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Whatever you think of Donald Trump, his presidential campaign, and his first year in office, you can be sure of this: His charges that too much of the Mainstream Media publishes and broadcasts too much fake news will continue – and continue to resonate – as long as their performance in covering a new Gallup survey of the most admired men and women in America keeps typifying their output.
Gallup has asked Americans who they look up to most since the 1940s (for male figures) and since the 1950s (for female figures). As I see it, the 2017 poll’s results were a fascinating mix. They showed that former President Barack Obama and last year’s Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton continued their long strings at the top of their heaps. President Trump came in second on the men’s list – as he has since 2015.
In my view, Gallup played it right in its report on the survey, noting the winners in its lead paragraph and then immediately observing that the Obama and Clinton margins were “much narrower…than in the past.” The firm didn’t highlight that both Democrats’ edge fell at a faster rate than President Trump, but at least its tables made that trend clear.
Few major news organizations followed suit.
USAToday‘s headline, for example, blared, “Barack Obama beats Donald Trump for most admired man, Hillary Clinton tops list again in Gallup poll.” Reporter Ashley May never mentioned their diminishing leads.
CNN.com did better. Its header announced “Gallup: Obama, Hillary Clinton remain most admired” and noted the Obama dip in the second paragraph. But the Clinton fall-off wasn’t reported until the fifth (of ten) paragraphs.
The ABC News headline – “President Trump is America’s second-most admired man, poll finds” – at least accurately reflected the disparaging tone of the full article. “Digital reporter” Karma Allen led off by observing that “President Donald Trump snagged a major legislative victory with the signing of his landmark tax reform bill last week, but he’s still living in his predecessor’s shadow when it comes to public admiration, according to a new poll.”
He continued with the factoid that the results marked “one of the very few times in recent history that an incumbent president hasn’t taken the top spot.” (It’s actually 13 out of 71 times.) And he simply ignored the declining Obama and Clinton numbers.
Bloomberg,com chose as its headline a reasonable “Obama Tops Trump as Most Admired, Gallup Poll of Americans Finds,” but although specifying that the margin was “close,” never mentioned the weakening Obama or Clinton ratings, either. The same held for the article run in Politico.com. The New York Times headline was a similarly accurate “Clinton and Obama Top U.S. Poll on Most Admired People” but the article neglected to include the trend over time as well.
The two worst performances? The Washington Post‘s headline was a gratuitously snarky “Obama beats Trump where it will sting: He’s the most admired man in America.” A graphic made clear the closing Trump-Obama gap, but this development never made it into the article itself. However reporter Philip Bump did consider it important to write that the overall results “coming at this moment, will probably be somewhat galling to Trump.”
Whoever wrote the headlines for the coverage by Long Island’s Newsday seemed like he or she was auditioning for a job at the higher profile Post. “Gallup ‘most admired’ poll is an ‘Obamanation’ for Trump,” was the first description of the survey the paper’s readers saw. The second description, in a subhead? “He just can’t win the popular vote.” The article itself, by William Goldschlag, simply continued in this vein.
But I’d be just as remiss as much of the Mainstream Media by failing to mention journalists who recognized the deteriorating relative Obama and Clinton ratings. So Rachel Koning Beals of Marketwatch.com and Phil Helsel of NBC News, please take richly deserved bows. Let’s all hope your news judgment spreads to many more of your colleagues in the New Year!