US media abandoned weeks of cautionary tales about mail-in ballots and vote counting to fight for ratings and provide Trump an opportunity to claim victory.
Rabat – Major US media outlets provided another election spectacle with little regard for their own earlier warnings. For weeks, commentators warned that the historic use of mail-in ballots would mean results would not be available on election night. But as the first results started to come in, US media devolved into an irresponsible race for ratings.
The result is a chaotic ongoing state of confusion that will likely turn into a highly controversial legal matter in America’s partisan judicial system.
Journalists breathlessly reported on incoming numbers, with little regard to their own earlier warnings to voters. The COVID-19 epidemic in the US rages on, forcing many to cast their ballot by mail or vote early instead of voting in person on Election Day. The slow count and historical lessons of the incomplete nature of election night results were cast aside as media outlets reported on the race like any other US presidential election.
Particularly the New York Times and Fox News provided a surreal race, calling states based on opaque exit polls. While the New York Times used its exit polls to project states where Biden had the lead for Trump, Fox News was doing the opposite. The usual media spectacle that is the presidential election in the US was back in full effect, as if it were any other year.
Election turns into a court case
Trump pounced on media reporting in his victory speech in the early hours of today. He accused a “very sad group of people” of “disenfranchising” Republican voters. He repeated media assertions on the state of the US election as fact, just as news anchors had done all night long.
“We won’t stand for it,” Trump announced as his campaign is now set to contest the vast amount of uncounted votes. Just as his campaign had signaled for the last two weeks, lawyers are set to turn the electoral result into a legal case.
With Trump in firm control of the country’s top court, such a legal challenge could result in millions of votes cast in vain, and another four years in the White House for Trump.
“They knew they couldn’t win,” Trump remarked as he declared victory. He claimed Democrats had aimed for such a result in a remarkable piece of apparent projection. What the US president described as “an embarrassment to our country,” was made possible by the media’s perverse and irresponsible reporting on election night.
In the hours before the first results started coming in, news outlets in the US were still warning that this was anything but a normal election. Anchors urged voters not to see the night’s results as final, as a historic number of votes would not be counted for days or even weeks after November 3. In the days ahead of the pivotal election, stories highlighted how slow the process would be.
The media ridiculed US President Donald Trump for making remarks about “calling it” on election night. A variety of news outlets had warned that a “blue mirage” or a “red mirage” could skew how the results would look as they came in. Some states counted mail-in ballots first, while in others they would not be counted at all on election day.
But the predictable and inconclusive drip-feed of results that started coming in as polls closed sent the billion-dollar US media outlets into the usual frenzy for ratings. Television channels showed the incoming results often without any mention of which states would count its remote votes in what order. The result was another frantic and glitzy rush to announce numbers.
The highly polished media graphics that are typical on US election night made little reference to the long process of vote counting still ahead. The media itself was in the dark over which counties reported mail-in or in-person votes, further confusing the tally. But despite the lack of knowledge of the validity of results, the for-profit media devolved into chaos.
Outlets called states without a single vote having been counted based on exit polls, while others reported on changes in vote totals and percentages of the incoming vote. The media reported on the blue and red mirages of incomplete vote counts as if they had not spent weeks warning against doing so.
There was no convenient indicator on TV screens of what states would have to spend the coming days or weeks counting votes. Despite election boards around the country calling for patience, in the end, the temptation to be the first to call states overruled common sense. All night the partisan media commented with elation or despair despite the incomplete numbers.
As votes in Florida started to trickle in, the total abandonment of weeks of caution became apparent. With less than a quarter of votes having been counted, commentators started their speculative barrage. Restraint quickly gave into sensationalism despite the unusual situation of a COVID-19 epidemic and a president clearly tempted to use any disinformation available.
Trump’s preferred spectacle
The US media provided Donald Trump with exactly the spectacle he needed. Particularly the New York Times and Fox News, who reported their exit polls as definite facts. Eager not to be seen as partisan, the Times reported on Trump victories despite incomplete numbers, while Fox News did the same for perceived Biden wins.
The strange spectacle provided exactly the mirages of certainty that the incumbent needed to declare a premature victory in the early hours of November 4. CNN made an effort to stymie the controversial declaration by announcing that news outlets “forcefully called out” Trump’s disingenuous victory speech, yet they had provided exactly the frenzied race that allowed him to do so.
Caution and patience were nowhere to be found on election night. The result is likely to change history. The US media reports on the results as if it were any other election and, in turn, have likely created the opportunity for a historic case of election fraud. Trump had for months sowed doubts around the validity of the election and the US media provided him with the chaotic mock “race” that now allows him to further discredit the results.
In 2016, the US media’s lust for ratings led to Trump receiving disproportionate free media reporting, often streaming empty podiums ahead of upcoming speeches. In 2020 they have done it again, this time by treating election night as a defining race. The perverse extravaganza displayed on televisions across the US is likely to turn the election into further chaos.