I. Introduction: What Happened? The “Glass” or the “Paper” Ceiling?

The 2016 United States Presidential Election will go down in history as one of the most turbulent elections in American History. A quick Google Search yield a plethora of lists containing various books seeking to describe the outcome of the election: lists such as the one by the Washington Post promise that “from memoir and philosophy to policy and dystopia, these works help us understand Clinton and Trump as well as their parties, supporters and detractors.” The political drama of the election left no one unscathed, from the DNC to Bernie Sanders, to the media itself.  

The role of the media in the 2016 Presidential Election is complicated and nuanced. There are those that think the media always favored Clinton, viewing the race through the myopic perception that she would always win. Other believed that Trump was favored through more media coverage, and in the world of entertainment (and politics, apparently), all news coverage is good news coverage. The Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, writes that 

His policy stands got more press attention than is usually the case.They took up 12 percent of his coverage (see Figure 10). Trump’s way of talking about the issues was the reason they captured journalists’ attention. Although his stand on undocumented immigrants was not all that different in its provisions than that of several other Republican contenders, including Ted Cruz, Trump’s words made it newsworthy.  Immigrants were “rapists,” “murderers,” “terrorists.”

The truth about how the media covered 2016 is, as one would suspect, more complicated then a simple her or him, Clinton or Trump, us versus them perspective. The candidates being covered in the election were monoliths in their respect fields: Clinton, a well known and controversial female politician, and Trump, a well know and controversial business man who shifted the Overton Window (the theory that all “socially acceptable” behaviors in society are relative, and can be shifted in different directions depending on the events of the status quo) to the right. 

One aspect that is discussed, although seldom analyzed through a theoretical lens to explain its relevance, is that the media had a bias against Clinton because she was a women. There are many books and articles aiming to prove that the media was biased, with Clinton’s own What Happened citing this a key contribution to her loss, but there is significantly less literature explaining why this media bias would happen in the first place. Furthermore, while many pundits and political analysts agree that the outcome of the election was gendered, the role of the media in contributing to this gendered outcome is less explored, and takes on a hypothetical tone.

This paper’s overarching goal is to contribute to analysis of the 2016 Presidential Election, and the media bias that existed within it. Whilst many papers take a “revisionary” or “post-mortem” approach, this paper will instead utilize a theoretical framework to explore why the coverage of 2016 was gendered in nature, citing relevant articles and coverage as case studies to support the theory. Principally, three major questions will hopefully be answered: 

  1. How was Hillary Clinton’s news coverage an example of the “Double Bind,” and to what extent did it alter the media’s coverage of her campaign? 
  2. Why did the media focus on Donald Trump, and why did this aid his campaign? 
  3. How does the media’s overconfidence in polls reveal its inability to perceive their own biases? 

These questions will build up to conclude where the media’s biases stood in 2016, and how they contributed to the downfall of the Clinton campaign.