Trump’s more clickable meltdowns and tantrums. Even by Hillary’s standards, her distinct type of batsh*t crazy looks bland compared to Trump’s octo-gropey-shambles.
The aversion to criticising Hillary is so pronounced, even most late-night talk show jokes aimed at her are at the expense of Bill. The biggest winner has been the president. Barack Obama’s approval rating is 55 per cent, 10 points higher than this time last year. Although still president, his wind-down is like that of a retiring entertainer, including a spoof interview in a Stephen Colbert sketch this week.
There is a media consensus that a Trump president would be dangerous for America and the world. Such a powerful consensus is damaging to democracy and to journalism. The flaws of the candidate should speak for themselves through objective reporting.
There were consistent headline attacks on Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald and the party’s policies on crime. Adams’ poor handling of economic questions were highlighted while Enda Kenny’s renowned weakness on the same topic was ignored. Subjective articles on Adams’s performance in debates were passed off as hard news. The agenda greatly affected the outcome as the party failed to replicate its opinion poll numbers in the election.
Around the same time as the election, an Edelman survey showed trust in media surprisingly grew from 31 per cent to 39 per cent since 2015. That level of trust rose to 49 per cent among those with higher salaries and a university degree who regularly consume media. They’re also more inclined to vote. The anti-Sinn Féin agenda was undoubtedly significant. Replicated across media groups that rarely unify, it meant that other entities, perhaps Fianna Fáil and Independents, were subject to less scrutiny and thus benefited.
This is not simply a pro-Sinn Féin argument, but a plea for better journalism. The quality of the profession is in brisk decline. The rise of new media has put a pressure on journalists to behave more like celebrities in a way that runs contrary to ethical reporting. As RTÉ, TV3 and UTV Ireland continue to commission documentaries fronted by celebrities with no training in fact-finding and objectivity, it’s no wonder journalists have to promote themselves in unseemly fashion.
Alan PartridgeAlan Partridge
The degeneration of trustworthy media has not gone unnoticed by a public hungry for truth. This desire has made stars of satirists like John Oliver and led to a growth in fact-checking and myth-debunking websites. They may not have the mass appeal of Kardashian-flavoured-brain-ice-cream, but their niche market is strong enough to give it life. To an Irish audience, US politics and an overtly partisan media might feel like an off-colour comedy show. Just don’t forget we provide plenty of material over here too.
Oliver Callan is a satirist and impressionist