By:
November 4, 2020

Good morning. Or afternoon. Or night. Or whenever you’re reading this. It’s STILL Election Day. This newsletter was wrapped up just before 4 a.m. So be sure to check back at Poynter.org for the latest news. And stay frosty because we might be a long way away from the end of Election Day. With that in mind, here’s the Wednesday (it is Wednesday, right?) newsletter …

Election Day continues — and we shouldn’t be surprised

It’s not like we weren’t warned.

It’s not like we haven’t been told for the past several weeks that Election Day was going to be more like Election Week.

And so as we wake up on this Wednesday morning and we still aren’t sure who will be the next president, we shouldn’t be at all surprised.

And yet here we are: frustrated, anxious, stressed and still uncertain about not only who the president will be, but when he will be named.

“We’re going to be crawling,” NBC News’ Chuck Todd said early this morning.

We wait on votes to be added up in several states, while once again doubting the polls, dismissing the projections and wondering how this is all going to end.

Yet, this is exactly what we expected. Or should have expected.

Just after midnight, CNN’s Jake Tapper said, “I do feel like we’ve been saying for a long time that anything could happen and it’s really going to come down to these three states — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — and that we’re probably not going to know who won those states because of all the early voting the night of election night and all of that is happening. And yet it still feels like people out there didn’t hear us when we were telling them that in previous weeks.”

Maybe it’s because we, generally, are an impatient society. Or maybe we really didn’t believe the warnings that it was going to take longer than it usually has. Unfortunately, we still might have a ways to go if this thing ends up going to court.

During his appearance on MSNBC, former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said, “This is going to be a really, really ugly 24 to 72 hours, something we’ve never seen in American history.”

And about President Donald Trump questioning the validity of the election?

“It’s more bark than bite,” Plouffe said, “but it’s still going to be really hard to watch.”

Turns out it was plenty of bite, too, as I will get into below.

Remember how crazy the 2000 election was because of Florida? Fox Business’ Neil Cavuto put the 2020 election this way: “It could be six times that with six states.”

So what have we watched so far …

How has TV coverage been? Simultaneously impressive and yet misleading at the same time.

As New York Times media columnist Ben Smith tweeted: “I don’t love the way TV presents the numbers but they are genuinely doing a good job, across networks, projecting patience and telling people this will take a while.”

So what is there not to love?

It’s not even necessarily TV’s fault, but the inconsistent way of how votes are tallied in each state puts viewers on a wild roller coaster ride as they watch the networks try to put everything into context. For the most part, the networks do attempt to contextualize the numbers they are presenting, but it’s still almost impossible for viewers to watch what feels like 50 Super Balls bouncing all over the place.

Because of that, it often turns into a frustrating viewing experience. It’s like watching a sporting event — and many analysts used sports analogies during the broadcasts — but having no idea what the score really is and when the game is going to be over. Try as they might, the networks can only work with what the numbers are telling them and, for much of the night, the numbers can often add up to a giant question mark.

But let me also be clear about this: The networks really do shine on election nights. All of them. On Tuesday, the networks practiced patience and incredible skill that was clearly based on detailed preparation even on a night unlike any we’ve ever seen.

Yes, like any election, there were moments when the coverage dragged simply because there was nothing new to report, but those moments were rare.

Here is a look at some of the highlights and lowlights from election night …

Outrage

President Trump speaks early Wednesday morning. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

About two hours after Joe Biden said he was optimistic he would win, President Trump spoke at 2:20 a.m. and essentially declared victory, saying, “Frankly, we did win this election.”

Some networks, including MSNBC and ABC, cut away while Trump was talking to remind viewers that the election was not over and that ballots were still being counted.

On CNN, an incredulous Jake Tapper said, “It is not true that he is winning Pennsylvania or winning Michigan or winning Wisconsin. They are still counting votes. They have literally millions of vote-by-mail ballots that those three states are counting. It very well may be that President Trump ends up winning this election. That might be once the ballots are counted. But what President Trump just said was undemocratic and false and premature. It is not accurate to say that he won. We do not know who won this election.”

On CBS, Norah O’Donnell said, “Well, the president of the United States castrating the facts of the election results that have been reported tonight. Falsely claiming that he has won the election and disenfranchising millions of voters whose ballots have not been counted sadly because of the raging pandemic and the failures of the administration to contain the pandemic. There has been a massive vote-by-mail operation and those votes have not yet been counted. And so we at CBS news can — are not projecting a winner in this presidential race. We will not disenfranchise the millions of voters in those battleground states and the hundreds of thousands in Georgia who also have not had their votes counted.”

On NBC, Savannah Guthrie said, “We’re listening to the president speaking at the White House, but we’ve got to dip in here because there have been several statements that are just frankly not true. The president going through some of the states, stating that he has prevailed in those states, naming Georgia, saying they’re winning Georgia — or that they won Georgia, ‘there’s no way they’ll catch us,’ that they’re winning Pennsylvania, won Michigan. The fact of the matter is those states have not come close to counting all of their votes. There’s still outstanding votes.”

Over on Fox News, Chris Wallace said, “This is an extremely flammable situation and the president just threw a match into it. He hasn’t won these states … the president doesn’t get to say he won states … there’s no question that all these states can continue to count votes.”

On MSNBC, Brian Williams said something similar and told viewers that the election was not over and that no winner had been declared. In fact, even before Trump came out, Williams told viewers that millions of votes remained uncounted and that presidents could not declare themselves the winner of the election.

And after it all, CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale put out this remarkable tweet: “Given the circumstances, those right there might be the most egregious lies Trump has ever told.”

The MVPs

There were two who stood out on election night and they were both map gurus: Steve Kornacki on MSNBC and John King on CNN.

You gotta love those guys. They were working so hard that they surely needed to ice down their right index fingers after all the coverage. The amount of information these guys spit out at such a rapid pace is dizzying. And incredibly impressive.

At one point Tuesday night, even Kornacki got caught up in it all by saying, “I’m pressing all sorts of buttons here.”

Both King and Kornacki hit all the right buttons in the coverage.

Early best line of the night

Just a few moments after 7 p.m., the major networks kicked off their election night coverage and CBS News’ Gayle King immediately fired off the best early line of the night: “People are tired. They just want it to be over — spelled O-V-A-H!”

That was BEFORE we knew how long this was all going to last.

He said it

Trump senior adviser Jason Miller, to NBC News, as it looked like Trump was nailing down Florida and rallying in several other states where polls hinted that Trump would not win: “We’re past the polling aspect. I think one of the stories for tonight is that polling is broken. Polling is like Humpty Dumpty. It’s smashed into a thousand pieces.”

What happened in Florida?

So, you might ask, how did President Trump perform well enough in Miami-Dade County to win the state of Florida? He appeared to have done really well with Latinos.

And why is that? CBS News’ María Elena Salinas explained: “The president’s law and order and anti-socialism messages appear to be resonating with Cuban voters and also with voters from countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela, among others.”

CNN’s Dana Bash said, “The Trump attacks have worked, calling the Democrats socialists worked with people in that area.”

Florida is often considered the bellwether for the country, but maybe it won’t be this time.

“Miami is its own deal,” said Todd, who is from Miami.

What did ‘The Daily’ livestream even cover from 4 to 8 p.m.?

For this post, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Josie Hollingsworth.

I went to tune in to The New York Times’ “The Daily: Election Day Broadcast” (which we covered below) just now and it had ended … more than an hour ago. The broadcast was from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern. I guess they got the calling of Indiana and West Virginia in the broadcast. Maybe Virginia.

I turned to my boyfriend, sad that I missed it, and he said, “What did they even talk about?” Good question. The write-up says “The Daily” host Michael Barbaro and Carolyn Ryan, a deputy managing editor for The Times, were “calling reporters on the ground across the country, as American voters head to the polls.”

Other thoughts that popped into my head on election night coverage:

  • The New York Times’ “needle” — which projected how state races were going constantly throughout the night — took some criticism and, for a while, disappeared from the homepage while some adjustments were made. But it rallied in a big way when, out of nowhere, projected that the state of Georgia was back in play when it seemed as if Trump had put that state away. Sure enough, the Times’ needle was right and Georgia became a close race again after midnight.
  • Networks seemed to be really conservative when making election calls. There used to be a time when networks wanted to be first to make a call on a certain state or race, but Tuesday was notable for how long some networks took on certain states and races, often making calls an hour or more after other outlets made the calls. Clearly, networks wanted to be right instead of first and didn’t want to do the thing you never want to do, and that’s walk back a projection.
  • Hang in there and stay patient. It will be over … eventually.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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