Reporting on U.S. Elections: Tips from Our Newsletter

Last Updated June 2024

The guidance below collects the thoughts, tips, and must-reads about reporting on U.S. elections published in our weekly newsletter, Revisions. The information is presented in roughly chronological order, has been edited for clarity, and is updated where necessary.

Reframing Headlines

January 20, 2022

On January 19, 2022, the U.S. Senate failed to advance legislation to expand voting access and a change to Senate rules that would allow the legislation to pass failed by a 52-48 margin. All of the Republicans in the Senate, as well as two Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, made this happen. As with any big news event, it’s critical that reporting on this centers both those responsible for the action in question and who those actions will impact.

Senate Democrats suffer defeat on voting rights after vote to change rules fails

The headline above, from CNN, focuses the story on Democrats’ “defeat.” This plays into the politics-as-spectator-sport framing of legislation that erases the very real people who are impacted by the actions of Congress as if it’s all just a game. (Were Democrats defeated, or were voting rights for the entire country defeated?) It also obscures the Republican party’s prominent role in the outcome of last night’s debate by assigning no actor to the failed vote.

Senate Republicans block voting rights bills, join with two Democrats to prevent filibuster change

By contrast, this headline from CNBC, properly positions the actor and the act: Republicans blocked the voting rights bills alongside Sinema and Manchin. While it’s certainly relevant that two Democrats also blocked these bills, the emphasis should be on Senate Republicans. The press often takes for granted that all legislation should split along party lines and thus focuses on outliers who cross the aisle. In reality, any of the 50 Senate Republicans could have chosen to alter Senate rules to expand voting rights and chose not to, and in news coverage those 50 should receive as much responsibility for this outcome as Sinema and Manchin.

 

February 3, 2022

The New York Times reported that, after the 2020 election, Donald Trump asked his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, “to ask the Department of Homeland Security if it could legally take control of voting machines in key swing states.” That, apparently, was after asking the Attorney General if the Justice Department could do it.

So it sounds like the former president had quite a specific, prominent role in the attempt to seize voting machines: asking those on his team to do something completely unprecedented in U.S. democracy. It’s curious that the Times would describe it so vaguely in their headline, above. We always prefer precision here, making the Guardian’s reporting on the Times’ discovery, below, a better option.

 

October 20, 2022

Florida police cameras show August arrests for alleged voter fraud

The headline above, from CNN, is from a report on newly released body camera footage of the arrests of Florida residents who allegedly committed voter fraud in 2020. Those facts — footage was released, residents were arrested, and for those alleged crimes — are true. But they don’t tell the whole story.

These arrests were the work of the new Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security created by Governor Ron DeSantis this year. In some cases, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, the arrests are clearly the result of a confusing rollout of a 2018 state constitutional amendment restoring the right to vote for many felons. It’s also unclear whether any of those arrested willfully committed fraud, which is how the state law defines the crime. These arrests also happened just hours before a press conference DeSantis led to promote this new initiative.

The headline from CBS News below paints a fuller picture of what’s going on here. It attributes the arrests to the work of DeSantis, hinting at the aforementioned context, and underlines the confusion at the center of the events. As always, the more context, the better for the audience.Body camera footage reveals confusion over Florida Gov. DeSantis' voter fraud arrests

 

October 27, 2022

Earlier this week, Senate candidates John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz participated in a live televised debate. The fact that Fetterman is recovering from a stroke he experienced in May was front and center in a lot of debate coverage. His speech and auditory processing were affected by the stroke which, as much-discussed after a recent NBC News interview, means he has used closed captioning accommodations for such events.Fetterman, showing the effects of his stroke, battled Oz in a hostile Senate debate

Of course one’s presentation during a live debate will factor into how audiences interpret the “winner” — Nixon vs. Kennedy taught us that. But journalists have an incalculable impact on public discourse surrounding political events. That’s why it’s important that we don’t put our thumbs on the scale by centering style over substance, as the headline from The New York Times’ live blog above exemplifies.

Fetterman’s recovery is part of his campaign story, so it’s no surprise its impact on a live debate would be part of the conversation. But, considering his primary care physician has attested to Fetterman’s fitness for office, a focus on his disability in coverage has very little purpose besides advancing harmful ableist narratives. As reporter Michael Hobbes pointed out on Twitter, this type of coverage also encourages voters to focus more on optics than impact.

A headline from The Philadelphia Inquirer’s live blog below gets it right by focusing on the issues and policies Fetterman and Oz discussed. That’s what debates are for, after all: determining candidates’ standings on the issues that impact voters — not their style of speech.

Pa. Senate debate: Fetterman and Oz faced off on economic issues, abortion in first and only debate

 

November 3, 2022

The Fed is likely to trigger another historic interest rate hike today. That's a problem for Biden.

Before the U.S. Federal Reserve raised target interest rates in November 2022, CNN and CBS News both previewed the change online. The headline above was featured on CNN’s homepage the afternoon of the announcement. It gets the main point right, of course — the “hike” was historic. But it frames the event as “a problem for Biden,” presumably in that it would impact his approval ratings or his party’s election chances.

That may be true, of course, and considering November’s elections it may even be a relevant point to some. But, as research has shown, reporting that frames public issues as just fodder for the political game sows distrust among the public — in both the news and politicians.

CBS News’s take, below, not only piques the interest of the public by being service-oriented. It also reframes the Fed’s move as one that impacts people over politics. Yes, everything is political; but erasing voters from the conversation is just plain bad for civic engagement.The Fed is set to boost rates again. Here's the impact on your finances.

 

April 20, 2023

Fox Will Pay $787.5 Million to Settle Defamation Suit

Earlier this week, Fox settled with Dominion Voting Systems in a defamation suit over coverage that spread misinformation about the 2020 election. The false coverage included stating that Dominion’s machines were faulty and “flipped” votes from Trump to Biden. In the lead up to the trial, depositions revealed that Fox executives and anchors knew they were peddling falsehoods about a “stolen” election.

While the above headline from the New York Times is accurate, I much prefer the one below from CNN. It sure is lengthy, but it explains the timing of the settlement, why it was made, and what the suit was about. The Times headline doesn’t even mention who sued Fox, let alone what defamation was alleged. All of this is very important context.

I’ll also give an honorable mention to a headline from The Intercept, below. The report explains how cable payments from viewers who don’t watch Fox subsidize the network. A similar headline could have been written about how this settlement will prove to be a huge tax break for Fox, as well. U.S. residents pay in more ways than one.

HO’S PAYING FOX’S $787.5 MILLION SETTLEMENT WITH DOMINION? YOU ARE!

 

November 16, 2023

In Veterans Day Speech, Trump Promises to ‘Root Out’ the Left

Donald Trump's use of the word 'vermin' draws more comparisons to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini

Would you believe me if I told you the two headlines above, the first from the New York Times and the second from USA Today, were about the same speech?

Well, it’s the truth. The full quote from Trump’s speech was:

“We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections. They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.”

“Root out” in this context is damning enough; it’s Trump wanting to round up people he doesn’t like, which is dangerous rhetoric for any public figure to spout, let alone a presidential candidate. (I could also write an essay on the Times summarizing “communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical left” as “the Left” but I digress.) However, there’s a reason USA Today and other outlets below highlighted the word “vermin.”

The dehumanization of political enemies and marginalized groups by calling them vermin, rodents, animals, and other objects of extermination is a well-worn authoritarian tactic. The goal of such rhetoric is to prime an audience to believe a group is less than human, to devalue their lives, so that violence and atrocities committed against them are accepted and normalized.

This is a point I wish all coverage of this event made more strongly: the key takeaway here is not that this speech is simply reminiscent of violent dictatorships, but that this type of speech has been a tool in forming those dictatorships.

I’m glad USA Today referenced that Hitler and Mussolini used similar language. I don’t love, however, the phrase “draws more comparisons” in this headline because it attributes this comparison to anonymous others, instead of the newsroom or journalist connecting the dots for us (as is their duty in a high-information, low-trust environment). The Washington Post’s version, below, uses “echoing dictators” instead. This declarative phrasing doesn’t shuck attribution to a third party but lets it stand as a statement of fact. (See the Quote of the Week below for more on this topic.)

Trump calls political enemies ‘vermin,’ echoing dictators Hitler, Mussolini

My nominee for best headline about this speech, however, is Vanity Fair’s, below. It pulls no punches by summarizing not only Trump’s word choices but also his pledged plans for a second term. Most importantly, it adds the context we all need by naming this plan a wish to “Go Full Authoritarian.”

Traditional journalism edicts might suggest that if we provide “just the facts,” audiences will understand the meaning of those facts of their own accord. This isn’t a fair assumption in the highly saturated media ecosystem in which we live. Journalists need to provide the historical connections and context whenever and wherever we can — because we have it and, unlike other professions, we have the means to disseminate it. It’s all part of the job.

Detention Camps, “Vermin” Rivals, and a Government Purge: Trump Wants to Go Full Authoritarian

 

January 18, 2024

Early this morning, Donald Trump wrote the following in a long post on Truth Social:

“EVEN EVENTS THAT ‘CROSS THE LINE’ MUST FALL UNDER TOTAL IMMUNITY, OR IT WILL BE YEARS OF TRAUMA TRYING TO DETERMINE GOOD FROM BAD” … “ALL PRESIDENTS MUST HAVE COMPLETE & TOTAL PRESIDENTIAL IMMUNITY, OR THE AUTHORITY & DECISIVENESS OF A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES WILL BE STRIPPED & GONE FOREVER.”

It is absolutely chilling that the likely GOP nominee for President of the United States is publicly demanding for presidents to have complete criminal immunity, which they do not have and, in a functioning democracy, should not have. It’s especially concerning considering Trump himself is currently facing 91 criminal charges. The phrase “cross the line” adds an ominous tone to this, to say the least — does this imply the use of violence? Where is the “line”?

In my opinion, this should be front page news — it is incredibly alarming, far outside of the norm for a presidential candidate, and a direct threat to democracy. However, when I checked a few times this morning and at the time of publishing, I found no notice of this statement on the homepages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, or CNN.

Trump warns of ‘years of trauma’ if presidents don’t have ‘total immunity’

Of the headlines I did come across, I was struck by The Hill’s, above. Leading with Trump’s “warning” and structuring the sentences as a cause-and-effect accepts his premise that the current lack of presidential immunity will have negative consequences. This is not provable or, thus far, true. All in all, it glosses over his outrageous demand for immunity.

Trump Says Presidents Should Be Allowed To ‘Cross The Line’ Without Being Prosecuted

Forbes’ headline, above, at least directly describes Trump’s statement. However, by choosing to use Trump’s phrase “cross the line,” it obscures the fact that what he’s referring to is committing crimes.

Experts alarmed after Trump demands immunity to do “infinite crimes” in 2 am Truth Social rant

The headline from Salon, above, felt the most proportional because it adds the context that experts found Trump’s statements alarming. The quote “infinite crimes,” however, is from another journalist, not from Trump himself, which might be confusing — even if it does sum up Trump’s demand in a way.

 

February 15, 2024

Judge sets March date for Trump’s Stormy Daniels hush-money trial

Donald Trump is in the midst of so many legal battles that they’ve necessitated their own public shorthand. Unfortunately, news media has given the title “hush money trial” to a criminal case Trump faces in New York. The Guardian’s example is above, but any quick Google search will surface many similar results.

But this trial is not truly about paying off adult film actress Stormy Daniels — it’s about falsifying records to cover up criminal activity.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. said in his initial statement on the indictment, “The People of the State of New York allege that Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

The phrase “hush money” implies a scandal, but not necessarily fraud or criminal activity. I would have loved to include a headline that used a clearer phrase — perhaps “falsified records trial” — but I simply couldn’t find one that fit the bill. The “hush money” phrase is seemingly ubiquitous. The one exception I found was the headline of an opinion piece from The Daily Beast, below, which is an attempt to correct the record.

Trump’s New York Criminal Trial Is About Fraud and Undermining Democracy, Not ‘Paying Off a Porn Star’

 

March 7, 2024

Who Is Mark Robinson, the Republican Nominee for North Carolina Governor?

When Mark Robinson won North Carolina’s Republican primary for governor earlier this week, it prompted major outlets to run stories on his background to inform their audiences. The headline The New York Times wrote for their story is above.

If you don’t know much about Robinson, however, that headline would be missing quite a bit of important context. For instance, as The Guardian and Slate report, Robinson has:

  • Referred to LGBTQ+ people as “filth”
  • Said people who are gay are equivalent to “what the cows leave behind” as well as “maggots” and “flies”
  • Described Covid-19 as a “globalist” conspiracy to destroy Donald Trump
  • Quoted Hitler on Facebook in a statement about racial pride
  • Called victims of the Parkland shooting “media prosti-tots”
  • Said nonbinary people should use the restroom “outside with the dog”

He has also denied the existence of the Holocaust, calling it “hogwash,” and he once said, “I absolutely want to go back to the America where women couldn’t vote.”

The Times’ headline is clearly very SEO-friendly and meant to surface the story for folks Googling “who is Mark Robinson.” But their subheading, below, is what troubles me most. It sums up Robinson as “a fiery outsider” and refers to his verbal attacks on the human rights of multiple marginalized communities as a “dive into the culture war.”

Mr. Robinson formally entered politics in 2019, when he began his run for lieutenant governor. He has since earned a reputation as a fiery outsider eager to dive into the culture war.

In contrast, The Guardian and HuffPost used headlines (below, respectively) that provide a clearer image to audiences learning about Robinson for the first time.

Hitler-quoting candidate wins North Carolina Republican gubernatorial primary

Conspiracy Theorist Mark Robinson Wins North Carolina’s GOP Primary For Governor

NBC News went a step further by laying it all out there in their headline below. Of course, audiences see many story headlines each day, but no one has the time to read everything they scan on the internet. That makes this type of straightforward description all the more necessary.

North Carolina GOP nominates Holocaust-denying, gay-bashing, extreme anti-abortion radical for Governor

 

May 23, 2024

Earlier this month, The New York Times revealed that an upside-down U.S. flag had once flown outside of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s home in January 2021. This display of the U.S. flag is a known symbol of the “Stop the Steal” movement, whose followers falsely claim the 2020 election was “stolen” and Donald Trump is the rightful president. Rioters carried the same symbol on the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

A new Times report found that an “Appeal to Heaven” flag flew at Alito’s vacation home in July, August, and September of 2023. The flag, they report, “is now a symbol of support for former President Donald J. Trump, for a religious strand of the ‘Stop the Steal’ campaign and for a push to remake American government in Christian terms.” Currently on the court’s docket is the case of whether Trump can claim immunity from prosecution over his role in trying to override the will of voters and remain president in 2020.

Justice Alito Caught in New Flag Firestorm

This is a clear case of a Supreme Court Justice making a political statement — or at least appearing to do so and, in the case of ethical concerns over partisanship or bias, appearance is everything — on a subject they may rule on. Many lawmakers have called on Alito to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election or Jan. 6.

So, how did headlines describe this second flag? Winning the competition for “Least Descriptive,” Newsweek referred to this all as a “flag firestorm.” In second place, The Times called it “provocative.”

Getting more specific, the Associated Press called it a “flag carried by Jan. 6 rioters” while The Guardian went with “rightwing.” And finally, New York Magazine got straight to the point with “insurrectionist flag.”

Alito Ethics Defense Blown Up by Second Insurrectionist Flag The previous defense was narrowly tailored to facts that are now moot. Another Provocative Flag Was Flown at Another Alito Home

http://Supreme court issues decisions as calls grow for Alito to recuse himself after second rightwing flag revealed at home – live

It absolutely matters how news media frames this flag. In order for Alito to be held accountable for these ethical violations and recuse himself from related cases, journalists must be clear about what these symbols mean. The groups that proudly carry these symbols mean to damage U.S. democracy by calling valid elections into question and subverting the will of the people.

Alignment with these groups — or even the appearance of it — shows Alito is not even pretending to be unbiased on the issue of insurrection. To allow him to join in decisions on these cases makes a mockery of our justice system.

 

June 13, 2024

As you may remember from previous newsletters, I abhor horse-race reporting which focuses more on who may win an election than what they would do once in power. So, I was amused by the two headlines below from The Guardian and ABC News, respectively, predicting — for no real reason than to entertain an audience, as they provide no truly actionable information — how Hunter Biden’s conviction will impact the 2024 presidential election. Their “experts” clearly disagree, reminding us that “experts” and “analysts” can help translate and contextualize facts, but they cannot accurately predict the future.

Must-Reads

‘Horse race’ coverage of elections: What to avoid and how to get it right
‘Horse race’ coverage of elections can harm voters, candidates and news outlets: Research
Denise-Marie Ordway, Journalist’s Resource
“Horse race” elections coverage is characterized by a focus on who is likely to win an election, including an emphasis on opinion polls, at the expense of what policies the candidates espouse and whether they’re popular with voters.

24 lessons for the 2022 elections
American Press Institute
While you’re planning your coverage of the U.S. midterm election, check out this list of two dozen applicable lessons from the American Press Institute, Hearken, and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Then, share the list with the rest of your newsroom!

If Trump runs again, do not cover him the same way: A journalist’s manifesto
Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post

Inside an Election Denial Facebook Group on Primary Day
David Gilbert, WIRED
From reading the headline, you may be thinking this WIRED story is a bit of voyeurism covered in schadenfreude. And yes, it is full of examples of Facebook users believing in or spreading conspiratorial misinformation, often with no more proof than each others’ musings. But what’s most interesting (and thus troubling) to me about this type of group is the epistemological question it raises: What do we do, as a society, when people no longer seek, want, or need proof to support their beliefs about our shared reality? Can we even establish a collective truth? Read it, stew on it, and send me your thoughts. I’d love to hear them.

Top New York Times Editor Offers Stunning Defense of Coverage of Trump
Greg Sargent, The New Republic
In May 2024, Semafor published an interview with Joe Kahn, the executive editor of The New York Times. Greg Sargent at The New Republic took the time to break down Kahn’s straw man arguments equating covering the threat posed by another Trump presidency with skewing coverage in favor of Biden. I wish every journalist would read and internalize this analysis

A GOP Texas school board member campaigned against schools indoctrinating kids. Then she read the curriculum.
Jeremy Schwartz, Texas Tribune/ProPublica
This story about a school board member fighting back against party purity tests is a fascinating read. It may just give you a jolt of hope that facts do matter.

State Election Officials Speak About Rising Threats: ‘This Is Domestic Terrorism’
Peter Wade, Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone recapped a recent episode of Meet the Press in which four secretaries of state talked about the death threats they’re receiving for just doing their jobs. Their statements connect these threats to Donald Trump’s campaign of lies around the 2020 election and call this escalation domestic terrorism.

Framing & Word Choice

September 8, 2022

“Prebunk” election denialism for your audience.

“Prebunking,” a riff on debunking, means proactively explaining media manipulation techniques for audiences so they can recognize them in the wild. A new study shows this strategy is very effective in “inoculating” folks against misinformation. In addition to providing ample fact-checks on candidates, this “prebunking” method is a tool newsrooms should add to their midterm election plans.

What should you be “prebunking”? Election denialism is a good place to start. FiveThirtyEight recently reported that more than half of Americans will have an election denier on the ballot this fall. We can easily predict based on previous elections that losers of races will call the winners (and even the entire electoral system) into question. This will happen at local and national levels. In fact, some candidates are already laying the groundwork for 2024.

Start a “prebunk” for your audience right now and publish it before the midterms. Make sure it’s prominently displayed past its publication date. Explain how your local voting system and elections work and highlight true voter fraud cases or lack thereof. Explore the hypocrisy of elected officials calling into question the same system that got them elected. This can help “vaccinate” your audience against the coming wave of election denialism.

 

October 20, 2022

In October we’ll publish an updated elections language guide to our Knowledge Hub. Here’s a sneak peek of two new entries you’ll find there.

Anti-democratic
This is the appropriate adjectival form to describe an action or event that is in opposition to democracy. However, it does bring to mind the democratic process rather than the institution of democracy — as in, against the spirit of democratic elections versus against the idea of democracy as a form of government. It also might be read as “big D” Democrat. In some cases, then, “anti-democracy” may be more appropriate and to the point.

Election denialism/deniers
Like climate denial, this is a misnomer for those who have access to information that supports one view but continue to support the opposing view instead for their own gain. We may not be able to certify the intent of those “denying” the results of an election, but we don’t have to ascribe intent in order to describe impact.

Where forms of “deny” imply that someone believes something to be untrue, the word “oppose” doesn’t try to ascertain beliefs and describes the impact of their statements instead. This and similar substitutions can work in the following ways:

  • election deniers ⇒ people opposing election results
  • election denialism ⇒ opposition to valid election results
  • denies results without evidence ⇒ opposes results against existing evidence
  • refuse to accept the results ⇒ intend to oppose valid election results
  • casting doubt on results ⇒ seeking to convince others to oppose results
July 6, 2023

WNYC’s radio show On the Media released a new guide to reporting on political candidates who regularly spout conspiracies and lies, below. This is a great print-out-and-tape-up kind of guide.

 

February 8, 2024

National disability rights advocacy organization The Arc has published a journalist’s guide to reporting on disability in the context of the 2024 election. It makes a perfect companion to The Journalist’s Resource’s new explainer on the barriers faced by people with disabilities when voting. Send these around your newsroom as the U.S. primaries and caucuses continue.

 

February 15, 2024

From the department of great timing: The Journalist’s Resource has published a guide to creating judicial election guides.

 

February 22, 2024

The Global Investigative Journalism Network has revised its Elections Guide for Investigative Reporters for 2024. It recommends investigative reporters prepare for upcoming elections by broadening their usual scope to anti-democratic actors. The guide asserts, “it is up to journalists to use compelling evidence and sources to show them the possible perils of embracing autocracy and the potential vulnerability of their constitutions, institutions, and laws.”

Speaking of 2024 elections, Source has also published a list of fact-checking tools that might help you out this season.

 

February 29, 2024

Because unfortunately this is very necessary, Nieman Lab has published a guide on how to identify and investigate AI audio deepfakes ahead of the 2024 elections. Bookmark it.

 

March 7, 2024

As political reporters turn their eyes toward November, they must not forget about their local disenfranchised voters. The Journalist’s Resource has a new guide that explains how different U.S. states handle felony disenfranchisement and the current trends journalists need to know this election season.

 

May 16, 2024

As part of Democracy Day, the Center for Cooperative Media has released a long, inspiring list of story ideas for reporting on democracy. (I’ll admit I may be biased in this recommendation, as it’s authored by former Resolve Philly teammate Beatrice Forman.)

 

June 3, 2024

Forward this to every journalist you know: This summer, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Women’s Media Foundation, and PEN America are teaming up for a free webinar series called “U.S. Election Safety Summer.” Sign up now for webinars on the topics of:

  • Risk assessment and planning for journalists in the field
  • Online abuse self-defense
  • Protecting against hacking and doxing
  • Legal rights & resources: Covering the 2024 election
  • Journalist safety covering the election: Protests, policing and crowds
  • Protecting mental health in the face of online and offline attacks

Speaking of election tips, the American Press Institute has started a blog series about critical conversations newsrooms face as they make coverage decisions. The first two are about getting ready for misinformation and deciding how to cover public opinion polls.

Thoughts & Thinkers

striking how disconnected the dominant political media narrative of this election cycle - a red wave driven by inflation, “defend democracy” not being a mobilizing message, and voter fear of rising crime and defund the police demogauging - seems to have been from reality

Journalist Wesley Lowery sums up what many who study and critique media were thinking during Election Week 2022. The question remains: how do we bring the dominant narrative closer to reality?

Marc E. Elias: This tweet is misleading. The counties do not have a choice. The deadline is today and is required by law. If they don't certify they will be sued. @AP "Six Arizona counties must decide whether to certify 2022 election results. Vote totals have largely been certified without issue, But that's not been the case in Arizona."

Democracy Docket founder Marc E. Elias’s correction is important. The AP’s framing of certifications as a choice — rather than something the county is obligated to do — normalizes attacks on the democratic process by partisans who reject other parties’ wins.

“…it was polling that put Clinton ahead of Trump by one to seven percentage points in the popular vote. It was polling that told us there would be a ‘red wave’ in 2022… And it was polling that told us, even as far back as 1995, that Bob Dole would wipe the presidential floor with Bill Clinton. But nearly 30 years later, like Lucy and the football, we are yet again treating junk polls as gospel.”

— Molly Jong-Fast, Vanity Fair

In a new essay titled, “The Media Is Giving Us 2016 Flashbacks,” Jong-Fast gives a failing grade to coverage of the 2024 election. Her take on polling should serve as a stark reminder to all of us consuming election coverage this year and next.

“It was great to see the digging that went into that Washington Post story about Trump and his allies plotting a post-election power grab. But it was all too telling to see this wording in its subhead: ‘Critics have called the ideas under consideration dangerous and unconstitutional.’

So others think it’s fine, right? That suggests that both sides have a valid point of view on whether democracy matters.”

— Margaret Sullivan, The Guardian

Former Washington Post media critic and current Guardian columnist Margaret Sullivan does an excellent job explaining the problem with over-attribution in a recent column. When journalists feel they must rely on the quotes of “critics” or “experts” to back up what can be empirically observed, they turn facts into opinions. This is one of the many ways the news media helps malicious actors establish a false reality where everything is up for debate and no one can agree on the facts.

NEW STUDY: Broadcast, cable, and print outlets have given Donald Trump calling his enemies "vermin" a tiny fraction of the coverage they gave Hillary Clinton's 2016 remark calling some Trump supporters "deplorables" Coverage decisions like these provide insight into which stories the editors, producers, and reporters at major news outlets are prioritizing and shape the political landscape during presidential election cycles.

Matthew Gertz of progressive media watchdog Media Matters recently posted on Bluesky about their latest study on coverage of U.S. presidential candidates. The full study is available on their site, but the gist is that coverage of Donald Trump’s recent speech in which he called his enemies “vermin” got a small fraction of the coverage allotted to Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” comment from 2016.

As discussed in my last newsletter, the “vermin” quote was particularly egregious because of its alignment with fascist propaganda of yore. As Gertz suggests, this drastic difference in attention is particularly concerning considering what it reveals about editorial priorities during this election cycle.

A national abortion ban that would take away a right that women now have in 23 states is not "moving to the center on abortion."

Writer James Surowiecki’s commentary on a quote from a recent episode of Meet the Press applies a much-needed corrective to a far too credulous statement. If Trump privately supports a national abortion ban that is slightly less restrictive than some of his right-wing peers, that does not mean it is a centrist viewpoint. It is still a very conservative perspective in comparison to current legal standards across the U.S. and public opinion on abortion. This type of inaccurate coverage actually helps move that “center” to the right by implying popular opinion is different than it is in reality.

Pay attention to how the media frames this election. They say we’re “deeply divided” but miss the big picture. One side would throw the rules of democracy out entirely! That’s not just “divided.” That’s wanting to end our country as we know it by putting a strongman in charge.

Berkeley professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich tweeted the above about one of my pet peeves. The word “divided” doesn’t mean evenly divided, but when put in the context of elections in a two-party system, it sure does imply it!

We must stop using the word “divided” to describe differing public opinions on topics that are not simply personal lifestyle choices but are, instead, existential threats to democratic government. Adding “deeply” in front of it is not dramatic enough to explain this difference. All this does is normalize the use of our democratic system to argue against its existence.

(While we’re at it, let’s also stop using “divided” to describe “America” when we are really describing the actions of state legislatures. They are not the same!)