By:
November 11, 2020

Scared. Unsettled. Stressed. Angry. Nerve-racked. Nauseous.

These are some of the words used to describe how most of us felt in the days leading up to the 2020 election.

But the election has passed. Election Day was more than a week ago. A decisive winner was projected over the weekend.

So what are the words we can now use to describe how many of us feel today?

Scared. Unsettled. Stressed. Angry. Nerve-racked. Nauseous.

Despite projections that Joe Biden won the presidential election and despite no proof of fraud or any other improprieties, President Donald Trump has yet to concede. Making matters tenser, Trump is getting support from many of his Republican allies, like Sens. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And making it even worse, if that’s possible, is that Trump is riling up his followers thanks to help from many in conservative media. That includes several on-air personalities at Fox News and Fox Business, as well as the usual suspects such as radio host Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart.

On one hand, you want to tell responsible media to just ignore all this noise, to block out the shenanigans, to not give these baseless claims any oxygen, to trust that democracy is going to work and to show faith in our election process by not even acknowledging those whose intent is to stir up trouble. There is no evidence supporting any of Trump’s claims. To act as if there might be — or to even report that Trump and others are saying this — needlessly creates doubt and frightens citizens.

To report on such things might, inadvertently, give credence to these allegations, which is exactly what Trump and his team want. The goal seems to be more about creating doubt in the election than actually winning it.

On the other hand, how can one ignore when high-ranking elected officials such as McConnell and Graham, and leading government officials such as Pompeo, are leading these conspiracy theories? How can one just let some of those on a popular network such as Fox News say whatever they want and get away with it even though the suggestion of fraud undermines the country and our democracy? Part of the media’s role in a strong democracy is to be a watchdog, so shouldn’t it be paying close attention to any attempts to weaken that democracy?

It’s a fine line, and I don’t claim to know exactly what the answers are. There’s no indication that Trump will concede at any point or that enough Republicans are going to stomp down Trump’s claims to make it all go away sooner rather than later. There’s also little hope that places such as Fox News and Fox Business will crack down on their primetime personalities to keep them from pumping life into all this garbage. The one person who could do this — Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch — so far and as far as we know has chosen to not get involved, perhaps because he is more interested in ratings than doing the right thing.

Any advice to the media seems wishy-washy and vague, such as: Pay attention, but not too much attention. Don’t ignore it, but also don’t overdo it. Report on what’s said, but overwhelm audiences with facts. Cover it enough to let people know what’s happening, but not enough to make it seem like the election might be rigged.

Like I said, I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure anyone does. But I do know this: The more this junk is reported, the more doubt and angst it creates. Media outlets and consumers need to ask: Who is creating this narrative? Who benefits from all this doubt and angst? Who is hurt by it?

The answers are obvious. The ways for the media to fix it are less obvious.

Our best hope is to remember that this democracy and the process to elect our leaders have worked for more than 200 years. Maybe it’s naive, but we have to have faith that it will work here, too.

For what it’s worth …

On CNN Tuesday, Jake Tapper noted that many Republican officials are publicly backing the president and not acknowledging that Biden won the election. Tapper said, “This is not just cowardly, but dangerous.”

However, Tapper added, “I’ve spent some time today talking to Republican officials on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and what they say is no one out there should worry that our democracy is in actual jeopardy. They say this is all part of walking President Trump through this process emotionally, and that they assume that while he may never concede, he will leave. There will be, they say, a peaceful transition in power to the Biden-Harris administration on Jan. 20. They say that. But they say that on background because they don’t want to upset President Trump and they don’t want to get death threats from his supporters. Now you may or you may not find that reassuring.”

Poynter honors Chris Wallace

Chris Wallace of Fox News. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Tuesday night was a special one for Poynter and journalism. Chris Wallace — whose five-decade career includes stops at ABC, NBC and Fox News, where he has been for the past 17 years — was honored with the 2020 Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism.

Typically, the medal is awarded at a Bowtie Ball in St. Petersburg, Florida, but this year’s event was held virtually because of COVID-19.

In an interview with Poynter president Neil Brown, Wallace talked about the election, working at Fox News and even what it’s like to vacation with George Clooney.

As far as the election, Wallace said, so far, there’s no indication of any voter fraud. He said, barring something unforeseen, that he fully expects Joe Biden to be sworn as the next president in January. He called the current situation with Donald Trump refusing to concede “not normal.”

When talking about Fox News, Wallace noted the difference between the news side of Fox News and the opinion side.

“There’s a firewall there,” Wallace said. “And I would argue more so than the other cable news stations.”

As far as the one person he never interviewed, but wants to? Queen Elizabeth, because she has seen most of the news of the past century.

And, finally, that vacation with George Clooney. They hung out at Lake Como, drinking Italian wine and talking politics. Wallace called Clooney “the smartest person” he had ever met when it came to talking politics.

Previously honored with the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism were Katie Couric, Lester Holt, Judy Woodruff, Tom Brokaw and Bob Schieffer.

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Inside the newsroom

CBS News’ Major Garrett during the network’s election coverage. (Courtesy: CBS News)

Media junkies will really enjoy a podcast put out by CBS News that takes listeners behind the scenes with the network’s election coverage. This 30-minute episode of “The Debrief” starts with Election Day morning and runs all the way through to the moment when CBS News projected Biden as the winner. The pod is hosted by CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett and this episode includes reports from all over the country, from Arizona to Atlanta, as well as the White House to where Biden was in Wilmington, Delaware.

Garrett said in the episode, “All of us gathered on the New York set. It was silent, electric, full of unspoken anticipation, anxiety, the sense that history was moving beneath you, about to propel you and the nation in a new direction. I felt exactly the same way on election night in 2016. It has nothing to do with partisanship. It has everything to do with the votes and voices of Americans and the clarity when it comes to their judgment, their decision.”

Journalist shot and killed

A Mexican journalist was shot just as he was about to go on the air Monday, and later died at the hospital. CNN’s Jack Guy, Tatiana Arias, Natalie Gallón and Kiarinna Parisi reported, “Israel Vázquez, who worked for digital news outlet El Salmantino, was covering a ‘discovery of human remains’ in the city of Salamanca, in the central state of Guanajuato, at the time of the attack.” Vázquez was 31.

In a statement, El Salmantino said, “Today our colleague, Israel Vázquez, while working as a reporter, was the target of a vile and cowardly attack that took his life. All of us who work at El Salmantino condemn not just this one attack, but all of those that occur daily in the city of Salamanca.”

Sadly, attacks on journalists in Mexico are not uncommon. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Mexico as the deadliest country in the world to be a journalist. Vázquez was the third journalist killed in Mexico in less than a month and is believed to be the ninth journalist killed in Mexico this year. Last year, 11 journalists were killed in Mexico, the most of any country.

LA Times settlement

After a summer of reckoning over race, The Los Angeles Times and Tribune Publishing have agreed to pay $3 million to resolve a lawsuit brought on by a group of multiethnic journalists who argued they were paid less than white male staffers.

The Los Angeles Times’ Meg James reported that payment could impact nearly 240 current and former reporters and editors who would be eligible for back pay. James wrote, “Under the settlement, all Black and Latino reporters, copy editors and line editors employed by The Times from Feb. 14, 2015 to Oct. 26, 2020, could receive a portion of the award. All women who worked as reporters and editors during that period could be covered.”

Hot mic

Ken Dilanian, NBC News’ national security and intelligence reporter, had a hot mic moment on MSNBC on Tuesday. Not realizing he was live on the air, he glanced at his phone and let out a couple of R-rated words. (You can see the clip here, but again just to give you a heads up, there’s R-rated language.)

He later tweeted, “So sorry for the profanity I used on air last hour. I was experiencing some technical difficulties and mistakenly hung up on the control room, though my mic still was on. Perils of playing producer, cameraman and tech support all at the same time from home. #2020” He also included an upside-down smiley face emoji.

Normally, this would be the kind of thing that could get a bunch of people up in arms, but with the way this year is going, a couple of muttered curse words is pretty low on the list of things to get fired up about.

Good interview

NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell interviews with Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday. (Courtesy: NBC News)

NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell spoke on Tuesday with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said “help is on the way” following the announcement that Pfizer has an experimental vaccine that shows 90% effectiveness against COVID-19. Fauci told Mitchell that he expects the vaccine to go through the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization process in the next week or two and if authorized, Fauci added, “by the time we get into December, we’ll be able to have doses available for people who are judged to be at the highest priority to get it first.”

Hot type

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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