|The media today; Midterm coverage beyond Trump|Pete Vernon, CJR |AIWA! NO!|After the 2016 contest for the presidency, when many media outlets missed the rise of Donald Trump, they were left grasping for explanations.
There had been too much focus on the horse race, not enough coverage of people on the ground, a fundamental misunderstanding of what polls actually say. All were seen as missteps. Now, less than three weeks out from the midterm elections, it’s hard to quantify whether there has been any meaningful shift from empty prognosticating, though news outlets are talking a good game about having learned from the past.
For CJR, David Uberti notes that some newsrooms that got Trump’s election spectacularly wrong have done away with their numerical projections entirely. Others have taken steps to tell their audience understand what the numbers mean. “As news organizations rev up their coverage for midterm elections, the credibility of polling analysis is back on the line,” Uberti writes. “And the question of how to predict what might happen looms ever larger given the political stakes, leaving prognosticators to reconsider how they frame predictions for laypeople—if they produce them at all.”
The midterms have been cast as a referendum on President Trump, but competitions for Senate and House seats are inherently local competitions. Ahead of November 6, CJR invited writers from around the country to spotlight stories that deserve closer scrutiny in their states. The subjects that the writers chose varied from coal to racial divides to voter suppression, and several dispatches lamented the dwindling resources of local news outlets.
From Montana, Anne Helen Petersen writes that the local press “simply lacks the resources or wherewithal to pursue the larger issues, institutions, and money-flows in depth.” The state’s lone congressional seat is held by Republican Greg Gianforte, who assaulted a reporter on the eve of his special election in the spring of 2017. “How do you cover a candidate whose antagonism towards the press includes physical abuse?” Petersen wonders.
Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, is running for governor there. Kobach, a Republican who led President Trump’s voting fraud panel (since disbanded), has turned Kansas into the “epicenter of a national voter-suppression crisis,” Sarah Smarsh reports. “Readers, viewers and listeners deserve to understand the forces that might compromise the power of their ballots, from gerrymandering to unlawful purging of voter rolls,” she writes. “With pivotal midterm races across the country, no election coverage—in Kansas, and beyond—is complete without deep investigations into the voting process.”
And in Virginia, journalists are dealing with how to report on the racial demagoguery spouted by Corey Stewart, a Republican candidate for senate who has been abandoned by leading officials in his own party. “The press and public,” Elizabeth Catte writes, are “putting lessons learned covering Trump, about being less reactionary in news production and consumption, in practice.”
Trump’s dominance of national news storylines and his desire to inject his role into hundreds of local races mean that midterm voters may be thinking more nationally than in years past. But as CJR’s dispatches from around the country show, there are plenty of local and regional concerns that deserve coverage, too.
Below, more on the subjects that are driving some of the races around the country.
Other notable stories: