News Networks: Clean Up 2020 Election Coverage and Give Us the #NewsWeDeserve
Voters deserve real reporting and accurate information.
If we have any shot at getting through the 2020 election cycle with better information about the candidates, their positions and the issues, that change has to start now.
In 2016, cable-news networks provided the Trump campaign with billions of dollars’ worth of free media1 and an unchecked platform for spreading its hateful agenda — riddled with misinformation. It was overall a nightmare of over-the-top Trump coverage and sensationalism, marked by racial and gender bias. Attacks on journalists and press freedom hit an all-time high and with local newspapers disappearing across the country, it became harder than ever to find reliable information on local elections.
Meanwhile, the media were all too happy to profit from hate. CNN Worldwide CEO Jeff Zucker called 2016 the “best year ever” for cable news2, and then-CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves said “[The Trump campaign] may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS.”3 😱
We deserve better in 2020. A media that seek to tell the truth, call out lies, and disavow racism, sexism and xenophobia is essential to helping voters make informed decisions at the polls. We’re calling on networks and media-makers to clean up election coverage and provide the #NewsWeDeserve by committing to these changes:
- Challenge candidates to discuss issues that matter to voters
What this looks like: Do not talk to us about emails, outfits, hairstyles or any other distractions. Do talk about racial justice, LGBTQ rights, gender discrimination, gun control, internet rights and other issues that polls overwhelmingly indicate are important to voters. Editors and network leaders must encourage and empower journalists to pursue stories about policy, analysis, historical context and all the factors that shape how this nation is governed.
- Deliver equitable coverage of all candidates
What this looks like: Challenge the status quo by emphasizing coverage of women, people of color and LGBTQ individuals. Stop prioritizing coverage of straight, cisgender white men over other candidates. Focus on substance over stunts. Stop asking offensive questions regarding women candidates' “likeability,” role as mothers or whether they seem “presidential.”
- Protect journalists and press freedom
What this looks like: In 2016, the physical and verbal attacks on journalists not only endangered their lives, they also undermined the public’s right to the information we need to make decisions at the ballot box. We’re calling on candidates to affirm respect for journalists who are trying to do their jobs — and for networks to protect their employees from harassment and abuse, starting by being in strong solidarity with them and supporting their right to ask tough questions, investigate public figures and challenge those in positions of power.
- Stop treating white supremacists as credible sources
What this looks like: Media outlets cannot continue to invite white supremacists on to their shows without naming them as such. Journalists must also provide adequate context about the racial history of the United States and explain that many of the Trump administration’s policies are taking cues from white-supremacist organizations that were considered fringe groups until recently.
- Center the voices and lived experiences of community members, not consultants and political pundits
What this looks like: Covering immigration? Include undocumented immigrants on the panel. Talking about economic policy? Interview people living on low incomes. Enrich 2020’s policy debates by amplifying the voices of the real experts — people who are most impacted by government decisions.
- Value and prioritize the work and leadership of journalists of color
What this looks like: Provide journalists of color with resources, leadership roles and agency to cover important and emerging stories as they see fit. Diversity isn’t enough. While recruiting and hiring candidates of color is a necessary first step, it’s critically important for newsrooms to give journalists of color editorial decision-making, hiring power, and key roles on the air and behind the camera. Be in solidarity with journalists of color against attacks from politicians and the public.
- Fewer Trump tweets, more substance
What this looks like: Trump’s Twitter feed isn’t much more than a steady stream of hate, vitriol and falsehoods designed to stoke hatred against women, people of color and immigrants and delegitimize our democratic institutions. It is up to news networks to resist the urge to constantly amplify his early-morning and late-night ramblings as “breaking news.”
- Support local journalism:
What this looks like: End parachute journalism where national journalists descend into communities, report without context or without supporting local newsrooms, and then leave without thinking about how their coverage affects people. Stop extractive practices where local stories are lifted up nationally without giving credit to on-the-ground reporters who hold close relationships with their communities. If you’re going to report on local issues, support newsrooms closest to the story through collaborative efforts, acknowledge their work, be inclusive of local voices, and think through how your coverage will impact the community.
News and media shape society. Let’s challenge those in power to be more responsible in how they use it. Please endorse our demands to report the #NewsWeDeserve and commit to upending media racism, bias and misinformation as we approach this critical election.
1. “Donald Trump Rode $5 Billion in Free Media to the White House,” The Street, Nov. 20, 2016: https://www.thestreet.com/story/13896916/1/donald-trump-rode-5-billion-in-free-media-to-the-white-house.html.
2. “Jeff Zucker Talks Trump TV and CNN's Ratings Hot Streak: We've ‘Outshined Everybody,’” The Hollywood Reporter, Oct. 27, 2016: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/jeff-zucker-talks-trump-tv-cnns-ratings-hot-streak-weve-shined-everybody-941575
3. “Leslie Moonves on Donald Trump: ‘It May Not Be Good for America, but It's Damn Good for CBS,’” The Hollywood Reporter, Feb. 29, 2016: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/leslie-moonves-donald-trump-may-871464