This week in wonky news!
We’re complete policy wonks, and we own that.
We talk about politics and polls and studies and data all the time. And we have a hunch that you’re keen on knowing what’s going on “in the weeds.” So here’s something to read, a totally wonky bit we’re calling “Your In The Weeds Moment,” and because Friends Don’t Let Friends Watch Fox News, our special feature “What’s Up On Fox News.”
Something Interesting to Read:
We’ve seen a number of articles unpacking the disinformation campaigns and social media strategies used by the Trump campaign and its surrogates.
But this new piece in the Atlantic goes wide and deep – not just exploring the hows and the whos and the whys, but delving into the impact that large-scale disinformation has on democracies in general … and our democracy in particular.
Fair warning – it’ll scare the pants off of you, but it’s worth a read. Check it out here: The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President
Your “Completely In the Weeds Moment”:
We all know that it’s really important to take our responsibility to be accurate seriously. That’s doubly true for the media.
However, there’s a frenzy of interest in the Democratic primaries. Totally understandable. But perhaps because of that interest and the media’s desire to Keep It Simple for viewers, we’re seeing a less-than-accurate depiction of the implications of the primary results. And that troubles us.
Basically, we really need to be careful not to promote media-driven narratives about “winners” and “losers” in Democratic primaries – particularly when none of the candidates is getting more than 30% of the vote.
We’ve talked before about how delegates are awarded in Democratic primaries. They’re awarded on a proportional basis once a candidate reaches the 15% threshold, either statewide or by congressional district.
That’s how it’s been since 1972 when the Democratic party went to this proportional model (because Hubert Humphrey won the 1968 nomination despite not running in a single primary).
So by the very nature of the Democrat’s proportional system, we expectmultiple candidates to be awarded delegates from each state.
That’s completely foreign to most non-wonky people, because as a society we’re used to the “winner take all” model of the Electoral College.
It’s made even more confusing because the GOP doesn’t follow our proportional primary system. Although they leave it to individual states, by and large they use the “winner-take-all” method. (Notably, that benefits the frontrunner, who can win a substantial majority of the delegates without winning a majority of the vote.)
So when the media discusses the “winner” of any specific state’s Democratic primary, there’s a real risk that viewers/readers who don’t live in the weeds like we do, will assume the “winner-take-all” method applies and believe that candidate gets all of that state’s delegates.
Where this gets particularly worrisome is with the perpetuation of a narrative that’s been festering since 2016: that the primaries are rigged. Trump himself pushes that story, Joe Biden’s campaign questioned whether Iowa’s results were rigged, and we’ve even heard some Sanders supporters question recent results in states Sanders “won.”
And right now, there’s a not-unlikely scenario that we go into the convention with no candidate having 50% +1 of the pledged delegates – which is what you need to win the nomination on the first ballot. Right now, 538 says there’s a 1 in 3 chance of that happening.
And we’re worried about the impact it will have on people’s perceptions of the system if all they hear before the convention is a simple binary win/loss statistic … and then at the convention no candidate has the majority of delegates needed to clinch the nomination on the first ballot.
If, for example, one of the candidates “wins” all or most of the primaries – but only gets 28% of the vote in each of them – s/he will go into the convention with substantially less than a majority of the delegates … but with most or all of the media-crowned “wins.”
In that scenario, a casual observer would wonder why the “winner” of all of those primaries didn’t just get the nomination outright.
That is bound to confuse people, and perpetuate the belief that the system is somehow rigged or unfair, and that’s a serious problem.
So, what to do about it?
Be accurate in how you talk about the primaries. Refrain from talking about “wins” and “losses” and focus on the accumulation of delegates. Share the wonky ins and outs of the primary process with your friends and neighbors. Help us start educating people now, in case we do have a brokered convention.
And if you’re in the media? Please stop taking the easy route and crowning a “winner” in each Democratic primary.
What’s Up on Fox News
Wow, what a week.
Alarm bells went off in the media and in national security circles after Trump’s interference in Roger Stone’s sentencing. It’s massive front page news on NBC, CBS, ABC, Washington Post, and the New York Times.
But it’s nowhere to be found at the Wall Street Journal. It’s sidebar news on FoxNews.com – where they actually justify his interference. Per Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham: “This is the commander-in-chief. This is the top law enforcement officer. And he’s got a right to his opinion.”
Pretty chilling stuff.
Hannity is appealing to his conspiracy-theorist base by suggesting the DOJ has always been a deep-state actor, and only through Trump’s interference is it becoming more fair. “I can’t put my finger on the whole story yet,” he says. “But something is going on that is deep and that is profound and that has a lot to do with the DOJ speaking out and saying, ‘No, the sentencing you’re saying for Roger Stone is over the top.’ … These people are not going to be happy unless old people die in jail. Look how they treated Michael Flynn. There’s something is happening that is very deep, I’m telling you, this is a big deal.”
Let’s not forget that last week Trump fired Lt. Col. Vindman – which was received on Fox News with enthusiasm. Laura Ingraham agreed with a guest who compared Trump’s removal of Vindman to a mob boss cleaning house – and approved of it. The guest claimed the “payback” was warranted because Vindman was part of “an attempted palace coup” and was working to “overthrow” the president. When the plan failed, the guest explains, Vindman should have expected to be removed.
This normalization of witness retribution is incredibly dangerous. But know that a sizable chunk of the American population is being told to think of impeachment as a “palace coup,” and that people who abide by lawful subpoenas are a part of that “coup” – and are rightfully fired for cooperating.
Obviously, as you know, that’s not how any of this works. But that’s where we are.
Know, too, that Hannity watchers are being conditioned to think Fox News is the only network reporting the truth. The “media mob” has been wrong all along, he explains. And he claims that everything he’s reported on – going all the way back to January 11, 2017 – has been right. From the deep state to the Steele dossier to Biden “we are the only network telling the truth,” he says.
We’ve got our work cut out for us.
Before you go…
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