An Interview with Professor John Carroll, Media Analyst

Danchen Wang sat down with Professor John Carroll to discuss media in this election. Carroll, a respected media analyst, reveals the importance of jumping outside of one’s information universe to gain perspectives from both sides.

Your Twitter bio describes you as a media analyst and a mass communication professor.

I’ve been a media analyst for almost 20 years. I have had three careers. I was in the advertising business. I have been a freelance journalist for 40 years. I was in television journalism for 11 years. And I’ve been here at Boston University for 12 years. What I teach here is really a reflection of the work that I’ve done professionally for a long time.

You are particularly interested in media and politics. How would you evaluate the performance of media in this election?

This has been a very difficult election for the media because there are two unusual candidates in the race. Hillary Clinton has been around for almost 40 years, on the political scene, in a variety of capacities, which the media have resurrected in covering her campaign for president. There is a lot of substance, controversy and history to it. Donald Trump, however, has a long business career but no political history or particular policy positions outside of a few general bumper stickers slogans, which are all extremely vague.

Donald Trump also has a complete disregard for the truth. Many news organizations have openly called him a liar in this campaign, something they almost never do with a political candidate. The news media are normally uncomfortable accusing someone of lying to the public because they feel that it will be perceived as bias on their part. These challenges leave many in the voting public thinking that the news media are favoring one candidate and hindering the other.

The news media are in a lose-lose situation. Generally, I don’t think they’ve done a good job of covering this campaign. I don’t think they’ve served the public well at all. I think they have been caught in between, in decision about what kind of coverage they should have, and they have a desire for ratings, especially for the TV field that is driven by Donald Trump’s TV appeal.

How has social media influenced this election?

I think social media has played a big role in this election, partly because traditional media have covered social media so much. Donald Trump has done a brilliant job on social media. Social media is a natural medium for him to use. During the primary, he was able to dictate the news agenda, throw his opponents on the defensive and use Twitter and Instagram in ways that were a real advantage to him.

The flip side of it is when he picks up his smartphone at three o’clock in the morning and starts retweeting about white supremacists. that did not work out too well, but that also makes social media a significant factor in this election.

How would you compare Clinton’s use of social media to Donald Trump’s?

Clinton’s social media usage is pretty standard and by the book. It’s largely uninspired, but it’s workman like. Donald Trump has flashes of brilliance, partly because he has the mind of a 14 year old which is the perfect mentality for social media.

Could you offer COM students some advice about media’s role in the election? 

Read a lot, read on both sides. Look at the New York Times and a conservative magazine, watch Fox news and watch MSNBC, so that you get a sense of where these people differ in their perspectives. To really have a good sense of what’s going on, you need to pay attention to the people that you don’t agree with.. Go find someone who challenges what you think, take it seriously, and see where you land after that. That’s the best advice I can offer.

danchen-wang_headshotDanchen Wang is a 2nd-year graduate student in the mass communication studies program. Danchen’s journalistic background and acquired academic insights about communication play a key role in her writing style. In her spare time, she enjoys singing, dancing and composing music on her ukulele.

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