Party in the U.S.A: Voting Day
Did you know that with drizzly. You can get drinks delivered to your door and under sixty minutes yup with drizzly the number one alcohol delivery app. You can shop a huge selection of beer wine and liquor including favorites like don julio and bullet bourbon plus you can shop across multiple stores in your area to find what you want at the best prices. Download the app or visit drizzly dot com. That's dri z l. y. and use code. Save to save five dollars on your first order today. This is a cbc podcast. Hey i'm lena my mood. It is tuesday november third and today is election day tonight. A lot of us are gonna gather around. Tv's and take part in that time old tradition of watching the results ruling now. Here's the thing usually election night. Is this really exciting thing. Months buildup finally culminating in some kind of release. It could be super dramatic. You remember in two thousand sixteen. A lot of people watched in shock because it sunk in. But hillary clinton wasn't gonna get that comfortable win that everyone was expecting that the polls were predicting. The scene here is so different than it was a few hours ago when people were happy relaxed. I have been looking around the room at people who are stone faced. Some of them have been crying. Whiplash is the only way to describe that feeling but at least we got some closure. We figured out who the president is gonna be and that may not be the case tonight. We may not get that moment when one candidate concedes and the other says hey. I'm the president and declare victory and that's a challenge for news organizations especially cable news networks. Who are so used to building a narrative numbers as it come in and then presenting a conclusive result all signs. Not the least of which is trump has said. He won't concede even if he appears to be losing point to a long drawn out. Wait before we know for sure. Luckily we have an amazing guests to help us navigate this long. Wait this dreadful. Feeling ben smith the media columnist for the new york. Times also happens to be my former boss of buzzfeed news. He's going to join us today. I'm talked to us about why the media needs to get election night right. You're listening to party in the usa. Let's get into ben. Hello happy election day to you. Thanks element we always have a great celebration in this country first of all. I don't know what you're celebrating. But what i'm curious about is do you have any election day rituals. You've been through a few election days. Having anything established in the in the old days. I've been covering election distance before twitter. The whole thing is what you do as a reporter. You've got in the morning. Go to some polling places get some color talk to some voters and get quotes that you can sort of use in a story. No matter what happens. Like i'm just so glad i got to cast my vote. Said one mom sort of things like that and then like. There's nothing else to do. Maybe if you're hyper responsible you write several paragraphs of what they call. Copy like the election took place in an atmosphere of heightened tensions stuff like that right but i was never really been that really responsible. I'd mostly like go to the movies really. You know there's nothing to do. The story is published the next day. The story who want if you don't know that it's sort of a waste of time right so yeah it would be this weird field trip off day for journalists where you just sorta wander around. Maybe a nice long lunch with friends. You do your expenses. you know. there's nothing to do. You're just waiting. Meanwhile like television has always had this had to fill the air and so now we also. Because i think of twitter in general online publishing feel obliged to kinda fill the air. Do you remember what movie you saw in the two thousand eight election day. oh and i was blogging. And he's long gone. I think in front of remember. Four wandering down. Lexington avenue with maggie haberman and four wondering what we were going to do all day. But i don't remember what movie we wound up seeing did well. I don't wanna go back as far as two thousand four but due to start in two thousand sixteen because at the time you were my boss of buzzfeed news and the mood. Not just in our newsroom. Is i think everybody was expecting hillary clinton to win and Would also remind you that. Mike colleagues paul in the cloud and the loop were transferred specifically to washington dc to cover hillary clinton's transition. I think your words at the time was this might be the most efficient transition to government possible. But do you remember that election day. Let's say i mean everybody including certainly me thought hillary clinton was gonna win and we were putting on a live television broadcast on twitter. That day. i'd made a deal with twitter to finance us doing a full-scale television show. So i was very consumed with the sort of details of production and in general. We really did think hillary was gonna win. I remember running through. The trump wins version of the just the script of this show. Everybody kind of laughing nervously. Like i guess we gotta do this but definitely not going to happen this time around. I have to say that. There's very little amusement in the air. Things are obviously different. Really get the sense that reading twitter that everyone is just like laughing. Maniacally all day. Like not a good way. Not in a healthy way. That's the thing is if we call it amusement. Then i get worried because i keep trying to tell people like look. All you're going to do is tweet different ways about how anxious you are and i don't know if that's productive for anybody i mean that's very high bar in this profession. Okay do you think most of what you do. Is you know truly productive. I don't know. I mean literally in the sense. I don't know what i get out of it. People are just looking to you to be entertained on twitter element i mean. Yeah and got them on that front but all the other friends. I don't know man. i don't think i have. Anything pointed to say the day of the election. Like i think it's like yup. It's here and now we're going to have to go through this honestly. I'm not sure that my case is different from other people. I think a lot of other people are sort of in the same space. Feeling like a need to say something but like there's nothing to say until those results start rolling in and then we can start interpreting them. Part of that is that the polls have been at the same place been the whole time right like almost like nothing to react you moving in the polls to be like okay. Let's grab onto that and talk about it and analyze it and try to understand what's happening. Yeah yeah but also you know. I mean the sort of political cliche here is that the cake is baked but people are gonna vote. They're going to vote. Nothing you say or do or report is going to change that right now. Coverage of the mechanics of the fights over whose votes are eligible and things. It's going to become really important. But i mean i. I sort of look at elections like they're an asteroid approaching the earth and he hit with a nuclear weapon like when it's way way like many without a measure of distance. Yesterday's you can change. Its trajectory a little little miss earth but like some point like a couple of weeks ago you can just see it in the sky and all you can really do is point and scream. Well okay well tell me about that because so now you're a part of the new york times newsroom. The times is looking at this asteroid approaching. I can't imagine that they're just pointing to scream. How do you prepare for an election like this one. Let's see. I mean. I should say that i have no official inside a no responsibility for the times. No credit for the work they do like. I'm just hear writing columns. So i don't want to sort of seem like i'm you know there's any stolen valor. Here's the guy collecting a byline. Paycheck absolutely sure. Exactly from my home. I put on a suit the other day and it was just like amazing just for like a couple of hours. I should say that like for listeners. Who don't know ben like it's very unusual to see without a suit really hard to even imagine that. No it's like my uniform. So let's see. I mean the times to its credit is writing nineteen different versions of stories to be published in any possible. Outcome is trying to be very careful. I think about not having a giant needle. The promises of hillary clinton is gonna win like it did last time. You know trying to be really clear about what's real and what's not in patient and i think one of the things that you're going to see over the next however many hours between the time you press play on this. The ten the polls close are crazy wildfire rumors on social media. You know a voting machine in northern pennsylvania where you can see a video that you press the button for biden. Emma trump button lights up like in two thousand and eight. there was one that defer twelve. The did that for obama and romney became just like the biggest story in the world for fifteen minutes at the end of which point. It just became clear that this was some random glitch on the computer. One computer screen in one polling booth wants to try to be restrained but whereas three days ago if the biden campaign census some regularity they will look into it because they don't want to like blow all their credibility saying votes are being stolen and it turns out not by the afternoon of election day. The campaigns have no incentive to hold their fire right. and so you'll see just sort of crazy allegations and rumors and the next day. It will be like that stuff never happened. It will have been erased from your memory and historical memory and turned out with that was in texas and texas was won by ten points for whatever reason ninety eight percent of these things that we will fund unbelievably compelling in the moments before the election will turn out to be nothing literally nothing so this is something you've written about because you wrote in august about how the media could get the election night story self ron. You wrote the last barrier between american democracy in a deep political crisis may be television news and some version of that maddening. needle that reference on the new york times website. You've been talking to exact you've been talking to tv hosts election analyst in different newsrooms. Are you worried about how they're going to handle stories like these column in august was meant to kind of like a. Self cancelling prophecy. I wasn't the only one saying. But i think it kind of was newsrooms really have woken up to the sort of reality that this could really go on for awhile and take your take awhile to count votes. And they've done a pretty good job. Educating the public sixty some percent of people now realize they are likely to get results on election night then by the way if we could well get results on election night right if the polls are accurate will know before midnight in toronto. I think that the hardest part for the media. But although i do think people are stressing about it and focused on the way they never been before is reporting accurately and patiently on the counting of votes in a system. That is so sort of antiquated and rusted in bazaar. Your impulses just to be like. There's gotta be something wrong here and there. Obviously broadly is something wrong with america does elections. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the nice senior citizens in you know the mojang valley in pennsylvania who are like taking a really long time to report the results because they keep dropping on the floor and having to start again that like anything is wrong and honestly. The system is very very resistant to large scale manipulation. For the same reason that it is such it sort of disaster to just try to figure out what's going on i hear you but at the same time you know when i hear. Donald trump speaks sort of the last weekend of campaigning. One of his rallies. He said if we don't know the results on election night he said there's going to be bedlam that his word he said he's going to be bedlam and that he specs the supreme court to figure out a way to stop the counting of the votes on the night of the election. The system might be resistant fair to say but it is not entirely immune especially when someone in the of the presidency starts to say these things to say that he expects the results to be counted on election. Night when reality doesn't reflect that. And i guess i'm wondering how is been approaching donald trump's comments about the voting on election day because there's so much room for error and how to handle the president saying these things i mean i think the media has been doing an okay job of not amplifying them too much. Trump doesn't control the machinery of american elections at all. There isn't a central election commission. There isn't a federal agency that runs elections. He's obviously joining up his supporters to you know potentially commit acts of violence. If this thing is close adthe polling places. I am its terrifying and i think he's also bracing for massive massive crowds in the streets outside the white house chanting for him to leave another place. You could imagine getting out of control and in other countries that's often where things get really scary is around the presidential palace. There's lots of reasons to think it will be bedlam. There will be attempts in the courts to there always are in the closer it is. The more vital are to swing the election through the court. The supreme court has not signaled it has a lot of interest in getting involved here deferred attempts to drag it into local election. Controversies the challenge again is the system is so decentralized so messy so complicated that it's not like you elamine right. Now have a point of view on. Whether if chad is hanging the vote should count right. You're gonna develop your position based on whether donald trump wants the chads. Two hangar doesn't want them to hang and if it becomes a local controversy it's going to be decided by courts in accordance with incomprehensible rules and their interpretations that you've never thought about before and we'll immediately polarize along totally partisan lines. And you know. I think the sort of reality is if it's really close. They republicans cream court will put its thumb on the scales. But perhaps only. If it's really close so i think if you're listening to this outside the us you might not quite understand the mechanics of how an election gets called in the us. You mentioned that that country doesn't have a national election commission. Thank you for your candidate listening to that. You're like what doesn't make any sense but the extent to which this stuff makes no sense. It's like we get used to it in the us just to talk through it a little. What we have in lieu of some normal central almost every other country has national commission announces. The winner is we have television really. That's what we have. We have these anchors really slick graphics on yes holograms such yup. More or less holograms basically five channels. Abc nbc cbs cnn and fox who have to varying degrees really smart analysts in the back rooms looking at the votes come in and when they're comfortable that they're sure that based on exit polling and the votes they've seen so far historical local pattern than votes that you've one florida they will announce that element has one florida but that has no legal power legitimacy. Meanwhile what will happen is that over the course of a couple of weeks. The secretary of state in each state will gather the votes and we'll check and double check. The local counts that have come in from every county and will ultimately certify the vote for that state which will trigger a set of electors. Who were people getting sent to a meeting in washington in early january where they will alexa president right. The process that everybody experiences is very high tech. Well-produced glossy dramatic sober presentation of victory on television. The reality is almost invisible. Outmoded bizarre system conducted by people. You've never heard of and usually conducted by the way after the election is done. It's like a snapping up operation that is a vestige of an earlier age and the question of what happens if somehow gets close enough that gets pushed to the front. It's not really ready for primetime. I gotta tell you when you describe it that way and every time that i hear a description of how the electoral college gets together to elect a president make it sounds to me like the group of cardinals will get together and vote for pope and it used to be. It's like as though the catholic church shifted to being an institution governed by the popular with cardinals had no power and could only vote the way that they're regions had voted but they still got to wear the red hats but but actually like they didn't even matter anymore and being a cardinal was a favor you gave away to some guy who would give him money to your campaign and forgot about and once every four years. You've got to put on the hat and go to college and burn the smoke but like it was all foregone conclusion and this is stuff that was just sort of fun pageantry. From long ago as opposed to the people actually pick the pope right. This is a shining city on a hill. We're talking about absolutely incredible. Hey you guys still have a royal governor. Something have a governor general that is appointed to represent the queen. And this is not about. It's exactly like that. it doesn't matter at all. Nobody outside your country knows about it. It's kind of a nice cute thing that like allowed a transition from a colonial to republican system without lots of bloodshed. Fine you have olive candidate in you mentioned on election day. That would love that. That would be so nice to me so much better than my actual mentions. Please come and yell at me canadians. It's at benway's so you mentioned fox. And i wanna go back to that because you mentioned how america has television. That's how you know and fox has been one of trump's sort of biggest platforms have been a megaphone for him president trump. He's moving very fast to fix the country and keep his promises to you. The american people thought very nice. Where like you said dictate to result. I imagine the network is going to be facing a lot of pressure to call the election for trump even in a scenario where he's leading but he's not elected slate put in pretty stark terms. They wrote the fox news. Decision desk controls the fate of american democracy. How worried are you. That fox is not going to do the thing that they should do. You know facts. Like is bizarre complicated institution that doesn't really function the way to expected to function because yes it is. Tv is it a tv run state. Who knows but facts is obviously very very central to donald. Trump's whole thing fox also is very weakly lead it had a sort of powerful chieftain in roger ailes founded in ninety six and was forced to retire in two thousand sixteen after sexual abuse allegations and then died and they never really replaced him. The inmates run the asylum hannity runs. Hannity tucker runs tucker. There's some mid level executives who control bits and pieces here and there and they never really resolved to runs election nights and there's a guy who's been consulting there. The late nineties named aren't in michigan. He voted for hillary clinton last time he sees a upper west side ivy league establishment type. Who runs their decision desk. I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago and asked him who he reports to he. Kinda thought about it for a while and said he didn't know in murdoch there strains murdoch world where he wants to get good information and good intelligence so there's always been this funny circle drawn around the decision desk and it really played out very clearly in two thousand twelve where karl rove bush's consultant was there sort of on-air analysts and the network called the state of ohio for obama. And that means obama's gonna be the next president on air says. That was a mistake. It's too soon. You've gotta wait. The votes aren't all in ohio. What the outcome is going to be. But you should. We gotta be careful about calling things when we have like nine hundred ninety one votes separating the two candidates and a quarter vote yet to count. Megan kelly then walks with her. Microphone back behind the scenes of down this long hallway. We'll do a little interrogations and see if they stand by their call notwithstanding the dallas into this room full of men in suits and arden than says no rose full shit and these are the results. We're actually quite comfortable with the call in ohio. Basically right now. There's just too much obama. Vote that's outstanding. There that we know is gonna come in. Cleveland has been counted yet and ninety nine point. Five percent confident. That's good enough and that was it. It was sort of very sort of like visible showdown between the dominant political side of fox. And this funny little analytical corner that one you know i don't think we're is in love with donald trump. There's no real sign of that and it's just not clear who would sort of execute the coup required to change the calls election so i actually think fox is likely to play that straight. I mean i think other voices on fox's air could amplify trump claims that he'd won but it's pretty hard to see how it would work just technically like murdoch doesn't run a tight enough ship exactly to pull off a clear decisive. Donald trump fake victory. So it's election day. We're expecting to see tonight said the stakes for us about the ways that the media could get this rate or get this wrong. I mean the main way the media can get right. Least initially and margaret sullivan from the washington post. She's fantastic. Had a great column saying this just to be patient and to urge patience. I don't know if you've all followed. The iowa caucuses ten thousand years ago but they took a couple of days to count the votes and television just uniformly on those days tapped their feet and complain about how long it was taking it sort of intimated that there was something wrong because it was taken two days to count the votes. Were still waiting on the results. Which have been promised possibly later today. We have a brief update apparently five pm eastern and we will have the majority of the results. So read into that what you will. We're obviously these people had screwed it up. But you know their goal was ultimately to count all the votes carefully and accurately and it took a couple of days and who cares. And i think it's really important just totally that people on television are like well. Look you know this is people counting votes and you got unfold them from the envelopes and you got a flat in them in the flattening machine you gotta feed them into the scanning machine just takes a little while and it's totally normal and i think just like projecting a level of calm about that is really important and then the nightmare scenario is that it's really close because the the system just isn't built for declare calls close elections. I think at some point. It's no longer totally under the media's control how badly things go. But i think there's an opportunity to be patient to be really really clear about what's going on to not amplify premature claims. Victory being patient and urging patients is the message. We're gonna take a quick break. We'll be back in just a second. I'm harry whitman. Talking fans around table that brings together. Prominent former federal officials and special guests like senator. Amy klobuchar congressman at him shift. Stacey abrams david from al franken congresswoman katie porter. Ron clain ashu gaba. Rick wilson engaged in lively conversations about the political and legal issues. That matter most you can find us everywhere. You get your podcasts. Did you know that with drizzly. You can get drinks delivered to your door and under sixty minutes. Yep with drizzly. The number one alcohol delivery app. You can shop a huge selection of beer wine and liquor including favorites like don julio and bullet bourbon plus you can shop across multiple stores in your area to find what you want at the best prices. Download the app or visit. Drizzly dot com. That's d r. I z l. y. And use code. Save to save five dollars on your first order today. Okay we are back and ben. I'm curious about these last four years after trump was elected. The media went through this major reckoning because a lot of most organizations i would say didn't see it coming. there was. This criticism was levelled in the media at the time that we in fact check. Don trump enough. We didn't talk to his supporters enough. Given too much of a platform barely unchecked because he just like kept speaking and the networks kept on carrying it. And i'm not really sure if those criticisms were fair or not. But also i think those criticisms are for better worse still around in this election cycle. Have we done a good enough job of understanding trump supporters. Cutting through to his base are the failings real or imagined. You know it's interesting whenever somebody says we've got to avoid repeating the mistakes twenty sixteen. They mean something different sometimes. They mean that we didn't spend enough time thinking writing about voters sort of off the coasts. Sometimes they mean that we should have been more clearly calling out. Racism as a factor in people's votes them times it means we shouldn't have amplified wikileaks. Probably all of those things are accurate. Actually so i kind of hesitate but there were no end of stories about donald trump voters and people at donald trump rallies. My god like in two thousand sixteen. I think it's such a myth that we didn't do a lot of that. I mean it was so boring and you didn't read it because it was so boring and repetitive. It was like. Here's a way person. Without a college degree at living. Outside the city who resents the sneering attitude that american elites take toward them hillary's deplorable comment really stuck. And if you push they may or may not have some racist views and they love donald trump and like. How many times do you want to read that story. It wasn't like a huge shocker. Right i mean. I do think that there were certain genres that got themselves like twitter ratio de existence. Let's sort of like warm profile of the nazi which was a big twenty sixteen genre but also like it's complicated. And i think that sometimes thrown out with that was the rigorous and aggressive attempt to understand the nazi which is really important so i think we tend to over learn from our mistakes. Classic example of that is everyone is ready for like a state sponsored hacking dump operation aimed at disrupting the election and rudy giuliani kind of like barrels into the news cycle with this like bazaar laptop full of seem actually like genuinely damning emails about hundred bud his attempts to trade on his father's name. Everybody reacts like it. Wikileaks to and twitter in particular like goes into wikileaks mode and blocks links to the new york post article. And it was such a unforced error a bizarre thing to do and kind of frightening honestly like who does twitter think they are and meanwhile the rest of the media had been dealing pretty appropriately with the new york post article which is like. This is a really weirdly sourced article that also has some stuff in it. That's interesting and let's see if we can get ready guiliani to share with us. The hard drive. Nope he will not do that. Be get the biden campaign to confirm. Some of this is real. Nope they're not talking to us. See find other ways and then detroit it proportionally. This is not ultimately a story about joe biden. It's a story about his son who he knew was trading out his name and we knew had problems the media i actually was handling all that with the per free level of kind of proportionality and twitter and the attempt to cast. That story is something it really wasn't or doesn't appear to have been was the mistake and was an overreaction. Well let's talk about the over correction. Because i think that's an interesting note because one thing that we see now constantly is the fact checking of donald trump. I think it's fair to do. Because he's a the president and be sort of habitually mendacious but there's something to be said about the sort of constant fact checking of him and also added to it what could be perceived as an attempt to shield joe biden from criticism in a way that is not afforded to donald trump. And i'm wondering how you think. Bat affects the way that trump is perceived by his own supporters. I'm a little uncomfortable with official affecting apparatus. I mean i think it's good that reporters as part of their daily journalism. Call out and identify when he's lying or just ignore if it's not appropriate amplify it but there's something kind of pedantic about fact checking and there's also inevitable mission creep in fact checking we're fact checkers. Look what they do intermittently see them. You know trump will say the economy's gonna get better or like my policies or good and you'll see fact checkers sort of way and i'm like well like according i'm like twenty three year old and my first job and i think the economy is going to get better so i'm labeling this three-quarters false and it's like that's not a fact that's politics and it makes you look like an idiot when you do that in discredits the rest of what you do if you really need to be a full time fact checker like. Please stay in your box but they find it very very hard to do that. Because it's like a very boring box to be in so i would rather that the kind of media that people consume paid a lot of attention to facts into truth into lies that you employed like an alternate apparatus to do the same thing. I gotta tell you. I've been a journalist for eight years or so. And i have never thought about the machinery of journalism as much as i have in the last three years it was a pretty stable profession. Get into before that. And now i just constantly have to think about the thing that we're doing in ways that i never anticipated at half do not a lot of that is because of how. The media responded to the trump presidency. How do you think he's changed the media. How do you think he's changed the press you know. He's come along at a moment of very intense change. And i think a little hard to separate these things out. He's also himself basically a media figure in a media entrepreneur and media phenomenon. There's a brazilian writer whose name emblazoned on who's written about how trump is like giving the american people like a four year reality show of authoritarian ism without the actual governance like saw the border but most americans are not dealing with federal security services in their lives or having their emails monitored. There haven't been arrests political activists the things you see in real authoritarian governments but he talks like it and we get to lakes. Try that if we can change the channel if we want and so like there's a strange phenomenon that his presidency is like itself largely just media not entirely with real effects on people but to a larger degree than most sort of meaningful political leaders. Most of what he does is in the media and in the culture like how much he talked about a wall versus. How little wall got built. A big part of his presidency is virtual and is media itself. And then meanwhile he's obsessed with the legacy media with the new york times washington. Post cnn nbc news. Two degree that nobody cared about these institutions this much for years long declining institutions right and trump's attacks on them or obviously like a form of love and obsession and i think he's really elevated them helped the massively driven subscriptions. You put them back at the center of the culture. At a moment when i think when we were at buzzfeed during the obama years and i think there's a sense from the left end from the right that outlets like buzzfeed that what was happening on snapchat was moving culture. Maybe more than an article in the new york times and trump has picked up particularly like broadcast television off the ash heap of history. Dusted it off and given it at least four more years. I have to say that. I did not anticipate in two thousand twenty two still be talking about the ways that traditional sort of television broadcasting was to be relevant but certainly donald trump's presidency is kind of given this new life in a way that i imagined even bake quite appreciate. It's a pretty strange phenomenon right. The people he spends the most time attacking or the ones who profit most from his presidency. Yeah that's true. That's a good point. We've talked a lot about what might happen tonight. What are you gonna be watching for over the next bunch of weeks. Because i imagine this might take a bunch of weeks i mean. I don't think this is a normal situation for like a usual. Here's what i'm watching for is a pundit you know what are we watching for like whether the republic false apart or now in most scenarios. There's a really clean winner and people behave grudgingly or not responsibly. And then there are scenarios you can imagine where it's incredibly messy in deteriorates massively. That was both in irving. And that's what i go for. Congratulations on your republic. I hope you can keep it. Thank you so much coming on the podcast which is really nice to hear your voice. I hope you will recommend me for asylum gleefully. I'll be like this. Man is yale educated. Over your great wonderful ben smith. Thank you so much man. Ben smith is the media columnist for the new york times. I'm your host element if you want a recap of election night tomorrow morning. Be sure to check out what our pows over at. Cbs's daily news podcast furner doing and follow the latest tonight at cbc news dot ca party in the usa is made by cbc news and cbc. Podcasts thank you so much for listening of talk to you. Thursday on the regular party lines with rosemary barton for more. Cbc podcasts go to cbc dot ca slash podcasts.