The question hangs in the air: Why were the media so utterly convinced that President Trump would be trounced in the election?
Why were all the expectations for a substantial Joe Biden victory, to the point that many news outlets were running lists of his possible Cabinet members, and the Washington Post was asking how Fox would fare with Trump gone?
In short, how did so many journalists, with endless coverage backed by seemingly bottomless resources, blow it again?
They were convinced that Trump’s handling of the pandemic, with 230,000 Americans having died from the virus, would sink him.
They were convinced that the crippled economy, with many millions out of work, would sink him.
They were convinced that a lack of support among women would sink him.
They were convinced that his struggles in the suburbs would sink him.
They were convinced that poll after poll, in which the president never got above 50 percent, would sink him.
And on a more visceral level, they could not believe that a man with his chaotic governing style, a man who used such harsh rhetoric, a man who urged law enforcement to investigate his opponents, a man who had been impeached, could win a second term.
Biden may well win, depending on how the dominoes fall, but it would be a much slimmer victory than the pundits and prognosticators expected. The media narrative has been blown up.
It’s beyond dispute that many journalists live in bubbles, centered in New York, Washington and Los Angeles, and have trouble understanding most of the country and the essence of the Trump appeal. For that matter, they also badly underestimated Biden in the Democratic primaries, insisting that the party wanted someone younger, more dynamic and more liberal. So 2020 has not been a good year for the press.
Nearly half the country sees Trump as a cultural warrior battling the elites who look down on them, especially working-class whites without college degrees. And they view the mainstream media, which the president attacks virtually every day, as biased, arrogant and condescending.
And just on the basic blocking and tackling of reporting, news outlets largely missed Biden’s weakness among some Hispanic voting groups, especially Cuban-Americans, which hurt him badly in Florida.
The press needs to reexamine its slavish addiction to polls, and the polling industry has lost enormous credibility by botching two presidential elections in a row. Maybe it has to do with “shy” Trump voters, flawed models or inherent difficulties in reaching people in the cell phone age, but this may be a 21st-century DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN that permanently erodes trust in the business.
The media didn’t do everything wrong. When Trump, at 2 a.m. yesterday, prematurely declared victory and said he would ask the Supreme Court to stop the voting, journalists had every right to push back and say he hadn’t won and doesn’t have that power. But it smacked of high-handedness for four networks–ABC, CBS, NBC and MSNBC–to break away from the president to make those points. They wouldn’t even allow him to finish speaking.
If Biden narrowly wins the White House, some of this will seem like a footnote. But it’s one thing for the country to repudiate a first-term president and another for him to lose by a modest number of votes in one or two states. The American public will have delivered a split decision, one that clashes so sharply with the media’s nearly unanimous verdict.
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