First of all, I want to take a moment to celebrate. Our democracy is still working, and this era of unbridled hate mongering from the White house will soon come to an end. Congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris!
What a wave of emotion when the election was finally called in Biden’s favor. Perhaps you felt it too. There was that moment when we all weren’t really sure if the president would actually cause the vote counting to stop—a signal of the end of democracy. That moment didn’t last, but we’ve spent the last four years thinking he could not possibly get away with a thing, and then incredulously watching it happen. And so, joy is tempered with caution over what is to unfold over the next few months.
I want to talk about my observations from last week for a moment. We may have voted Trump out of office, but Fox News can create another Trump. I am currently reading All Marketers
Are Liars Tell Stories by Seth Godin. I know—what a title. Here is a quote from the back cover of the book to give you context: “Marketers succeed when they tell us a story that fits our worldview, a story that we intuitively embrace and then share with our friends…. But beware: if your stories are inauthentic, you cross the line from fib to fraud. That’s a lesson learned the hard way by telemarketers, cigarette companies, and sleazy politicians.”
One week prior to the election, I read this in Godin’s book: “Every day Fox management sends a memo to all the writers, producers and on-air talent. The memo outlines the talking points for the day. In other words, it’s the story they intend to tell. By managing the news to fit the story (as opposed to the other way around) Fox develops a point of view; it tells a story that viewers are happy to believe.”
While I was mostly watching CNN, I flipped to Fox periodically, just to find out what other people were hearing about this. Here are some examples of what I noticed.
CNN explained why mail-in ballots were trending Democrat and the in-person votes skewed towards Republicans. Trump discouraged his followers from using mail-in ballots while Biden encouraged safe pandemic measures, including voting by mail. No context given on Fox.
As everyone expected, the counting this year took longer. As we have seen, the states have various rules about when they can start counting the mail-ins and which ones they counted first. So the states we were all waiting on were primarily counting mail-in ballots towards the end. For the above reasons, Biden made gains in many cases during the later counts. But not all cases. In Arizona, the later-counted ballots were favoring Trump and so Biden was losing his lead. Also, Ohio had the opposite trend of these lasts states we were all watching so closely because they counted the mail-in ballots first. In Ohio, Biden initially held the lead and as the in-person voting was counted, the scales tipped in favor of Trump.
All the networks displayed counters of the last few states that had not been called as blue or red. Fox news called the election results in Arizona in favor of Biden earlier than other networks. By excluding Arizona, all the states on their watch list had growing numbers for Biden as the later-counted votes came in. This skews the impression that mail-ins were always in favor of Biden – which would raise eyebrows—but was not true if you looked at all the data. The way Fox presented the counts at the end would make it easy to believe that something mysterious and nefarious was going on, if that is what you wanted to believe. There was no attempt on Fox to enlighten viewers as to why the counts were trending as they were and that the numbers weren’t wildly different than 2016. There were enough to tip the lead.
I could go on. This pattern was also evident in the disparity in how Fox vs CNN reported on the legal challenges, what was happening in Pennsylvania and the distances observers were from the voting tabulators.
The only news Fox presented was that which supported the narrative that Trump won first and everything else was diluted, illegal and widely fraudulent. It begins to help me understand why otherwise intelligent people seem to reject basic math, fact and a balanced view. What is divisive about that is that us non-Fox consumers then tend to not take what might be valid concerns seriously. Instead of having a discussion about what is a reasonable distance to observe ballot processing while addressing the real threat to safety the workers experienced, we get stuck on disagreeing about basic reality. We see signs that read “Stop the Steal” and wonder how on earth can a person not comprehend that Trump set up the disparity between mail-in and in-person voting and then opportunistically called it stealing when mail-in counts came in last? How can an otherwise reasonable person not see a call to stop counting votes while he is still winning as the mindset of a dictator and if people actually carried that out it- that would be wide-spread fraud, voter suppression and a collapse of democracy?
While I’m still hopeful, despite current shenanigans, that Trump will leave in January, I am concerned about what has been revealed about America. I hope that Seth Godin is right about manipulative forms of marketing. That hiding the truth in order to get people to follow you eventually fails and fails big. But marketing and propaganda masquerading as news is a core issue that is blocking healthy discourse on so many other critical issues. We celebrate now, knowing we are not in the clear yet. My sister helped me hold onto hope by reminding me that it is often darkest before dawn. With eyes wide open we march forward. Celebrating helps usher in a new era with new values where stories based in truth are the ones that spread.
So let's celebrate. While I first had to celebrate with close friends and family, I am now ready to be present again on my blog and social media and celebrate with you. Cheers!