By:
October 26, 2020

We are now one week and one day from one of the most contentious — if not THE most contentious — presidential elections in our nation’s modern history.

Many Americans are simply counting down the days to finally get to the end of it all — the hatred, the divisiveness, the bitterness and everything else that has created so much stress during an already stressful 2020. We’ve heard stories of voter suppression, voting fraud, voter intimidation and wild conspiracy theories from groups such as QAnon. Families are divided. Neighborhoods are divided, as you can see by all the yard signs. And, of course, you can’t turn on a TV or watch a YouTube video or go on social media without seeing ads and endorsements.

Many just want it all to be over.

But could the end of the election just be the start of more problems? The headline on the latest piece by The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher says, “The End of Democracy? To Many Americans, the Future Looks Dark If the Other Side Wins.”

Fisher writes, “ … the worry on the right that a Democratic win would plunge the nation into catastrophic socialism and the fear on the left that a Trump victory would produce a turn toward totalitarianism have created ‘a perilous moment — the idea that if the other side wins, we’re in for it,’ said Peter Stearns, a historian of emotions at George Mason University.”

Stearns also told Fisher, “The two sides have come to view each other not as opponents, but as deeply evil. And that’s happening when trust in institutions has collapsed and each group is choosing not to live near each other. It seems there’s no middle ground.”

So should we be worried about the losing side of this election not accepting the results?

Fisher’s story quotes a Washington Post-Schar School poll that said “31% of Biden supporters in Virginia say they would not accept a Trump victory as legitimate and 26% of Trump supporters are similarly unwilling to accept a Biden victory.”

But a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows the majority of Americans will accept the result of the election if their preferred candidate loses. Reuters’ Chris Kahn wrote, “79% of all Americans, including 59% of those who want to re-elect President Donald Trump, will accept a win by Democratic challenger Joe Biden even if they may not support a Biden presidency. Among those Trump supporters who said they would not accept a Biden victory, 16% said they would do something to challenge a Democratic win such as protesting in public or resorting to violence. The poll also found that 73% of Americans, including 57% of Biden supporters, would similarly accept a Trump victory. Among those who said they would not accept a Trump win, 22% said they would take action to challenge the result.”

So what about the next eight days? What should media consumers consume?

First, consider the sources of what you watch and what you read. Do they have an agenda? Do they want you to distrust the results of the election? Do they have a rooting interest in who is the president on Jan. 20 of next year?

If so, avoid them for the next week. Follow trusted news outlets. Pass up punditry in favor of fact-based stories. Read fewer columns and more news stories.

Concentrate on facts, not opinions.

And remember: It’s almost over.

The “60 Minutes” interview

President Trump being interviewed by “60 Minutes” Lesley Stahl. (Courtesy: CBS News)

“60 Minutes” aired its Donald Trump interview on Sunday night — the interview that Trump leaked on his social media feeds last week because he was upset with the questions asked by “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl.

About the controversy of Trump posting the interview ahead of the program, Stahl said on air, “But, in what has become an all-too-public dustup, the conversation was cut short. It began politely, but ended, regrettably, contentiously.”

Her questions didn’t seem all that tough, really, but she did press him on the coronavirus response, as well as the economy. All in all, it really wasn’t that productive of an interview, but I wouldn’t blame Stahl for that, mostly because she was stuck between choices: ask as many questions as possible and let Trump answer however he wished or call Trump out for misleading and wrong statements.

Stahl made what I think was the correct choice of calling Trump out and trying to do real-time fact-checking. What she didn’t know would happen is that Trump would cut their interview short of the agreed-upon time. After Trump walked out, Stahl even said that she had questions she didn’t get to.

Meanwhile, “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell interviewed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for “60 Minutes.” It was far less contentious than Stahl’s interview with Trump. Biden did not walk out.

The Wall Street Journal and the good stuff

Ben Smith has a must-read column in The New York Times, and it points out Wall Street Journal work that should be applauded.

Earlier this month, in a desperate attempt to change the direction of the election, some of President Trump’s team were looking for a news outlet to deliver a story that they thought would damage Biden’s campaign. The goal: give someone emails detailing Hunter Biden’s business activities and then put them in touch with Hunter Biden’s former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, who would say that Joe Biden was “aware of, and profited from, his son’s activities.”

The team picked a reputable news outlet — The Wall Street Journal. But the Journal did what responsible news outlets do. They did their own reporting. But because the Journal spent so much time doing the proper vetting, some Trump team members, especially Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, started getting anxious. Giuliani then leaked a version of the story to the New York Post. Trump hinted that the Journal was working on an important piece. But when the Journal finally published its piece, this was the line that was news: “Corporate records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden.”

Smith wrote that the “failed attempt to sway the election is partly just another story revealing the chaotic, threadbare quality of the Trump operation — a far cry from the coordinated ‘disinformation’ machinery feared by liberals. But it’s also about a larger shift in the American media, one in which the gatekeepers appear to have returned after a long absence.”

Smith wrote that traditional media had been suffering from a crisis of confidence, that social media and people like Julian Assange and James Comey were driving the news cycle more than major news outlets.

“But the last two weeks have proved the opposite: that the old gatekeepers, like The Journal, can still control the agenda,” Smith wrote, “It turns out there is a big difference between WikiLeaks and establishment media coverage of WikiLeaks, a difference between a Trump tweet and an article about it, even between an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal suggesting Joe Biden had done bad things, and a news article that didn’t reach that conclusion.”

The Wall Street Journal and the not-so-good stuff

There has been some turmoil at the Journal in recent weeks. While the news section couldn’t find any connection to Joe Biden and his son’s foreign business dealings, Journal columnist Kimberley A. Strassel seemed to be all in on what Bobulinski was claiming.

That was just the latest example of tensions between the news and opinion sections at the Journal. The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote, “In the Journal’s case, there’s an ongoing civil war between its news staff and its opinion side, as well as a wider war among news organizations controlled by the family of media baron Rupert Murdoch.”

Farhi pointed out that in July, more than 280 employees at the Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones, protested what they said was the spread of misinformation by the paper’s opinion pages. The employees wrote, “Opinion’s lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources. Many readers already cannot tell the difference between reporting and Opinion. And from those who know of the divide, reporters nonetheless face questions about the Journal’s accuracy and fairness because of errors published in opinion.”

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News obtained an internal Wall Street Journal report that showed the Journal’s latest problems — such as, BuzzFeed writes, “not covering racial issues because reporters are afraid to mention them to editors, playing to the limited interests of its aging core audience, at times losing more subscribers than it takes in, and favoring ‘a print edition that lands in the recycling bin.’”

Also in the report was employees questioning whether Journal editors understood the internet and its readers, and whether or not the Journal focuses too much on long-term older male subscribers instead of the younger audiences that will be key to the news outlet’s future.

The report read, “Here’s the bottom line: if we want to grow to 5.5 million digital subscribers, and if we continue with churn, traffic and digital growth about where they are today — it will take us on the order of 22 years.”

Vote for the ‘wretched human being’

The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, came out with its presidential endorsement on Sunday. It started by calling President Trump “a bully and a bigot.”

It wrote, “He is symptomatic of a widening partisan divide in the country.” It also wrote, “The list of Trump’s offenses is long. He panders to racists and prevents sensible immigration reform in a nation built on immigrant labor and intellect. He tweets conspiracy theories. He’s cavalier about COVID-19 and has led poorly through the pandemic. He seeks to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without proposing a replacement. He denies climate change.”

So who is The Spokesman-Review endorsing for president? Donald Trump.

Despite all its criticisms of Trump, publisher William Stacey Cowles, who is the one who selected the endorsement, wrote, “We recommend voting for him anyway because the policies that Joe Biden and his progressive supporters would impose on the nation would be worse.”

The publisher wrote that after four years of Trump, “the nation is still standing. Indeed, in many ways it flourished until the pandemic upended everything.”

The endorsement went on to say, “This is an election that pits a wretched human being whose policies and instincts for helping America thrive are generally correct against a doddering, doting uncle who would hand out gifts the nation can’t afford in order to win people’s love. Given that choice, economic policy and principle should prevail. Vote for Donald Trump.”

On the other hand …

The conservative-leaning editorial board of the New Hampshire Union Leader is endorsing Joe Biden for president, making it the first time it has endorsed a Democrat in more than 100 years.

The editorial board wrote, “Joe Biden may not be the president we want, but in 2020 he is the president we desperately need. He will be a president to bring people together and right the ship of state.” The board also wrote, “President Trump is not always 100 percent wrong, but he is 100 percent wrong for America.”

Call of the weekend

Tampa Bay Rays’ Brett Phillips celebrates the game-winning hit against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Saturday night’s Game 4 of the World Series had one of the craziest, most dramatic, best endings in baseball history to cap one of the craziest, most dramatic, best World Series games ever. It ended with a two-out hit followed by two errors that allowed the Tampa Bay Rays to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-7. I include the clip here just so you can see the sensational call by Fox Sports’ Joe Buck. I’ve said it before and will keep saying it: Not many people are better at their job than Joe Buck is at calling sports.

Also, the direction and camera work were exemplary. In 52 seconds, there were cuts to 16 camera angles and each helped tell the story in superb fashion. This sports minute was masterful all around.

Media tidbits

  • The Senate is expected to vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation today. It will be close, but Barrett is expected to be confirmed — just a month after she was nominated and, more notably, eight days before the presidential election. But The Washington Post editorial board is pushing for a no vote. And The New York Times’ Kara Swisher writes, “Amy Coney Barrett’s Rise Is a Threat to Families Like Mine.”
  • Late-breaking news on Sunday: The New York Times reported that the president of Fox News and several of the network’s top anchors were advised to quarantine after being exposed to someone on a private flight who later tested positive for the coronavirus. The Times reported that those potentially exposed were Fox News Media president Jay Wallace, anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, and “The Five” hosts Dana Perino and Juan Williams. A network representative would not confirm any details to the Times.
  • Most significant quote on the Sunday morning news shows: White House chief of staff Mark Meadows telling CNN’s Jake Tapper, “We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.” When Tapper asked why we are not going to control the pandemic, Meadows said, “Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.” Here’s the clip.
  • Grant Wahl was let go as Sports Illustrated’s soccer writer after heavily criticizing SI’s owners last spring. But now he’s coming back to write three long-form stories for Sports Illustrated. Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz has the details.

Hot type

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

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Correction: Endorsements at The Spokesman-Review are made solely by the publisher. 

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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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