Getting ‘Election Night’ Right
September 10, 2020
As the 2020 presidential election approaches, members of the media reflect on the failures of past political coverage. What have journalists learned in the last four years, and why is it so crucial to get things right this time around?
On the morning of November 9, 2016, many people around the country awoke only to be blindsided by the news: Donald Trump had won the presidential election. In the fallout that followed, the media industry was forced to confront their own role in failing to predict such an outcome. Since then, some factions of the industry have tried to identify what went wrong -- the trends they missed, the narratives they overemphasized — and what they can do differently this time around.
Now the 2020 election is only two months away, and there is still work to be done to avoid the journalistic errors of the last presidential cycle and to ensure fair, accurate, and comprehensive reporting. What’s more: new and complicated factors have been added to the mix, from the global Covid-19 pandemic to widespread civil unrest.
What lessons has the press gleaned since 2016, and why is it so crucial for journalists to get things right this time around? How can they better contextualize stories about things like polling numbers and Facebook misinformation? What can journalists do to prepare the public for the likelihood that election results may take days or weeks to process after November 3? And in the event election results are contested, how can the press inform the public without inflaming tensions or heightening mistrust?
This virtual panel discussion was moderated by Michael Waldman and explored these questions and more. He was joined by political journalists Stehen Engleberg, Abby Phillip, and Amy Walter.
Stephen Engelberg, Editor-in-Chief, ProPublica
Stephen Engelberg was the founding managing editor of ProPublica from 2008–2012, and became editor-in-chief on January 1, 2013. He came to ProPublica from The Oregonian in Portland, where he had been a managing editor since 2002. Before joining The Oregonian, Mr. Engelberg worked for The New York Times for 18 years, including stints in Washington, D.C., and Warsaw, Poland, as well as in New York. He is a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board.
Mr. Engelberg’s work since 1996 has focused largely on the editing of investigative projects. He started the Times’s investigative unit in 2000. Projects he supervised at the Times on Mexican corruption (published in 1997) and the rise of Al Qaeda (published beginning in January 2001) were awarded the Pulitzer Prize. During his years at The Oregonian, the paper won the Pulitzer for breaking news and was a finalist for its investigative work on methamphetamines and charities intended to help the disabled. He is the co-author of “Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War” (2001).
Abby Phillip, White House Correspondent, CNN
Abby Phillip is a CNN Political Correspondent covering the 2020 presidential election. She is on the campaign trail but is based in Washington, D.C. She joined the network in 2017 to cover the Trump Administration and served as White House Correspondent through 2019. In January 2020, she moderated CNN's Democratic Presidential Debate in Iowa.
Phillip joined CNN from The Washington Post where she most recently served as a national political reporter, covering the White House. While at The Washington Post, Phillip wrote on a wide range of subjects related to the Trump White House, including efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the president's overseas trip to Poland and Germany for his first G-20. As a campaign reporter during the 2016 election Phillip extensively covered Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
Phillip was also a general assignment reporter for the Washington Post, where she covered domestic and international news including the tragic Charleston, S.C. and San Bernardino massacres. Before joining the Washington Post, Phillip was a digital reporter for politics at ABC News. She has also covered the Obama White House for POLITICO as well as campaign finance and lobbying.
Phillip was raised in Bowie, Md. and is a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in Government. She currently lives in Washington with her husband.
Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center for Justice
Michael Waldman is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. A nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving systems of democracy and justice, the Brennan Center is a leading national voice on voting rights, money in politics, criminal justice reform, and constitutional law. Waldman, a constitutional lawyer and writer who is an expert on the presidency and American democracy, has led the Center since 2005.
Waldman was director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1999, serving as assistant to the president. He was responsible for writing or editing nearly two thousand speeches, including four State of the Union and two inaugural addresses. He was special assistant to the president for policy coordination from 1993 to 1995.He is the author of The Fight to Vote (Simon & Schuster, 2016), a history of the struggle to win voting rights for all citizens. The Washington Post wrote, “Waldman’s important and engaging account demonstrates that over the long term, the power of the democratic ideal prevails — as long as the people so demand.” The Wall Street Journal called it “an engaging, concise history of American voting practices,” and the Miami Herald described it as “an important history in an election year.” The Fight to Vote was a Washington Post notable nonfiction book for 2016 and a History Book Club main selection.Waldman is also the author of The Second Amendment: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 2014). Publishers Weekly called it “the best narrative of its subject.” In the New York Times, Joe Nocera called it “rigorous, scholarly, but accessible.” The Los Angeles Times wrote, “[Waldman’s] calm tone and habit of taking the long view offers a refreshing tonic in this most loaded of debates.” In a Cardozo Law Review symposium devoted to the book, a historian wrote, “The Second Amendment is, without doubt, among the best efforts at melding constitutional history and constitutional law on any topic — at least since the modern revival of originalism two generations ago.”His previous books are My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of America’s Presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama (2003, 2010), A Return to Common Sense (2007), POTUS Speaks (2000), and Who Robbed America? A Citizen’s Guide to the S&L Scandal (1990).His frequent appearances on television and radio to discuss policy, the presidency, and the law include Good Morning America, the Colbert Report, Morning Joe, PBS NewsHour, CBS Evening News, Meet the Press Daily, All In with Chris Hayes, the O’Reilly Factor, Nightline, 60 Minutes, Tavis Smiley, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and the Rachel Maddow Show, as well as NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Fresh Air. He writes for the New York Times, Politico, the Washington Post, the Daily Beast, Slate, Democracy, Reuters, Bloomberg, and other national publications.He is a graduate of Columbia College and NYU School of Law.
Amy Walter, National Editor, The Cook Political Report; Host, The Takeaway: Politics with Amy Walter
Amy Walter is the National Editor of The Cook Political Report, where she provides analysis of the issues, trends and events that shape the political environment. Her weekly column appears on cookpolitical.com. She is also the host of WNYC's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway, and a regular contributor to the PBS NewsHour, where she offers her perspective weekly on "Politics Monday."
This is Amy’s second tour of duty with The Cook Political Report. From 1997 to 2007, she served as Senior Editor where she covered the US House. Walter was named one of DC's "50 Top Journalists" by Washingtonian Magazine in 2009 and honored with the Washington Post's Crystal Ball award for her spot-on election predictions in 2000.
With over 25 years of experience, Amy Walter has built a reputation as an accurate, objective, and insightful political analyst with unparalleled access to campaign insiders and decision-makers. Known as one of the best political journalists covering Washington, she is the former political director of ABC News. She is also a regular panelist on NBC’s Meet the Press, Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier and CBS' Face the Nation.
Amy was an inaugural fellow at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, where she now serves on the IOP Board of Advisors. She graduated summa cum laude from Colby College, earned an honorary degree as a Doctor of Letters, and now serves as a Trustee Emeritus to the Board.
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