“The general election is not an organizational exercise. It’s a mass media exercise.”
– Roger Stone
All aspects of our lives were upended by the 2020 pandemic. The media reminded us daily of the violent social unrest and alleged racial injustice. They failed to cover abuses of our core democratic voting practices which cast long shadows over the efficacies of our election process. At a time so much went wrong and so little went right, when we needed unity, the media divided us even more.
Debates were postponed or canceled. Candidates missed events, and held others on the internet or TV. Joe Biden hid in the basement of his Delaware home for days, and refused interviews. The media did Kamala Harris’ campaigning for her while Biden remained AWOL from most of America.
President Donald Trump, Gallup poll’s most admired man in the U.S. the last two years, campaigned like a new age rock star. During the pandemic, he defied anyone to stop him. His whistle stops were more charismatic than any religious revival. Unlike Biden, he was all over the map until COVID-19 slowed him down. But during quarantine at Walter Reed Medical Center, he campaigned to the voters outside.
America was not prepared for mass mail-in voting, and questions remain how ballots were counted or made it to the polls at all. Many questioned the accuracy of voting software, while others wailed disenfranchisement and fraud. And the media fanned the flames for this yet blamed the president.
Contrarily, this election was a walk in the park compared to some the media has been a part of in the past. They have a history of disrupting presidential races by making accusations of fraud, covering up backroom deals, ignoring voting problems, and creating political chaos. They were a key player in fueling the U.S. Civil War.
“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”
– John Kennedy
The 1800 contest saw Thomas Jefferson tie with his Democratic-Republican running mate Aaron Burr. Both had 73 votes. Congress was called upon to break the tie. Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, founder of the Federalist Party, despised John Adams. He seduced Federalists to vote for Jefferson and make Aaron Burr the VP. The media continued to publicize this rivalry between Hamilton and Burr for over three years, until a frustrated Burr, the sitting vice president, killed Hamilton in a duel.
The highly publicized 1824 election saw four candidates from the same party competing. Andrew Jackson got 99 Electoral College votes, John Quincy Adams secured 84, William Crawford won 41 and House Speaker Henry Clay 37. Since none won the majority, the House decided the election.
House speaker Clay had the dubious honor to pick the winner. Adams promised Clay the job of Secretary of State if he gave the election to him. Jackson was so furious he accused Adams and Clay of “election corruption” and resigned his senate seat.
The 1860 election was notorious for many things as newspapers nationwide tried to derail Abraham Lincoln, which further divided the nation over slavery. The New York Herald claimed if he won, “hundreds of thousands” of slaves would invade the North. And the press in the south convinced southern states to remove Lincoln from their ballot. In the end, Abraham Lincoln beat John Breckinridge, due to the Republican Party’s firm anti-slavery platform. And weeks after the election, South Carolina voted to secede; followed by six more Southern states. In February 1861, delegates from Southern states formed the Confederate States of America and selected Jefferson Davis as their official president.
In the election of 1872, one of the candidates never saw the final Electoral College vote. Misguided New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, a Democrat critical of Reconstruction, had tried to unseat Ulysses S. Grant. He didn’t stand a chance of winning and died before the election was finalized.
In 1876, when Democrat Samuel Tilden defeated Republican Rutherford Hayes, electorates in the College were tied. Democrats, influenced by Southern media on a bipartisan commission, made a shady deal to award Hayes the election if he would return power to the Democrats in the South.
The 1920 election featured two newspaper publishers, Democrat James Cox and Republican Warren G. Harding. Harding defeated Cox handily with strong media support. But the media completely ignored the candidate who finished third. And he was the most newsworthy.
Bernie Sanders’ predecessor, Socialist Eugene Debs who ran for president five times, ran his 1920 campaign from the most eccentric campaign headquarters: a prison cell. He was convicted for high crimes against government and sentenced to spend a decade in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
“The most heroic word in language is revolution. I am a proletarian revolutionist.”
– Eugene Debs
By 1948, the media felt they were now qualified to start calling presidential elections. Segregationist Southern Democrats pitted Strom Thurmond, their first Dixiecrat candidate, against the incumbent Democrat Harry S. Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey. NBC, CBS and Gallop all predicted Dewey would win. Led by the Chicago Daily Tribune, they took the pollsters’ bait and signed off on one of the most blunderous media headlines in the history of journalism: “Dewey defeats Truman.”
We all recall the fiasco in Florida in 2000. Again, the media forgot they don’t pick the winners, the voters do. By 8 p.m. eastern, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and the API declared Al Gore the winner over George H.W. Bush. But when Bush won Florida, their newsrooms were covered with egg. The next day, they began a campaign to change the election results to vindicate their amateurish reporting.
Five weeks of recounting and ballot harvesting was highly publicized by the media, who favored Gore. When the Supreme Court ended this debacle, the media refused to let it go. As a result, our nation never recovered from the media’s Election Eve blunders. Judging by our latest election, we still haven’t learned; the media is a greater danger to elections than the voters who listen to them!
Topix’s Chris Tolles said, “People don’t trust politicians because of the media.” The media is no longer a watchdog over government. They’ve turned elections into high-priced advertising. In the 1800s when papers were in bed with favorite candidates, voters could read and decipher agitprop from both sides of the aisle. But each year, as the media has moved so dramatically left, this is no longer the case.
“Political candidates are products, and we sell the winners today.”
Long before the pandemic, no presidential election was without conflict or adversity. This discord is fueled by the media to increase circulation. With today’s media appealing to identity groups and gullible Millennials, the media will have more influence over the future of our nation than voters will ever have.
“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
– Thomas Sowell
William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, author, and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years. He got his start working to approve California Proposition 13.