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NAB’s Smith: Election Is Media’s Moment of Self-Reckoning

The NAB CEO and president said Trump supporters have been sending a message the media didn't hear

This article originally appeared in Broadcasting & Cable.

As the country reeled from Tuesday’s election, NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith, a former U.S. Senator, said Wednesday big media didn’t recognize the gravity of Donald Trump’s message because it didn’t listen.

“Fly-over-America sent a message… and a lot of that message was to the media,” Smith said at the NAB Show New York. “They were at a place where they knew the establishment ignored them or didn’t like them.”

“I think our national media members have an opportunity to do some real self-evaluation and look at ways they can include all of the country and not just our own [echo chambers],” he said.

In a conversation with longtime journalist Soledad O’Brien, who currently hosts the Hearst Television political show “Matter of Fact,” Smith said that as a two-term U.S. senator from Oregon, he was always treated fairly by the local broadcast media — and that he sees radio and TV stations as key to giving voice to disenfranchised communities.

Smith said that between a bruising presidential campaign and the rise of skewed and shoddy journalism, it’s incumbent on local broadcasters to expose bloggers and other unqualified journalists “who are somehow self appointed to have equal standing … with The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times.”

“The best way to expose a falsehood is to attack it with a more truthful light,” Smith said.

O’Brien said coverage of the presidential race shows deficiencies in the media — from reporting stories without context, covering “froth” instead of issues and not including a wide range of voices and viewpoints.

“I am trying to figure out what the media can do to help a fractured country come together. And I am not sure I see the solution in how we cover stories,” O’Brien said.

Smith said this year’s election coverage highlighted an aspect of presidential politics that has long been a “frustration” of his (although it could allay some of the concerns stemming from Tuesday’s vote).

“Candidates of both parties campaign as if they are running for dictator. And when I listen to the candidates, I know they don’t have the power to do what they are talking about,” he said.

“They almost have to get rid of the courts, the Congress and the Constitution — they can’t do that,” he said.

“This is a sea of change. But our essential rights are still intact.”