Another week has gone by and we still don’t have a clear, unequivocal, and final result regarding the 2020 presidential election, although you wouldn’t know it by picking up just about every American newspaper or tuning in to watch almost any TV news station. Long having been a mere shadow of its former great self, the press has sunk to new lows by capitulating to ratings, public pressure, and for good measure, its own personal visceral reaction to the Donald Trump presidency. Almost immediately following the November 3 election, media outlet after media outlet declared – incredibly prematurely – Joe Biden as the “president-elect.”
As I’ve written on many occasions since the election, and specifically in last week’s column: “before a new president (or reelected president) takes the oath on January 20, Congress has to count the electoral votes officially, on January 6. The votes must arrive to all of Congress by January 3. The Senate’s archivist is responsible for transferring those votes to Congress, and the president of the Senate (the incumbent vice president) must receive them from the states by December 23. December 14 is a particularly crucial day: that’s when the electors meet to cast their vote for president. Typically, all controversies are to be resolved at the state level by December 8. As of this writing, none of that has yet happened.”
The only other way for a candidate to be declared “president-elect” is for the principal (major party) opponent to concede. Trump was indeed referred to as president-elect in 2016, within 24 hours of Election Day. As was Barack Obama in 2008, Bill Clinton in 1992, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Ronald Reagan in 1980, and so on for most of our nation’s electoral history. That’s because all of their respective opponents conceded the election almost immediately. Conspicuously missing from that sequence is George W. Bush, who wasn’t called president-elect until December 13, 2000, the day on which Al Gore finally accepted defeat. Don’t take my word for it: I invite you to search the Internet for “Bush” and “Gore” during, say, December 1-12, 2000, and just about every article you encounter will refer to them as “Governor Bush” and “Vice President Gore.”
Bush was declared the winner on Election Day 2000 by the networks, and even Gore called him to concede, until Gore realized the election was incredibly close in Florida, and decided to challenge the results. Bush never had a chance to be called president-elect, even though he was the presumptive winner.
There are all sorts of opinions about comparing and contrasting Gore in 2000 and Trump today. One is that Gore was behind by only a few hundred votes in one state, whereas Trump is down several thousands of votes in a bunch of states, and so where Gore might have had, say, a 50-50 or 40-60 chance of overturning the result, Trump’s chances, they calculate, are closer to 20-80 or 10-90, and so Trump is unnecessarily delaying the outcome and also the time-honored tradition of proceeding with a peaceful transition of power.
Another point of view is that in the case of Bush vs. Gore, the focus was on just how razor-thin Bush’s margin of victory was, whereas regarding Trump v. Biden, there are allegations not only of systemic fraud, but also of widespread software malfunctions and missing ballots. Exposing these alarming flaws now could send enough of a shock wave throughout the nation so that the American public adopts a zero tolerance attitude toward voting inaccuracies – which can go a long way toward reducing the problem to negligible proportions in time for the next election.
Yet another perspective is that both Gore and Trump were justified – or unjustified – in challenging their respective election results.
Less important than who is right or wrong – because, after all, that is entirely subjective – is that so much of the American media failed to do the right thing. Thomas Jefferson famously said that given the choice between a country without a government and one without newspapers, he’d choose a country with no government as the lesser of two evils. In considering the press more vital to a nation than even a government, surely Jefferson meant a reliable press.
Far too many in the media were so obsessed with Trump leaving office that they figure the best way to make that happen is to declare Biden the winner before the electors actually vote for him, and despite that Trump has initiated numerous legal challenges in several states. Maybe they think that a misinformation blitz will take the wind out of the steadfast Trump supporters’ sails which, in turn, will cause Trump to realize his support is waning and – just like Nixon did in August, 1974 – give up the fight.
On the other hand, many journalists truly believe that Trump has no credible claim and so they are convinced that they are dutifully bound to treat Biden as if his anticipated inauguration on January 20 is inevitable.
The solution to this is very simple: why not refer to Biden as the “projected president-elect”? That is a far more accurate statement and correctly describes the situation as it is: that Biden has been almost universally projected to be the winner, but it remains, nonetheless, just a projection for the time being. Consider how some news stories might begin: “Projected President-elect Biden said he will be interviewing candidates for secretary of state next week…” or “Numerous Obama Cabinet officials have expressed interest in working in a Biden administration and have contacted projected President-elect Joe Biden accordingly…” Is that so difficult? By doing that, the press still gets its message across without further eroding its already-compromised integrity.
I remain very honored that in writing the foreword to my book Trumped-Up Charges!, Congressman Gus Bilirakis referred to me as “the watchdog of the media.” I take role seriously and I will indeed continue watching.