Here’s Why The Way Mainstream Media Is Reporting On Donald Trump Is A Complete, Total And Utter Screw Up

The only thing worse than Donald Trump himself is what how we report on him reveals about sexism in 2016

Here's Why The Way Mainstream Media Is Reporting On Donald Trump Is A Complete, Total And Utter Screw Up

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

One of the objectives of (good) political journalism and reporting is objectivity: it’s a presentation of facts, often with analysis. When it comes to this year’s US election this part of a journalist’s job description has been pushed to the limit.

How can you report objectively on a situation where someone is saying something which is clearly and categorically wrong? How do you present a presidential candidate who thinks people from Mexico are rapists, wants to ban Muslims from entering America just because and has made uncomfortable and inappropriate insinuations about how attracted he is to his own daughter in a non-partisan way?

This morning Radio 4’s Today programme tried to objectively unpickthe now infamous ‘locker room’ comments which Donald Trump was filmed making about women a few years back.

Trump has been forced to apologise for the way he spoke about women on tape and Radio 4 decided that the right way to approach this news story was to discuss whether or not what he said was really so bad. After all, Nigel Farage has since leapt to the would be President’s defence and said that misogynistic banter is just ‘the kind of thing men do’. According to Farage Trump isn’t sexist, he’s not dangerous, nor is he misogynistic. No. He’s just your regular 'alpha male'.

Just to recap - Trump essentially boasted about sexually assaulting women: ‘you know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.’ He then went on to advocate grabbing women ‘by the pussy’ and gloating about the fact that he can ‘do anything’ he wants because of his celebrity.

Today’s presenter Justin Webb kicked off a discussion about the #trumptapes between Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates and Guardian writer Tim Dowling by saying that we should put the comments in which Trump refers to violent assault ‘to one side’ and take a look at the bigger picture. That, broadly, seemed to be something about men having space to talk about women without 'felling guilty'.

Dowling, when called upon as the voice of males everywhere, sheepishly said ‘please don’t make me defend the men’, fully aware of the false choice he is being asked to make in the interests of an explosive radio argument.

Webb replies ‘someone ought to at least defend the prospect that men will talk about women in this manner but might not necessarily be talking about assaulting them…that’s fair isn’t it?’

‘Well…er…yesss…I think that’s fair but I think you have to draw a line between what Donald Trump said and what you’re talking about…’ Dowling says, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been in a locker room where someone described sexual assault as a kind of past time.’

Webb then went on to say ‘the issue really, Laura, is whether it’s acceptable in 2016 for men together to talk about women in a sexual manner without feeling guilty about it…?’

Was that really the issue here? I have to say, I think not. It seems that much of Twitter agreed; users were quick to commend Bates for not allowing a serious discussion about the violent misogynistic language of the future leader of the free world be turned into a lolzy discussion about ladz and banter.

Bates quite rightly pointed out that men having a space to talk about sex and relationships is not the same as talking about assaulting women. As a woman, waking up and listening to such an absurd discussion it really was a pinch yourself moment. Are we really, seriously, actually still having this conversation?

Bates responded perfectly:

‘It matters – it matters that someone at the * Today* programme has heard these comments – these outrageous comments made by Donald Trump and gone “hey let’s have a safe space where men can say these things about women” – and the reason I say that is because that’s why someone like Donald Trump can say things like this and still be on the verge of becoming the most powerful man in the world because we mitigate it, we downplay it and we brush it under the carpet.’

It’s depressingly predictable and unsurprising that this morning’s Today programme had a male presenters and male editors.

It should be clear to anyone who has watched the tape of Trump saying these things that he is sexist, misogynistic, womanising and comfortable using sexually violent language to degrade women. His words, sadly, will strike a chord with many women who’ve been subjected to similar language, or worse, physically assault and harassment by men like him.

So, why did Today’s presenter try to objectively stage a debate about whether or not Trump could possibly be defended?

Would a similar debate take place on a flagship BBC news programme if we were dealing with racist or homophobic remarks with violent undertones? No, it would not. Would a BBC presenter be suggesting that there should be a space in which people can make those remarks? Highly unlikely. What the incident on Today demonstrates is something that many of us know all too well: misogyny and sexism are still not taken seriously.

Trump has now exposed a sad truth and harsh reality – the extent to which sexism is still enshrined by our big institutions and allowed to thrive. You cannot excuse violent language by calling it ‘banter’. ‘Boys will be boys’ is not an acceptable defence of misogyny and the objectification of women. Such ingrained and insidious sexism still pervades too much of our public and private lives, attempts at defending it in the name of a good debate only further reinforces that.

Today tweeted about the segment once the show ended. They said that Laura Bates had ‘taken [the programme] to task’. She did, but that’s not the point. Is entertainment the goal of journalism? Is provoking a Twitter backlash the sign of a good programme? This was radio truly befitting of Donald Trump's vision for politics: Punch and Judy perfomance.

Radio 4 asked the wrong questions this morning. We shouldn’t be asking whether Trump's 'locker room' comments about kissing women without their consent and grabbing women 'by the pussy' areany way permissible, they are clearly not. We should be looking at the problems of contemporary masculinity - at what drives a man to talk this way. We should be unpicking how a chronic lack of women in public life - both politics and the media - has shaped our society’s value. Finally, we should be talking about why it's dangerous for a man, who wants to be the President of America, to talk about women in an aggressively derogatory way.

Sometimes it's more than OK not to be objective, it's crucial.

You might also be interested in:

How Responses To Angela Eagle's Branding Exposed Labour's Women Problem** **

This Is Why It's So Important To Call Owen Smith Out On His Sexist Language

Your Need To Know On Donald Trump's 'Grab 'Em By The Pussy' Line

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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