Monday, April 25, 2016

Should The Media Start Pretending They Think Trump Supporters Are Knowledgeable And Intelligent?


Journalistic no-no

A friend of mine was incredulous the other day when I pointed out to him that Trump won a majority of New York voters with college degrees. He said in South Carolina Trump lost badly among Republicans with college degrees and New Yorkers voted for him across demographics because of state pride and because of hatred for Ted Cruz. But the fact remains, plenty of Republicans with college educations are voting for Trump in the primary. It shakes the theory that only morons could be possibly be susceptible to his carnival barker messaging and the hateful, bigoted nonsense he spouts. In yesterday's Washington Post Callum Borchers humanized Trump supporters by explaining the dynamics of their relationship with media elites. Short version: media consumers aren't likely to accept a position premised on the fact that they themselves are idiots.

"Trump backers," he postulates, "feel personally offended by coverage that suggests they must be stupid to support him. Insulted, they refuse to accept information presented by media outlets that disrespect them. Think about it: When someone calls you an idiot, then tells you what to do (or not do), do you listen? Even if the instructions are sound, your wounded brain is inclined to tune them out and go the opposite direction. He asked Dominique Brossard, a scientist and co-author of a study about people being less receptive to new information when they are offended.
"It is not surprising Trump supporters refuse to accept critical, fact-based media reports about their candidate if those imply that to be a supporter means being an idiot... I think it is reflecting what we call 'moderated reasoning.' It is actually rare for people to accept fact-based information that goes against their already-formed attitudes. If people have their minds made up about something, they will discount information that contradicts their belief system and will eagerly accept information that supports their point of view. I think this is what we are seeing here."

Now, for the most part, news outlets don't explicitly say Trump supporters are morons. (Though the Huffington Post recently diagnosed a new "syndrome" known as STUPID: Support for Trump's Unreal Policies Infecting the Dumb. But that was an exception. And it was a joke. I think.)

More common are stories that cite the low education levels of many Trump backers. As I've noted before, such articles have referred to Trump voters as “downscale,” “relatively ignorant” and “uninformed.”

There are subtle digs, too. Reports that characterize Trump as a "con artist"-- one of Marco Rubio's favorite labels for the real estate magnate-- also imply something about his fans. After all, who falls for a con? Gullible dopes, of course.

And how many times have journalists (including this one) written some variation of this sentence?

What we mean is that Trump defies the laws of political gravity, leading polls and winning primaries despite conduct that would sink other candidates. It's impressive-- and a big reason he's such an interesting figure. But it's easy to see how such statements could be interpreted differently:
If Trump supporters were smart, they would ditch him at this point. But they're not, so they won't.
Fox News Channel's Howard Kurtz summarized the problem perfectly this week in an interview with the Wrap: "I think it’s pathetic for news organizations that don’t like a particular candidate to slime the candidate’s supporters. It gives fuel to those who think we are a bunch of arrogant elitists."

Intentional or not, critical Trump coverage often does "slime" his supporters in a way that tough reporting on other candidates does not... [T]he media have offended Trump voters, and they're not listening to what we say.

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