From network and cable news to Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah's late-night specials, Election Night television was in an anxiety-induced holding pattern because of all the uncertainty. "In 2020, the fact that results were going to be delayed — something that all of America had been conditioned to expect — didn’t really matter," says Emily VanDerWerff. "The show had to go on because that’s what shows like this do. TV abhors a vacuum, but the 2020 election, especially, occurred in a vacuum. Even once all of the votes are counted, the urge to fill hours and hours of airtime on election night and beyond will linger with viewers who thought they needed information and instead got a steady dose of anxiety. This week’s nonstop coverage of the vote count has only served to underscore that election TV — both in late-night and on cable news — has long been broken. Maybe it should go away forever. For weeks now, Americans have known one thing about the 2020 election: We probably wouldn’t know official results for days or even weeks after Election Day because holding an election in a pandemic means lots of votes arriving via mail, and some states wouldn’t count mail-in ballots until polls had closed. But even if that simple likelihood hadn’t been discussed over and over and over again by politicians and pundits (here’s Bernie Sanders talking about it), a quick glance at recent history could have guided our expectations regarding when we’d find out who won. Of the five presidential elections of the 21st century before the 2020 election, only two — 2008 and 2012 — were called before midnight on the East Coast, and the 2000 election dragged on for over a month. Even extremely recent history — which is to say, the 2018 midterms — took weeks to fully understand, particularly when it came to the extent of Democratic gains in the House." VanDerWerff adds: "To watch TV coverage on election night — not to mention social media reactions to said TV coverage — was to watch a full-blown meltdown over the fact that nobody really knew anything yet, something that continued to play out across Wednesday and Thursday as all involved waited for official vote counts...The 'just keep talking until we know something' approach underserves viewers and creates endless amounts of anxiety. One of the biggest flaws of 24/7 cable news coverage in this moment is that it largely obscures the actual story of the election. And all week long, it has poked at what basically everybody knew would be the story going in. Counting the votes would take a while. We wouldn’t have results for a few days. But the demand for more, more, more led to a long election night and then, after the election, long days of single tea leaves being extrapolated into an entire plant without much thought given to how that approach might sway public opinion or how it might fail viewers."
TOPICS: Stephen Colbert's Election Night 2020, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Showtime, Joe Biden, John King, Laura Ingraham, Stephen Colbert, Steve Kornacki, Trevor Noah, 2020 Presidential Election, Trump Presidency