Ben Smith makes a very good point here–the media is so obsessed with the horserace and the coverage of election night that it is totally unprepared to deal with the time it will take to count ballots in an election held largely by mail. And that is going to play straight into Trump’s hands.
Picture this Thanksgiving: turkey, football (maybe), tenser-than-usual interactions with relatives. And perhaps a new tradition: finding out who actually won the presidential election.
The coronavirus crisis means that states like Pennsylvania may be counting mail-in ballots for weeks, while President Trump tweets false allegations about fraud. And the last barriers between American democracy and a deep political crisis may be television news and some version of that maddening needle on The New York Times website.
I spoke last week to executives, TV hosts and election analysts across leading American newsrooms, and I was struck by the blithe confidence among some top managers and hosts, who generally said they’ve handled complicated elections before and can do so again. And I was alarmed by the near panic among some of the people paying the closest attention — the analysts and producers trying, and often failing, to get answers from state election officials about how and when they will count the ballots and report results.
“The nerds are freaking out,” said Brandon Finnigan, the founder of Decision Desk HQ, which delivers election results to media outlets. “I don’t think it’s penetrated enough in the average viewer’s mind that there’s not going to be an election night. The usual razzmatazz of a panel sitting around discussing election results — that’s dead,” he said.
But Wolf Blitzer is going to look so official! And Van Jones and James Carville will have takes! What will we do without these august traditions?
All of this plays straight into Trump’s hands of delegitimizing the election and staying in power.