Accuracy in Media

Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post media columnist and former public editor of the New York Times, apparently believes that in their impeachment coverage, journalists should do a better job of being Democratic surrogates than they have so far.

Sullivan praised the Democratic-named witnesses during the impeachment hearings and bemoaned the fact that journalists haven’t moved the needle toward persuading more Americans to support impeachment.

“The diplomats have been inspiring, the legal scholars knowledgeable, the politicians predictable. After endless on-air analysis and written reporting, pundit panels and emergency podcasts, not much has changed. If anything, weeks into the House of Representatives’ public impeachment hearings, Americans’ positions seem to have hardened on whether President Trump should be impeached and removed from office. So, is the media coverage pointless? Are journalists merely shouting into the void?”

Sullivan brainstorm ways that journalists can be more persuasive at attacking President Donald Trump during the impeachment coverage.

“How should journalists respond to the stalemate, other than to keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing?” Sullivan wrote. “The hint of a possible solution appears in the tracking of public opinion on impeachment at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight under the headline, ‘Plenty Of People Are Persuadable On Impeachment.’ A paradox arises herein, and a weird one, at that. There’s a group the trackers call ‘less-certain Republicans’ — about 12 percent of the sample, not huge but given the even split in support for impeachment, mighty important. Here’s the rub: This group is persuadable, but not particularly interested … Rather than providing a catering service for the echo chambers, how might journalism address this important group?”

Sullivan cites a Columbia University journalism professor who suggests “the movie-trailer approach” for journalists that would make pro-impeachment coverage that is more condensed, gripping and entertaining to convince undecided voters to support impeachment.

“Similarly, most people (especially the less convinced or more persuadable) will never watch seven hours in a row of congressional testimony, but, as [the professor notes] notes, ‘many of them would be open to a targeted, well-informed ‘trailer’ approach that is cogently told,’” Sullivan continued. “Despite the hardened positions, some members of the public are still uncertain. Some are persuadable, and yes, it matters. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the job of American journalism in this moment to get serious about trying to reach these citizens.”

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