Can Trump bully the media into calling a winner on Election Night?

A threat to democracy

A quick pre-election pitch.

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Pushing more chaos and confusion, Trump on Tuesday demanded television networks announce a winner on Election Night, because any kind of delay would be unfair. Specifically, he claimed counting votes after next Tuesday would be "totally inappropriate."

The script is clear: Trump wants media outlets to declare him the winner based on the number of in-person ballots counted on Election Night — in-person, electronic votes that are likely to lean Republican, as compared to early votes which will lean Democratic. Then Trump will move to the courts in a bogus effort to make sure all the mail-in and early ballots aren't properly counted.

He's hoping that recently appointed Supreme Court Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh will help push the Court to stop states from counting votes, just as the Republican Supreme Court ordered Florida to stop tallies during the 2000 recount.

For that strategy to work though, Trump wants to be able to point to Election Night TV declarations that he's already "won" the race, just like George W. Bush used that bogus title to his advantage during 2000.

“What we want election night to look like is a situation where we know who the President of the United States is on election night. That’s how the system is supposed to work,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News.

And in a stunning opinion on Monday, with regards to a Wisconsin voting case, Kavanaugh wrote, “States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.”

Both Kavanaugh and McEnany are lying. That's not how "the system is supposed to work." But the White House's full-court press puts enormous pressure on media outlets, which over the years have become the de facto arbiters in terms of declaring winners on Election Night, even though it often takes states days to officially do that.

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"The upcoming election will be fought out in the media over how and when votes are counted and the results interpreted," warned the National Task Force on Election Crises, a consortium of election experts and academics. "The media should do everything in their power to prepare Americans for the near certainty that it will be days or weeks before the election outcome is known."

For now, news outlets are saying all the right things about being patient on Election Night and not rushing into declaring a winner before enough votes are counted. "I can assure you, the numbers are going to dictate when we make a projection,” insists Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief.

But the Beltway press does not have a strong track record standing up to Trump's bullying during the last four years, especially media institutions, which have refused to wage any kind of collective battle with the White House as it dismantles decades of norms. Will the networks have the fortitude if they face the full onslaught from Trump, Fox News, the Republican Party, all of AM talk radio and hysterical right-wing voices online, waging war on the media for not declaring Trump the winner?

The same press corps has also been uniformly unsuccessful in cutting through GOP disinformation in the Trump era. In this case, that disinformation might be something as radical as the conservative movement claiming Trump had "won" the election, even as millions of votes remain uncounted.

To avoid confusion and to make sure they don't play into Trump's hands, TV news needs to break away from its decades-long tradition of marketing Election Night as one big game show that culminates with a late-night winner being announced and prizes handed out. All that breathless chatter giving the illusion of real-time vote tallies, and bells ringing at the top of the hour to signify polls closing for a host of key states, needs to be reined in. Instead, the networks and cable channels need to remind viewers that tens of millions of early ballots likely haven't been counted yet and those results won't be known for days.

Fact: State laws dictate that Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — potentially among the three most decisive states in the battle for the White House — cannot even start processing or counting mail-in ballots until Election Day.

The problem is the networks are working with an Election Night formula that has to factor in mail-in ballots, which this year will represent nearly 80 million voters. For the last 40 years the networks' so-called Decision Desks made projections based on early — but not complete — returns from "key districts," as well as exit polling surveys, to help determine how elections were unfolding across the country without having access to all the counted ballots.

Today, as mail-in ballots have become more popular during a pandemic and concerns about voting indoors, it's impossible for the networks to have access to those results since it often takes states days and weeks to count them all. It's also impossible to conduct exit polling since 80 million voters aren't "exiting" a poll location on Election Day, they've already mailed in their presidential choice. (Instead, networks are polling randomly selected voters in the days leading up to an election to get a sense of early voting trends.)

Remember what happened Election Night two years ago? Relying on their old methods, TV outlets downplayed the more than 20 million early votes that had been cast and, based on in-person voting results, quickly announced there was no Blue Wave brewing, and that Democrats had failed to pull off a big night. But then as the early votes were counted over days and weeks it became obvious Democrats had pulled off a Blue Wave — they flipped 40 House seats.

Imagine what the results might look like this year with 80 million early votes.

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💻 GOOD STUFF:

Last week I wrote about how the mainstream media were treating the GOP's Hunter Biden laptop gotcha differently than they treated the GOP's Hillary Clinton hacked emails in 2016. Part of the restraint this year is that the Hunter story simply makes no sense, as detailed by Politico article today, "MAGA scrambles to repair the Hunter narrative":

As much disdain as the president’s supporters have for the media, their ultimate goal was to place a story in a well-known, conservative-leaning outlet that conclusively showed Biden profiting off his son’s business deals. Doing so would simultaneously establish the conservative media’s journalistic prowess and bolster MAGA claims of mainstream media bias.

But no A-list conservative outlet has published anything living up to those claims.

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😃 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Bahamas, "Trick to Happy"

Toronto's Afie Jurvanen, who records under the name Bahamas, returns with his latest, cozy and pleasing album. With a touch of roots rock and 70's soft pop, the unhurried sounds of Bahamas always arrive as an in elixir.

As for "Trick to Happy," Jurvanen told Apple Music:

I think we're all looking for the trick for happiness. You fool yourself into thinking that it's going to be a relationship or it's going to be a certain amount of money, or a certain amount of recognition from your peers. And we all fundamentally know that those are never the one thing.