“What are we doing?” Stephen Colbert continued to ask his producer when his 2020 election special on Showtime came to a chaotic conclusion.
In 2016, the special host’s late-night elections left America awake as Colbert tried to deal in real-time with a majority-voted country to vote for Donald Trump. acting as commander in chief. It’s a surprisingly electrified television. His 2020 special – which aired while America waited for the vote count, had no immediate end – was much less frustrating.
Colbert is filming in the midst of a pandemic, a performer at his best when someone else has to interact with only a handful of people on set (especially his wife, sitting on his side. ) and then many types of guests have attracted attention through video conferencing software. Although he did a great job of showing off his show without the live audience laughing at every joke, the rhythm of a late-night TV episode produced with Covid-19 secure protocols will always be. feeling a bit awkward.
But a newly revealed and even bigger challenge is that the era of late-night direct elections is largely confined to the Obama and Trump administrations. The results of both Obama’s elections were known or almost certain by the time those jets were launched at 11 p.m. on the East Coast, and the 2016 election was clearly leaning in Trump’s favor ( if not yet finished) at Colbert’s special time to be broadcast. By 2020, the fact that the results will be delayed – which all America has come to expect – doesn’t really matter. Programs have to go on because that’s what programs like this do.
Television hates the void, but the 2020 election, in particular, takes place in a void. Even if all the votes have been counted, the urge to fill hours of election night airtime and beyond will linger with viewers who think they need information and instead that is a steady dose of anxiety.
This week’s relentless coverage of the vote count was only to emphasize that election television – both late at night and on cable news – had long since been damaged. Maybe it should be gone forever.
Cable news is not equipped for an election where the results are not immediately obvious
For weeks now Americans have known one thing about the 2020 election: We probably won’t know the official result a few days or even weeks after Election Day because we hold an election in one. pandemic means a lot of ballots come in the mail, and some states don’t ‘do not count ballots by mail until the votes are closed.
But even if that simple possibility has not been discussed again and again by politicians and experts (this is Bernie Sanders talking about it), a quick look at recent history may be destined. direction for our expectations of when we find out who won. Of the five presidential elections of the 21st century preceding the 2020 elections, only two – 2008 and 2012 – were held before midnight on the East Coast, and the 2000 election lasted for more than a month. .
Even extremely recent history – that is, mid-term 2018 – took weeks to fully understand, especially when it comes to Democrats’ gains in the House of Representatives.
It is true that many of the TV era elections – circa 1952 – were held before midnight on the East Coast. But those elections came in a less polarizing time, where resounding victories were much more common. In the 21st century, the amalgamation of the respective Democratic and Republican bases has resulted in largely identical electoral maps, with slight differences, in election to election. other.
And yet to watch television news on election night – not to mention the social media response to the aforementioned television news – is to watch a full-blown crisis of the fact that no one really knows anything. What, something continues to happen on Wednesdays and Thursdays as all participate awaiting the official vote count. In the case of Democrats, much of that crisis was fueled by Trump’s stronger-than-expected performance in Florida, a mirror of 2018 as Democrats’ early hopes appeared. as was set on the shores of Bang Sunshine before the master picture was finished. rosy for the party.
It’s easy to say now, but imagine if MI and WI were called first, then FL later.
Will radically change the way people react to news and how many are still reacting at this moment.
– Jonathan Tamari (@JonathanTamari) November 4, 2020
As of Thursday afternoon, the official winner has yet to be announced (although it seems Joe Biden has been elected president), and the 24-hour cable news is still focused on small facts and summaries from one A handful of battlefield states stood out as crawl count results in Pennsylvania and Georgia, in Arizona and Nevada. Occasionally, a quick series of information on the latest Covid-19 numbers will be released, but otherwise it is all the election. (The Covid-19 number is terrible! I don’t know if you’ve heard it!)
The election results have largely followed the same pattern of holding since midday on Wednesday when Michigan and Wisconsin were called to Biden, making his path to victory more visible. So cable broadcasts kept repeating the same information over and over again, even when poor Steve Kornacki of MSNBC (who analyzes the network’s votes on a giant map) looks like maybe he has slept for maybe half an hour since Tuesday.
A frequently told story about US presidential elections is that each successive election is “the most important in our lives.” I think it’s true that in this period when Democrats and Republicans had different views of what America might look like. But the fashion in which cable news treats every presidential election as if it were the only news in a given year has created a unique, awful formula that underestimates useful, practical information. Overpricing anything that could cause anxiety and / or counter dopamine.
As such, cable news faces the same dilemma as Stephen Colbert did on Tuesday night: Simply not knowing what to do with an election that takes place over a few days, not hours. You never know when development changes things might come, so stay tuned! Tuning feels like clinging to a rope that is constantly unraveling, building and building and building tension without ever breaking. By the time the winner is finally declared, we will all be wiped out.
Approach “just keep talking until we know something” that catches the attention of the viewers and generates loads of anxiety
One of the biggest flaws of 24/7 cable coverage at the moment is that it obscures much of the real story of the election. And throughout the past week, it figured out what basically everyone knew was going to be the story. Counting the votes will take a while. We will not get results for a few days. But the need for more, more, than lead to a long election night and then, after the election, the long days of the single tea leaves are extrapolated to the entire tree without thinking much about how that approach might influence public opinion or how it may disappoint the viewer.
For example, some networks – notably CNN – have used light pink to denote states where Trump is leading but that is yet to be named, and that pale blue shade to denote states where Biden is is in the lead but that hasn’t yet been called. And Trump did take the lead, for example, Michigan and Wisconsin on Tuesday night, and hold that position until the state’s largest urban centers are counted Wednesday morning. The longer it lasted, the pinks of those states created irrational concern among Democrats and unwarranted optimism among Republican viewers.
This is not a new complaint about cable news. Overall, cable TV news is empty and sensational, and at the same time provides very little information that is really needed except in situations where the story actually plays out in a quick clip. (The September 11 terrorist incident is the clearest example.)
But constant news of the 2020 election has highlighted that little information is shared shortly after the end of the immediate poll, and it further adds to the ultimate uselessness of heads. increasingly vaguely waiting for something like real data.
The way the American media reports about the elections seems so hard that it cannot be changed, but 2020 shows we need to rethink how badly TV coverage of them is. Come on. UK law on how an election can be covered (prohibiting reporting while polls are open) can be a good starting point for finding possible reforms. Is there a better way. By 2024, let’s hope we’ve found one.