Dr. Stephanie A. “Sam” Martin engaged questions about how the media and public have responded to the 2016 presidential election in a recent lecture at the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies.
Dr. Martin, assistant professor of corporate communication and public affairs (CCPA) at SMU, opened the Nov. 16 speech with a simple question to the packed room. “How are you doing?”
In the Time of Trump
Then she began her talk, “American Media and the American Conservatism in the time of Trump,” with remarks about the strange nature of the political movement that led into the election. And in many ways, remains with us.
“It’s still, and seemingly always, happening,” she said. “Every day we wake up, we’re reliving it all over again.”
Dr. Martin is a scholar of public address and political communication. Her research investigates the discourse of conservative social movements in the contemporary United States. As a self-prescribed “political junkie” with 20 years of experience in corporate, media, and political campaigns, Martin frequently appears as an expert commentator and as a consultant for news stories. Among her research goals is to be a “political therapist” who facilitates a healthy discourse between both sides of the political spectrum.
Personal Worldviews Impact Discourse
In this talk on media and conservatism, Professor Martin emphasized the impact of the individual’s worldview. She noted that people do not come to the news with an unbiased viewpoint. They bring a personal worldview and discourse they have filtered concerning the media. They have no shared meaning and the tension felt by the American public in the media following the 2016 election is a result. The political conversation doesn’t make sense to everyone because their worldviews are vastly different and, she believes, the American public reflects this worldview onto the news itself.
She laid out specific context in summarizing the American conservative worldview. Dr. Martin noted a belief in self-reliance, that conservatives see democratic freedom as fulfilled but under threat. Their worldview is deeply market-based and they wholeheartedly embrace the narrative of the traditional American dream.
At times, these conservative values are presented in what is referred to as the mainstream media. When this happens, progressives feel their views are under attack.
The Media Reflects the World
At other times, when progressives’ values get “good” media treatment, conservatives cry foul. It is easy to blame the news for this, but Dr. Martin says the media are not creating the news but reflecting the world back to their viewers. Because worldview predisposes support or dislike, it is hard to bring objectivity to journalism — which is rooted in norms of professionalism. The result is reporting that disagrees with one’s worldview.
Dr. Martin also highlighted what the media does well, and has always done well. News coverage reinforces the status quo, which is to the benefit of both the right and the left.
Media In The Time of Trump
So why has the media been so controversial in the time of Trump? Dr. Martin believes that the media cannot handle a third-party candidate, someone who changes the status quo such as Donald Trump. While he identifies as a Republican, he does not really go by party rules. He is not a “change candidate,” he is a “change the rules candidate,” which makes him dangerous because rules and norms hold the country together.
Martin argued that the media itself had a reckoning in the aftermath of 2016. The media took for granted that Clinton would win and the news reflected that. Clinton was treated aggressively and like a first-year president. While media coverage was overly negative in both cases, it was obsessed with Clinton’s email scandal, to the detriment of other coverage.
Trump was treated less aggressively during the campaign. This is why Martin believes the media obsessively covers his faults during his presidency, which the American conservative worldview cannot stand. In 2017, the media are reporting news that conflicts with the type of world where much of its audience wants to live.
Dr. Martin ended her speech with a call to action. In her classroom, she teaches her students to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. The American public is no different. She said, “Take stock of your worldview, and when you know your personal values and beliefs you can begin to understand someone else’s.”