If you’re planning to watch midterm election coverage Tuesday night, settle in — it might take a while.
In fact, in most states, including Arizona, winners in tight races almost certainly won’t be known Tuesday night, and maybe not by Wednesday or Thursday. Remember, in 2020, most news organizations didn’t declare Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election until the following Saturday.
Who knows what will happen this year? No one, really. But after 2020, there are a lot of journalists with experience in sitting around waiting while keeping their audiences interested. But one thing seems certain.
“It’s gonna be a long night,” David Reiter, executive producer of special events at CBS News, said. “And we’re prepared to follow the story and results early into the next morning.”
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David Chalian, CNN’s vice president of political coverage and the network’s political director, offered this advice for viewers.
“You’ve got to pack some patience,” he said.
Indeed. A word of caution, no matter what you might hear from various political camps: Just because all the votes don’t get counted and winners aren’t declared on election night doesn’t mean there is anything untoward afoot. More people vote early and by mail now, and the ballots take a while to count.
“We’re going to see more (early voting) than we have in any midterm election prior,” Chalian said.
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“We are going to be telling people all night long — and in the days leading up to Tuesday — counting votes takes time,” said Rick Klein, political director at ABC News. “We are going to be putting it into our coverage in every way we can — highlighting what we know, what we don’t and what we’re waiting on.”
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Good. It’s incumbent upon news organizations to hammer that point home again and again, to cut through the partisan noise suggesting that a long vote count is some nefarious scheme to steal elections (or at least the elections their side loses).
“We need to make sure the audience knows that slow doesn’t mean broken,” Reiter said. “Each state has its own rules and procedures for counting votes, and as we’ve seen in the past few elections, it sometimes takes days for certain races to be finalized.”
The networks have done a lot of legwork to prepare viewers.
“We’ve already spent a lot of time preparing viewers for the fact that this won’t be a ‘normal’ midterms night,” said Carrie Budoff Brown, NBC News senior vice president for “Meet the Press.”
“That process started months ago across all our platforms. Instead of trying to predict specific outcomes, we’ve armed viewers with a holistic understanding of the factors driving voters to the polls this year.”
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Fox News calling Arizona for Biden kicked off a furor in 2020
Martha MacCallum, executive editor and anchor of “The Story” on Fox News, who will co-anchor election night coverage on the network, said if all the winners aren’t determined on election night, some trends might be.
“We may not have all the results Tuesday night, but if we have enough to determine the majorities in the House and/or Senate, that’s a big story,” MacCallum said by email. “We have a great team analyzing the vote and they will alert us when the ‘call’ is ready to go.”
“We’re also looking at a few races around the country that we think are going to provide some pretty good intel in terms of how the night is going to go,” she said, noting races in Indiana, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, which “will all give us a good sense of which way the winds are blowing on Nov. 8, and that’s something we can use to help inform viewers’ outlook that night, even if we won’t have all the answers until later in the week.”
When will the answers arrive? At least one came early for Fox News in 2020, when the network famously called Arizona for Biden, enraging Trump and in some ways setting off his denial of the results that has never ceased.
“There was controversy over the Arizona call in 2020 to be sure,” MacCallum said. “But the call was correct. I think now we are better equipped to bring the viewers in to show them how and why the call is being made.”
MacCallum would know — she was co-anchoring that night, too. Even though, as she points out, Fox News was correct it would be surprising to see such an early call again this year, from any network, really.
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But they’re ready just in case.
“We will be opening up the curtain even more this year,” MacCallum said, “to show our viewers how it’s all done, with Bill Hemmer at the board and our excellent ‘decision team’ working away all night and likely into the ‘wee hours’ of the morning.”
And the next day, probably, and maybe the day after that.
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A big story always emerges, like Trump’s surprise victory in 2016
Election nights are always exciting. Covering them is exciting, and that shows in the reporting. There’s always a lot of energy. And almost always — Trump surprising Hillary Clinton in 2016, the Fox News call in 2020 — a big story unfolds.
“What do you tune in for on election night?” Chalain said. “You want to know what’s the score? Who’s winning?”
Of course, there’s more to it.
“You can’t get to the who won and why,” Chalain said, “if you don’t have the results yet.”
Ah, but now there’s another factor. Of course, getting as much accurate information out there as quickly as possible is ideal. But what happens when it is not enough?
There is a segment of the population that simply ignores facts in favor of partisan propaganda — a diplomatic way of saying a lot of people are going to think the election was stolen if their preferred candidate loses. And they won’t believe the media when it reports it.
How do you reach them?
“Clarity, transparency and straight-down-the-middle analysis,” Reiter said. “That’s how we will deliver to our viewers on election night. We will tell our viewers what we know and what we don’t know. If we make a projection or aren’t making a projection, we will explain why. If we encounter dis- or misinformation, our anchors and correspondents will respond aggressively with facts, research and reporting.”
We’ll see if all that is enough. This is one time the cliche rings true: stay tuned.
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Story Credit: usatoday.com