Now that Donald Trump is the all-but-certain Republican nominee, the mainstream media has readjusted the orientation of its coverage from the primary to the general election battle against Clinton. Two news stories broke just this week that offer a glimpse into what “preferred narrative” the media plans to pursue in its coverage of Donald Trump and his candidacy.
Both stories were hyped up to feed that preferred narrative about Donald Trump. Both stories turned out to be manufactured and somewhat false.
In the first story, which broke on Monday evening, BuzzFeed reported that a Spanish-language reporter from TV Azteca had been turned away from his interview in Trump Tower after someone caught him speaking Spanish.
There's the evidence. It fits the narrative perfectly: Trump hates Spanish speakers. Why else would he cancel the poor reporter's interview? Politico, Gawker, Salon, Mediaite, the Hill, and others breathlessly ran with the story. As the Latin Times asked rhetorically, “Donald Trump Hates Latinos?”
But after a few hours, reporters began to look at concrete facts instead of “unnamed sources,” and the story began to exhaust itself. The TV Azteca reporter never actually had an interview scheduled.
As it turned out, the reporter was looking to film on site for a story about Trump's headquarters. Denying film access to a campaign HQ is common, but that doesn't fuel the narrative that Trump hates Hispanics in the same way that punishing a reporter for speaking Spanish does. Most outlets ran corrections to their stories, but by then the damage was done.
The other story in question broke a day earlier in the New York Times, an expose on Donald Trump's treatment of women in private, and it wasn't flattering. The opening salvo detailed the story of Rowanne Brewer Lane, who Trump asked to put on a bathing suit and then showed off to others at his pool party. The Times described it as “a debasing face-to-face encounter between Mr. Trump and a young woman he hardly knew.”
But just a day later, that same woman appeared on MSNBC going after the Times story, claiming it misrepresented her perspective:
“I did not have a negative experience with Donald Trump, and I don’t appreciate that I was saying that it was a negative experience.”
That wasn't the end. On Tuesday, another woman quoted in the story - Carrie Prejean, the Miss USA runner up in 2009 - unloaded on the New York Times for inaccurately spinning her words from her book:
"They did take quotes from what I said and they put a negative connotation on it. They spun it to where it appeared negative. I did not have a negative experience with Donald Trump.”
When multiple sources in a story start claiming their views and experiences are being misrepresented, there's a problem.
BuzzFeed and the New York Times went out to find sources or facts that furthered the narrative, using arguments they assume are true - Trump hates Hispanics, Trump hates women - as a starting point for a broader story. There's nothing particularly wrong with narrative journalism in itself. Reporters, just like any human, see and interpret events through a specific lens. Both liberal and conservative media are guilty of it.
But there's a difference between reporting facts that confirm a narrative and distorting facts to force one.