The Media's Role In Calling An Election

Sep 14, 2020

As we look forward to potentially unprecedented numbers of mail-in ballots in November, should we be preparing for an election night that may not produce a winner? We talk about the history of election results, and the media’s role in reporting them during an unusual election.


Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for the Washington Post. (@sulliview)

Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News.

From The Reading List

Washington Post: Here’s what the media must do to fend off an election-night disaster” — “I learned about the hazards of election night the hard way. In late 2000, only a year into my job as the Buffalo News’s top editor, I had to make the high-anxiety wee-hours decision about a main headline for the paper’s first Wednesday morning print editions. The problem was that no one knew for certain whether it was George W. Bush or Al Gore who had won the presidential race.”

NPR: “The Night A Computer Predicted The Next President” — “Some milestone moments in journalism converged 60 years ago on election night in the run between Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democratic Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson.”

Vanity Fair: Is America ready to wait for 2020 election results?” — “News executives and TV anchors have begun to prepare the public for the likelihood that the election won’t be settled in a night, as is traditionally the case, but could take a week — or several — to wrap up, given the expected increase in mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. Sally Buzbee, executive editor of the Associated Press, told CNN’s Brian Stelter that her organization’s goal is to be ‘clear and factual and transparent’ in determining the winner.”

Chicago Tribune: “TV coverage of Bush v. Gore is a scary reminder of what can go wrong on election night” — “It was well past 3 a.m. ET on Nov. 8, 2000, when NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw looked into a camera on his network’s election night set and delivered what is likely the most humbling remark to come from a television journalist.”

CNBC: Election officials warn it could take weeks to determine results in November” — “While President Donald Trump continues to drive unsubstantiated claims that increased vote-by-mail efforts this year will lead to voter fraud, election officials warn of another, far likelier threat: delayed results. What’s typically regarded as election night could drag on for a week or longer as the coronavirus pandemic changes voting habits and as a crisis at the U.S. Postal Service threatens to disrupt mail-in ballot delivery, experts warn.”

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