Journalists Attempt to Rewrite The Rules of Election Day Reporting
Uncertainty will govern the day — and night for those tasked with reporting the vote.
Throughout my years as a journalist, I’ve worked as part of an Election Day team twice — once for NPR, and a few years later for the Voice of America. Both nights were unsurprisingly similar: lots of team meetings and emails in the run up to the night and lots of staff and junk food scattered about the newsroom.
We took our cues from the usual suspects: our reporters in the field, the AP wire, and cable and network news programs blaring out predictions and calls from a bank of television sets. By the end of the shift, a winner was declared, the losing candidate had conceded, and America survived yet another exercise in democracy. It was, for the most part, business as usual.
For my fellow journalists, that commonly recognizable election night scenario simply will not apply in 2020.
Indeed, with the election less than 24 hours away, news executives, editors, and reporters are preparing for a night of coverage like never before.
Uncertainty will govern the day — and night for those tasked with reporting the vote.
It could be an utter landmine for reporters, editors, and producers, who may be confronted by bewildering scenarios, such as claims of ballot fraud from President Donald Trump, his surrogates and supporters, or former Vice President Joe Biden and HIS surrogates and supporters. In fact, with an estimated 97 million votes already cast (thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic) as of this writing, one could reasonably argue that it’s a misnomer to call November 3 Election Day.
“I think this will be the strangest election night of my lifetime,” said Ryan Whalen, a Buffalo-based reporter with Spectrum News and host of the network’s Capital Tonight political show during an appearance on the podcast It’s All About Journalism.
“Generally, we’re sitting there, hoping that the ballots will come in quick enough that we’re not there until 1 a.m.,” added Whalen said. “We’re going in knowing that’s not going to be the case this year.”
Whalen also expects additional delays due to litigation, given Trump’s repeated public statements of doubt over the ballot count.
Adding to the confusion is the patchwork rules under which states will count ballots. Consider two highly consequential states: Florida began counting ballots September 24, when counts each ballot as its cast; Pennsylvania begins counting when the polls close at 8 pm. That reality alone will cause unfamiliar surge of results that will – in real time – distort the outcome.
High profile cable news television journalists will be under a nationwide microscope like no other — and they know it. Consider the words of CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist in an interview CNN’s Brian Stelter.
“This is going to be an election like no other. You’ve heard that over and over. But I’m not sure that the counting or reporting of the votes are going to be a whole lot different,” Feist added, acknowledging that the count will take longer than in years past.
“I really believe that if we don’t have a winner on election night, there’s a very good possibility that we’re going to know the answer on Wednesday or Thursday because the vast majority of votes will have been counted by then,” said Feist. “In fact, I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to be orderly.”
Maybe. But others are clearly trying to sort out how to respond if and when things are not so orderly.
“We have to be incredibly transparent all through the night with what we know and what we don’t know,” said ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos in the New York Times.
And what if President Trump declares victory before the complex process of counting ballots across 50 states is deemed complete?
“I don’t think we can censor the candidates,” Stephanopoulos told the Times. “But we have to be vigilant about putting whatever comments are made in context, with everything we know about where the race stands, where the law stands, where the votes are.”
NBC News president Noah Oppenheim made the following pledge to the Times: “Frankly, the well-being of the country depends on us being cautious, disciplined and unassailably correct,” he said. “We are committed to getting this right.”
Other high-profile journalists like CBS’s John Dickerson are admonishing his fellow scribes to rethink how they’ve presented election results – with little to no context — in the past.
“If you go back and watch some of the election night coverage like in 2000 and a couple of years after, anchors would announce the results in Massachusetts as if it were leading towards the great illumination of the night’s result,” Dickerson pointed out during a recent appearance on Slate’s podcast Political Gabfest.
“It comes in too early in the night for it to matter relative to whether a candidate is going to get to 270,” explained Dickerson. “But people were always speaking breathlessly about early night results because they’re trying to get everybody all hopped up.
Dickerson added: “We need no hopping up. Everything is plenty hopped up on it’s own.”
Indeed. Given the tension and uncertainty, historian, academics, and election experts have put out guidance to help sooth our collective nerves. Consider this from noted presidential historian Michael Beschloss:
As Beschloss shows, Twitter will undoubtably be it’s OWN network of election information, with its reported estimate of 340 million users, according to Hootsuite.
Despite Twitter’s efforts to label disinformation, it will hard for the platform to control the certain deluge of election results, claims of fraud, and possible protests from credible journalists and ordinary citizens alike. And because Twitter serves as kind of AP wire for reporters, one can imagine the retweeting of unconfirmed information by well-intentioned journalists.
As Spectrum’s Ryan Whalen told It’s All About Journalism podcast:
“The worst thing you can do as a journalist is say something definitively that doesn’t end up not being true, right?”
His advice?“Just go in knowing the scenario. It’ll be bizarre.”
Catherine Maddux is a Washington DC-based journalist, writer, teacher, and dedicated news junkie. She was trained at NPR, where she worked on several award-winning news programs for 10 years. She went on to cover the war in the former Yugoslavia for the United Nations, and conflicts across Africa and South Asia for the Voice of America.
Dagen McDowell Is Ready For A New Adventure With Fox Business
“Every decision in America is born of policy, On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”
To know Dagen McDowell, you must understand what she comes from, where she comes from. You won’t know her until you know the lessons, kindness, and determination set forth by her parents.
Her parents operated a small grocery store, LW Roark and Company. Charles and Joyce McDowell were high school sweethearts and both went to college but decided to go back home and open a business. “This is in the middle of nowhere,” McDowell said. “It was a wholesale grocery store. They sold it in the late 90s.”
She said her parents were smart, encouraging, and took every opportunity to teach McDowell and her brother.
“They’d constantly talk up people who came into the store. Both of them have and had an insatiable curiosity about everything. They felt they learned things through their customers. It was more fun to learn about things from other people.”
McDowell’s parents never took a week off work. Never. The family took no vacations as most families would. Once while McDowell was in college at Wake Forest University, the family visited the Air and Space Museum on the Mall in D.C.
“Both of my parents were very interested in architecture and landscapes. We’d go to Williamsburg and just look at the buildings.”
McDowell joined FOX News Channel in 2003 and helped launch FOX Business Network as a founding anchor in 2007.
Her mother passed away three years ago and her father is still very much a part of her life. Her father was a constant teacher.
“One time my father, who we called Dowell McDowell, was putting up an outbuilding and asked me how long one line should be if the other line was such and such. He taught me the Pythagorean theorem when I was about 4 years old.”
McDowell was nurtured by parents with endless curiosity.
“I was raised by parents who would always debate and converse around the dinner table. We shared breakfast and dinner together every day. They loved learning, were always inquisitive, never afraid to ask a question. My parents shared a fearlessness and passed that on to me. I’ve never been embarrassed to ask people questions. I love talking to people and finding out about things.”
For a long time, McDowell had no idea what she wanted to do for a living. She knew if she worked at different jobs she’d eventually figure out what she was good at.
“I knew I was a decent writer, but I always tried to get information out of people, what they were doing. Ask if they were fulfilled and happy.”
At Wake, Forest McDowell majored in art history and had every intention of working in a museum, possibly as a curator.
“I interned at the Center for Contemporary Arts. I lived in Venice, Italy for a while. Wake Forest owns a house in Venice.”
After that it was Colorado. She moved back to New York during the recession of 1991 with a duffel bag. She took the Amtrak to New York City and sublet an apartment for six months.
“I had no TV, just a radio. I knew I could find something good to do in New York, there were so many jobs. I always wanted to live in the city. Either the city or way out in the country. Nowhere in between.”
She said being in New York made her feel anything was possible. This was January in 1994 when job ads were still in the physical newspaper, like the New York Times. McDowell interviewed at Institutional Investor through a referral from a friend.
“It was a brilliant magazine with terrific writing,” McDowell explained. “Very prominent in the industry. They were looking for someone to work with the newsletter written for the financial community.”
She’d cover topics like the bond business, Wall Street, and money management. The magazine made her take a reporting test where you’d make up a story and write it. She was offered a job and worked there for three years.
“I learned to be a journalist there,” McDowell said. “I could write but I became a better journalist. We’d break news, create our sources, and learn more and more about finance. People love to talk about what they do if you show interest.”
The next big job was SmartMoney.com, a resource and web newspaper for private investors. There McDowell wrote a personal finance column. She started doing commentary on television shows, the way a lot of people in different professions tend to do. “Then I started making more appearances on weekend financial or business shows,” McDowell said.
She got a call from Neil Cavuto about 20 years ago and he told McDowell, ‘Kid, you want a job? I know you don’t have much professional TV experience. We’ll give you some training and you’ll figure it out. If you do, you stay. If not, you go.’
McDowell said she was glad she was a writer first before she arrived at Fox. She writes her own scripts and has a background in finance and business writing.
“Before the business network was launched, they had only one business reporter and two senior business correspondents,” she said. “I’ve gotten to do so many different jobs, use different muscles, so to speak. As the years have passed I’ve discovered other talents I may have and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”
There’s a new show in town. McDowell and Sean Duffy will co-host The Bottom Line which will air on weeknights from 6-7:00 PM ET.
McDowell said she and Duffy come from extremely similar backgrounds. Duffy is from rural Wisconsin and McDowell is from Virginia.
“We know what small-town living is like, “McDowell said. “I might live in New York City but where I grew up affects the way I view the world. I’m still grounded in my hometown. On the show, we look south and west with everything we cover. You have to think of your audience. Rather than talking about them, we talk with them. That’s our shared background and vision. Sean is extremely down to earth and generous.”
McDowell said the show is not financially based, but steeped in business.
She said Duffy’s experience as a former U.S. Congressman, he understands policy as well as financial matters.
“Every decision in America is born of policy,” she said. “On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”
This is different from anything McDowell has done in the past.
“It’s a two-anchor show in the evening,” she explained. “This is not taking place during market hours. We tie all the business happenings together from the day. Again, it’s not about Washington or New York. It’s about the people we grew up with. We talk to them. Build a relationship with them on the air. For me, this is not just sitting in front of a camera. I can run off at the mouth as well as anyone, hang in there with the filibuster.”
McDowell says she is blunt, but hopes she isn’t rude. During a recent interview for the new show she used the terms ‘pig potatoes’ and ‘chapped backsides.’
“Those are terms I just made up,” she said. “I make up a lot of phrases and don’t always know what they mean. I have an entire repertoire of those kinds of phrases.”
Duffy assumed they were southern phrases he had to learn from McDowell, but she assured him she’d never heard them anywhere else.
“I’m just making stuff up,” McDowell said. “You can’t curse. Can’t say BS. At least you shouldn’t say BS on television. You don’t want to say manure. You never want to say something that makes people wince or evokes a smell.”
Dealing with people directly and bluntly seems to come from her mother.
“My mother had grit,” McDowell said. “She was also very kind, never syrupy. I used to say she had no magnolia-mouth.
That’s got to be a southern phrase.
McDowell said her mother was not a servile flatterer, but she was kind. Always there when somebody was in need.
“She had real grit. She’d stand and fight for her friends and family members.”
Her mother passed away after being diagnosed with stage-four cancer.
“She went through unimaginable pain,” McDowell said of her mother. “For nearly six years. You want to talk about somebody who was tough. There was nobody more pugnacious than my mother.”
She explained even with her illness, her mother was always on the go. Continuing to live her life. When questioned about being so active while she was ill, her mother continued to show grit.
“My mother would say she didn’t want to walk around looking like she had cancer. She asked, ‘What choice do I have? I could lay in bed and wait to die, or I can get up and do what I can .’”
McDowell said her mother’s illness taught her to be a caregiver in ways she never could have imagined. Her mother taught her to find moments of joy every single day, in the smallest of things.
“It can be as simple as telling a stranger to have a great day. Treat a perfect stranger with kindness. I do it all day long. I know it sounds corny, but I want to be known as a person who brings a casserole to a friend when they’re ill.”
A one-sheet from Fox tells you McDowell and the culmination of her background is perfect for The Bottom Line. The fact is, it’s true.
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his new book: Talk To Me – Profiles on News Talkers and Media Leaders From Top 50 Markets, log on to Amazon or shoot Jim an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Airing The Tyre Nichols Video Was A Necessity
There were hard moments to watch in those videos, hard sounds to hear. But they aired.
Far be it for me not to address this outrageous and embarrassing instance in humanity. After the videos of Memphis police brutally beating Tyre Nichols were shown on television there really seemed to be more outrage emerging from society this time than from the media, for a change. One would think that’s how we wish things to be.
In instances like this, where the video and audio images are far from brief but are instead chaptered as they unfold, there are few options other than to let them run their course. Clocks — breaks hard and soft — are out the window, just as in live coverage.
Because that’s what this was, only the live this time was us, and as we all absorbed and reacted to actions disapprovingly familiar yet somehow foreign at the same time, the impact was still becoming apparent even though we already knew the outcome.
It’s happened before.
Not always like this but we’ve seen it before, police encounters shown on the news overtakes and become the news.
It takes effect as the sights and sounds are digested, dissected, and discussed, often before their potential impact could really be imagined.
In 1991, when the Handycam footage crossed screens for the first time and we learned Rodney King’s name, we didn’t know then but we had a feeling.
We were on the right track, though as newsrooms evolved and street reporting incorporated a different type of storytelling.
I was a cop in 1991. Changes came. Some.
It’s 2023, I’m no longer a cop. Changes will come again. Some.
Turning points — or the overused watershed moments — mean just as much to the news media as they do to law enforcement.
The “why’s” that make this a turning point are more society and community based this time around than they were in 1991.
At least I think so. And I don’t think it makes a bit of difference who’s involved this time.
There were hard moments to watch in those videos, and hard sounds to hear. But they aired. Where they couldn’t air, they were described in great detail; descriptions sometimes can be worse than the real thing. Sometimes, not this time.
And they should air, they shouldn’t stop airing. This is what happened and this is what people need to see and hear and this is exactly why we are here.
Warn them, provide them with a heads up that they’re not going to like what happens next. It’s life and we show life, and we show what some of us do with it when it’s someone else’s.
Overall, I would say the news platforms held their composure, even after the videos were released. I saw, read, and heard some refreshingly neutral coverage, even from outlets where I expected hard turns into the lanes on either side of the road.
Legitimate questions were asked by anchors and reporters and much of the time, the off-balance issues were raised more by those on the sidewalks and those on the other side of the cameras and microphones.
As much as I find myself in disagreement with what I often see on the cable networks — all the cable networks — I did find a sense of symmetry watching CNN’s Don Lemon speak with Memphis City Council Chair Martavius Jones in the hours after the videos were released.
Regular protocols be damned, Lemon and producers lingered patiently as Jones, visibly overcome by emotion, struggled to regain breath and composure enough to be able to speak. Rather than cut away or move to other elements, they stood fast and it became an example of what often requires no words.
There were fewer punches pulled on other platforms as well.
The sounds of the screams, the impacts, and the hate-filled commands were broadcast through car radios.
As were Tyre Nichol’s calls for his mom. They aired. They had to.
Bill Zito has devoted most of his work efforts to broadcast news since 1999. He made the career switch after serving a dozen years as a police officer on both coasts. Splitting the time between Radio and TV, he’s worked for ABC News and Fox News, News 12 New York , The Weather Channel and KIRO and KOMO in Seattle. He writes, edits and anchors for Audacy’s WTIC-AM in Hartford and lives in New England. You can find him on Twitter @BillZitoNEWS.
Does the Republican Establishment Get It?
For many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections.
In a move that seemed to go against the wishes of the patriotic American grassroots, the Republican party on Friday re-elected RNC Chairperson Ronna McDaniel.
The media immediately took notice, as many on television and radio are now wondering why the party would re-elect a chairperson who has been so unpopular with the base of its party.
Grant Stinchfield discussed this issue Friday night on his program, Stinchfield Tonight, which airs on Real America’s Voice network.
“Ronna McDaniel holds on to her chairmanship of the Republican Party. By a whopping total of — what were the numbers– 111 to 54. Harmeet Dhillon only received 54 votes. Mike Lindell 4 votes. This is proof to me that the Republican establishment is dug in,” Stinchfield — formerly of Newsmax — said. “Don’t tell me they’re out of touch. See, you tell me they’re out of touch, that implies ignorance. They’re not ignorant about anything.”
As sentiment for Dhillon grew in the days leading up to Friday’s vote, many influential politicians and party donors publicly offered her their support and endorsement. These included Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), as well as donors Mike Rydin, Dick Uihlein, and Bernie Marcus.
Also on board were musician and outspoken conservative John Rich, along with the state GOP of Nebraska and Washington State. Countless journalists and media personalities, such as Charlie Kirk, Miranda Divine, and Lou Dobbs, also came out publicly in support of Dhillon. Former President Donald Trump remained neutral, not making a public choice of either of the three candidates.
For many of Dhillon’s supporters, the deciding factor was public sentiment across the party’s base.
“They’re reading the same chat boards. They’re getting the same emails I’m reading. I will literally post something about this race when I was supporting Harmeet Dhillon. There was not one comment – not one – that supported Ronna McDaniel. Everyone wanted change,” Stinchfield said, noting that the party elite saw the same groundswell of support for change.
“Now, nobody has an issue as Ronna McDaniel is some evil kind of person. I don’t believe she is. I believe, though, that she is part of the establishment. She’s been around too long as far as the establishment goes. And she’s been ingrained in doing business as usual. It’s not working.”
In making their choices known, many Dhillon supporters simply pointed to the scoreboard during McDaniel’s reign.
“Think about where we are. 2018, we lost the House. 2020, we lost everything. 2022, we won the House, but we should have really steamrolled the House and we should have taken back the Senate, which we didn’t do,” Stinchfield said. “That means we’re on a real losing track since she took over. I don’t like being on a losing track. I like being on a winning track.
“Something has got to change when you talk about all of this. So how does Ronna McDaniel get 111 votes and Harmeet Dhillon only get 54 votes, when everyone, every Republican voter I talk to said it was time for change?” pondered Stinchfield.
And even more than the losses, for many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections. The most recent example of which came in Arizona, where presumptive gubernatorial favorite, Kari Lake, was “defeated” when countless voting irregularities occurred in some of the state’s most deep-red areas.
“Under her watch, Democrats instituted a mail-in ballot scheme. That may be even worse than losing, when you talk about the House and the Senate and all these things. The fact that we now have a junk mail-in ballot scheme across the country under Ronna McDaniel’s watch is serious trouble. Very serious trouble,” Stinchfield said on Friday. “And so the reason it is is because the Democrats are rigging the system.”
For years – until Donald Trump descended the golden escalator and took the world by storm – the Republican party had the reputation of being the party of the rich. Rush Limbaugh used to refer to this wing of Republicans as “the country club crowd.” President Donald Trump flipped the narrative completely, offering a clear vision of hope and patriotism to working-class America.
Reputable polling — such as Richard Baris’ Big Data Poll — consistently showed Trump running well ahead of almost every Republican candidate during the 2022 mid-term election cycle. In other words, Trump still maintains considerably more support across the country than most of the individual Senate or House candidates experienced.
Many experts believe this is because voters still view Trump as an outsider, while they view the Republican party much less favorably.
“Let’s tell you how out of touch they are, how elitist they are,” Stinchfield said, calling out the GOP establishment. “This meeting that went on, do you know where it is? It’s at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch in California. One of the most expensive resorts in America. You’re lucky if you get a room for a thousand dollars a night down there on Dana Point. Now, it’s a beautiful hotel, but why is the Republican Party holding an event there? Then I went back and I looked at what RedState did. RedState went back and looked at some of the expenses that the Republican Party under Ronna McDaniel’s leadership was spending money on.
“Take a look at this. $3.1 million on private jets. $1.3 million on limousine and chauffeur services. $17.1 million on donor mementos. $750,000 on floral arrangements. Now you compare this to the Democrats. The Democrats spent $35,000 on private airfare. A thousand dollars on floral arrangements. A thousand. Not $750,000. A thousand. And the $17.1 million they spent on donor mementos, the Democrats spent $1.5 million.
“Democrats know where to put the money. It’s not giving donors gifts. Donors shouldn’t want gifts. If you give money, give money. You don’t need the fancy pin to put on your lapel.”
Following her loss, Dhillon warned her party that it must listen to the base, saying, “if we ignore this message, I think it’s at our peril. It’s at our peril personally, as party leaders and it’s at our peril for our party in general.”
Rick Schultz is a former Sports Director for WFUV Radio at Fordham University. He has coached and mentored hundreds of Sports Broadcasting students at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Marist College and privately. His media career experiences include working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, Army Sports at West Point, The Norwich Navigators, 1340/1390 ESPN Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, Time Warner Cable TV, Scorephone NY, Metro Networks, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Cumulus Media, Pamal Broadcasting and WATR. He has also authored a number of books including “A Renegade Championship Summer” and “Untold Tales From The Bush Leagues”. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RickSchultzNY.