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.
- Indiana: Though national attention has focused on the tight senate race between Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly and Republican challenger Mike Braun, Nadia Brown argues that it’s the Fifth District Congressional race, between two women, that provides “harbingers of our political future.”
- Washington: Ryan Bell highlights a ballot initiative that would change the state’s laws about police use of deadly force, which are among the country’s most protective of law enforcement. It’s not the splashiest item on the ballot, Bell writes, but “journalists have a role in informing voters on how the measure will impact local law enforcement.”
- Texas: In an increasingly diverse state, Michael Barajas writes about the impact of mass incarceration, “the prevailing civil rights issue of our time, and a dynamic that deserves more attention each election cycle.”
- Kentucky: Lyndsey Gilpin argues that the competitive race in the state’s sixth congressional district is about more than coal. “For too long, politicians and the media outlets covering them have devoted more attention to the politics of coal than to those people whose lives depend on it,” Gilpin writes.
- Iowa: Lyz Lenz tackles the digital divide, writing that “despite bipartisan support on the issue, the crisis of America’s digital divide has failed to become a headline grabber or garner any real action from politicians as midterms approach. This information disparity undermines our democracy, hampers how we do journalism, and shapes how Americans interact with the news.”
Other notable stories:
- The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi tries to figure out why the murder of Jamal Khashoggi captured the outrage and media attention that previous atrocities by the Saudi government did not. “The answer may be a combination of the time and place of Khashoggi’s disappearance, and the gruesome circumstances of his apparent death, which may have made his story more ‘relatable’ to American viewers and readers,” Farhi writes. “The accumulation of details has created the kind of sustained news coverage that the faceless victims of war and violence rarely receive.”
- “This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately,” Trump told The New York Times in a brief Oval Office interview on Thursday. The president acknowledged that he believes Khashoggi is dead, and that high-level Saudi government officials were likely involved, but “stopped short of saying the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death.”
- CJR columnist Trevor Timm addresses the Trump administration’s crackdown on journalists’ sources, focusing on the recent arrest of senior Treasury official Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards. “Leak investigations strike at the heart of the press’s job,” Timm writes. “We should all consider this growing crackdown on leaks a danger to investigative journalism and stick up for the alleged sources involved.”
- Meanwhile, at a rally in Montana, Trump praised Congressman Greg Gianforte for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last year. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my guy,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd. “To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it,” Guardian US Editor John Mulholland said in a statement. “We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the President will see fit to apologize for them”
- Jenn Suozzo has been named executive producer of NBC Nightly News, removing the interim tag from a position she’s filled since Sam Singal left the role this summer. Singal had led the program for three years.