After Roe v. Wade, the midterms are the next big test for the media

From the day Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, we knew Roe was dead, too; the only question, really, was whether he would be formally annulled or simply destroyed in all but name. Now, a little more than a week after the release of Judge Samuel Alito’s draft opinion that overturned Roe, it’s worth looking back and asking ourselves: Did our coverage over the last two years, in its entirety, really reflect what did we know?

This is worth asking now because there are other important things we know.

We know that most of the Republican Party accepts, at least publicly, the outright falsehood that Donald Trump was the real winner of the 2020 election, but was stolen from him by a grand conspiracy. We know that the most prominent Republican elected officials who refused to endorse Trump on this are leaving office or being eliminated or elected in the primaries by true believers. We know those true believers think there is no way Trump can lose a presidential election, and perhaps no Republican candidate can.

We know, though not all of us will admit it, that if the GOP takes one or both houses of Congress this fall and enough of those true believers take office, then in 2024 the tide may not turn. We know they don’t think he can lose, so we know there’s a good chance he won’t be allowed to.

And we know that the result is likely not just the annulment of an American election, but a reshuffling of the world order. Does your newsroom coverage of the midterms reflect these things we know? it will?

(Some people will think this is all alarmist or naïve, and they will rightly think that almost every election is treated as if it is the biggest election in history and then the vast majority is not. Some will think that we don’t actually know these things, that we don’t know what will happen if the Republican candidate loses convincingly in 2024 and there is no evidence of fraud. But Trump lost convincingly in 2020 and there was no evidence of fraud).

This is not a question about whether you are covering the January 6 commission and what it is learning, or what people who believe the lies about 2020 are saying as they run for office; many newsrooms are doing stellar coverage of both. It’s not about whether he’s starting one of the units that are now springing up dedicated to covering democracy and its challenges; Those are worthwhile efforts, but they can’t do the job on their own.

This is a question about all of your coverage of politics and the midterms from now through November and beyond. Is it business as usual, albeit with some of these stories sprinkled in, or does it show the world as it really is?

overall thought

Let’s be honest: the good thing about writing something like this is that I can annoy everyone without having to solve the problems myself. Because there is no easy solution. It would be great if this were as easy as writing a story a day about democracy falling from the sky, or doing a little over-the-top scholarship, or adding a “no doubt democracy is at stake” paragraph to each article, but of course it is not.

People in newsrooms typically don’t have time in the midst of the onslaught of news to think about the big picture of our coverage, to step back and look at everything and the overall story that it conveys to our audiences. But now, right now, we have to make that time. We have to think about the coverage decisions we make, the stories we cover and the ones we don’t cover and the ones we play big and the ones we play small.

This does not mean to be biased. It does not mean supporting one side. It does not mean to bias our coverage. It means recognizing that doing anything else will skew our coverage.

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