I have written this piece for the LA Times Opinion section. It begins:
Americans are increasingly worried that the 2020 presidential election will not be safe and secure. The news media have done a good job covering the threats, but lost in the headlines about cybersecurity concerns, occasional election administrator incompetence and claims of voter fraud and suppression is journalists’ — especially cable-news journalists’ — own dangerous behavior: breathless reporting on delays in election results and shifts in vote totals from one party to another. This kind of uninformed coverage could contribute to both parties claiming victory in November, and a protracted, ugly, anti-democratic battle for the White House after election day.
Consider CNN’s response to the messy Iowa caucuses. The Iowa Democratic Party used a new tabulating app and new counting rules that failed to work as intended. The next morning, anchor Wolf Blitzer stood in front of a huge screen with a clock ticking off the hours with no winner declared. In raised-eyebrows colloquies with various reporters and commentators, Blitzer discussed how inexplicable the situation was, what havoc it was creating. The uncertainty was hyped as high drama.
This was deeply irresponsible. It left room for conspiracy theories and claims of foul play. Indeed, President Trump’s campaign manager and his children crowed about vote rigging on Twitter. But there is and was no evidence the Iowa Democratic Party was guilty of anything other than (fixable) incompetence.
What’s at stake is voter confidence in our elections. Instead of milking uncertainty in election coverage, journalists should educate themselves, and then the public, about how and why it can take a long time to tally votes and how vote totals can shift precipitously but with no chicanery involved.