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IU Poynter Chair examines equivalent coverage during the 2016 presidential election

Oct. 4, 2016

Is it responsible for journalists covering the presidential election to give equivalent coverage to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton?

That’s one of the questions Roger Cohen, internationally acclaimed journalist and award-winning author, has been mulling over. 

Roger Cohen

Roger Cohen | PHOTO COURTESY OF ROGER COHEN

As the inaugural IU Poynter Chair, Cohen hopes those who attend his lecture titled "False Equivalence: Is Media Balance a Trap in an Atypical Election?" will leave with their own questions to ponder. 

“Any good lecture, like any good column, provokes people into reflection and hopefully reflection outside your comfort zone,” Cohen said.

At 7 p.m. on Oct. 6 in the Maurer School of Law Moot Court Room, Cohen will talk about the way journalists traditionally give equal coverage to each candidate during an election and what makes the 2016 presidential election untraditional.

Cohen, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated columnist on international affairs and diplomacy for The New York Times and the International New York Times, believes Trump has operated outside the traditional frame for someone so close to taking up residency at the White House.

“He lies; he doesn’t reveal his tax return, thinks torture should be a prominent part of diplomacy,” he said. “If Trump has moved outside the frame, should journalists do that too? What is appropriate coverage in that context and what constitutes balance in that context?”

The way journalists cover the election could have a real influence on voter perspectives, Cohen suggests.

“Why was Trump a known quantity going into this election? He was a TV personality. I think TV and print, probably to a lesser degree, do have an impact on the way people think,” he said.

At the same time, Cohen believes people tend to consume news media that already reflect their own personal opinion, an issue that creates even more questions.

“All the outpourings of a liberal newspaper like mine -- is that just preaching to the choir or does it cause people to change their mind?” Cohen said. “To what degree have spectacle and politics simply merged? Are we living now in a society where facts count much less? People don’t care about the facts? If so, why?”

In addition to Cohen’s lecture this fall, he will also return in the spring semester under the Poynter Center's auspices to work for several days with faculty and students.

Cohen’s lecture and work with IU in the spring align with the Poynter Center’s mission to explore intersections between ethics, media and public institutions. 

At the lecture, there will be overflow room with a video screen in room 122 of the Maurer School of Law. Cohen’s books will be on sale from 5 to 7 p.m. outside the Moot Court Room. If you’re interested in asking Cohen a question, email it to jdcummin@iu.edu before the lecture. Can’t attend Cohen’s lecture? Watch it in real time via IU’s web streaming portal.

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