Election Reporting Varies Widely Across Media: Blue Wave or No Big Deal?

Reuters Aaron P Bernstein

(Reuters/Aaron P Bernstein)

Yesterday, Democrats collected victories in what is being interpreted as a bellwether indictment on Donald Trump. Next year midterms will take place, but the term “blue wave” is already energizing the Resistance base. What can you do to analyze, empathize and act on last night’s results?

Pundits were unsure whether the Resistance would turn into results at the polls. Early indications are that the Resistance is a far broader coalition of people than pundits had realized. The Resistance is not a far-left group exiting on Twitter. They are people of all ages and backgrounds and of all degrees of political intensity that reject Trump and what he and his party stand for.


How is the media covering Election Day?

CNN 11.8.17 Post Election Day

CNN: “The blue sweep

CNN is casting the election in terms of Democrats winning big over Republicans. There are ten stories including the voting trends graphic and Chris Christie clip. Half of them strictly adhere to the political framework.

In the television journalism world, everybody is either a Democrat or a Republican. Why? This is easy to report on. Hire a few pundits who worked for one party or the other and have them answer a question like, “What does this mean?” for a few segments.

The main CNN article – “The blue sweep” is a list of five quick takeaways. Don’t waste your time reading it. Here they are:

  1. The blue wave (rundown of some of the key races Democrats won)
  2. Trumpism without Trump didn’t work
  3. Republicans lost the culture war
  4. Obama and Biden help Democrats
  5. McAuliffe 2020 starts now (CNN immediately readying itself to launch a new campaign narrative)

This style of reporting is also very palatable to advertising. The Dems vs Repubs narrative requires no explanation because it is reported just like a sports game. We all have the mental framework to decipher two teams battling it out.

Fox News has mastered this entertainment journalism. But we use CNN as our example today because this is what Fox’s front page looks like…

Fox News 11.8.17 Post Election Day

Wait, was there an election yesterday?  Squint and look all the way to the bottom, beneath the main stories, and you can see we have highlighted what appears to be Fox’s major coverage (not counting Op-Eds). And no – we did not cut off a slew of election day stories beneath it. The two stories beneath this one are “MEDIA BUZZ: NY Times rips David Boies for ‘betrayal’ in secretly helping Harvey Weinstein” and “Vincent van Gogh painting had grasshopper stuck in it for 128 years.”

See why Fox visitors might think yesterday was pretty inconsequential in politics? Election day was underreported and appears to share equal significance with the Van Gogh grasshopper.

The lone Fox story, “Trump: Virginia voters rejected Gillespie because Gillespie rejected me” is a brief, one-sided defense of Donald Trump. One-sided because the article is built around Trump’s tweet distancing himself from Gillespie. The article ignores other potential reasons for Gillespie’s defeat.

There is also a Fox clip of pundits defending Trump. The rationale is that since Hillary Clinton won Virginia and New Jersey, this election day was not a rebuke.

New York Times & Washington Post

Let’s group these two together because their reporting is nearly identical. Both are pushing the big win for Democrats/big loss for Trump framework. How’s this so different from CNN? It is not, really. But reading either of the main article on NYTimes or WaPo and you’ll see a lot more depth and context than five quick takeaways.

NYTimes 11.8.17 Post Election Day

And The Washington Post:

WaPo 11.8.17 Post Election Day

The articles use a lot of the same verbiage – ex: “low-key campaign” – when recounting last night. The context provided includes a broader overview of the Virginia race, the New Jersey race, the political elements at play in both, the role Trump played, the response from Democrats, the measuring of results with expectations, a breakdown of turnout numbers, etc.


How are those with other viewpoints interpreting the results?

If you’re a political junkie and not a fan of Trump, you are probably ebullient. This is a real political victory. There is a catharsis following the trauma of last year’s election.

CNN interprets this as a win for Democrats. There is little analysis of underlying factors nor what it could really portend in the future. Compare with NYTimes and WaPo where the win is reported, but readers have a better sense of the how and why.

Understanding the how and why is key when attempting to build bridges. Over a million people voted for Republican Ed Gillespie. In sports theater you can shake hands and move on afterwards. But in the real world, an active attempt needs to be made to reach all voters. CNN does not address this reality.

Fox followers may be mostly unaware of yesterday’s results or their implications. They are certainly not buying into the narrative that the country is rejecting Trumpism. The other networks might be exciting themselves over a few small victories, but Fox sees little need to draw larger lessons from that.


What can you do now?

Hopefully yesterday energized people to do a little more. Voting can make a real difference. But there is a lot of work that goes on between November elections to make progress.

First, articulate what yesterday’s results mean to you. Are there policy implications at play now? There are if you live in Maine or Virginia or New Jersey.

Are you inspired to do more? Democrats won in areas they had no business winning in. You can start by voicing an opinion on the House tax reform plan. Here are a few ways to take action on that today.

Are you thinking bigger? Like planning to join or form a community group? Maybe you can start a blog and let The Decoder promote it.

Do you want to reach out to those who felt at loss yesterday? Start by not gloating. Promote the positivity of last night’s elections. Positivity breeds unity and that is the larger goal.


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