JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Times are tense right now and that’s made many of you upset with the coverage of the 2020 presidential election. News4Jax is committed to transparency and fairness, but not everyone is seeing it that way.
From President Donald Trump to his top supporters, there’s a lot of doubt in the election results and the free press.
“If a Democrat were doing this, it’d be cheered on, and we’re not gonna let the media intimidate us into exploring whether or not this, these contests were fairly had,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, talking about Trump’s refusal to concede or accept the results.
This sentiment spills over into local news coverage, like what we’ve been doing WJXT for 71 years.
“FAKE NEWS," a woman wrote to News4Jax.
Another said: “I plan to make SURE THOUSANDS of others no longer watch you either.”
We can go on and on. We’ve heard all the insults. Social media followers have dropped across the board at most local news outlets since the results of the election. However, those who are more cordial have legitimate questions.
“Why do you continue calling Biden ‘President-Elect?’”
“How can ‘the media’ call an election?”
We brought those to Al Tompkins, senior faculty at the Poynter Institute, a nonpartisan journalism think tank.
“I understand that it is difficult at some times to hear news that you would rather not hear or to see results that you don’t like,” he said in a Zoom interview with News4Jax. “I get it. But that doesn’t change the results.”
He says it’s true -- major outlets did project Joe Biden to win the presidential race, but only when the numbers were insurmountable. That wasn’t until Saturday afternoon. And it’s also true that no matter what, nearly half of America wasn’t going to be happy about the results.
“It’s not our job to be on your side,” he added. “It’s our job to report the truth. If I’m watching Channel 4 because I think you’re on my side, my perception of Channel 4 is either off or Channel 4 is off.”
EXTENDED: Vic Micolucci’s full interview with Al Tompkins
"It’s unfortunate that people expect for journalism organizations to 'be on their side,’” he said. “Because, remember, the country is close to halfway split between the two candidates. So you’ve got 70 million people who did not get their way. If they’re asking for a journalism outlet to be on their side, then they’re asking the journalists to not commit journalism.”
Let’s be clear, this is not the 2000 election, which had a roughly 1,000 vote margin in one state, so while calling Biden president-elect or the projected winner isn’t legally binding right now, it’s statistically sound. And that’s not biased. As for the allegations of voter fraud, shared by Trump, his allies and supporters?
“If this election ever gets to that level of legitimate questioning, then I think you stop using that phrase,” he said about calling Biden president-elect. “It’s not even close to that right now. It’s just allegations. And allegations backed up with nothing that looks like any kind of documentation. It’s just raising questions.”
True journalists, like local reporters, need documentation. They cannot rely on unfounded claims on social media. And reporters are looking at the concerns that come in, no matter which side they come from or which side they may appear to favor.
“At the moment, I don’t know if any news organization that has said, ‘Look, we’re not gonna consider any more questions, we’re done with this.’ Instead, what I’ve seen is a lot of fact-checking to say, ‘Look, that video is from Russia,’” Tomkins said. “Actually, there was one that was actually from Russia.”
Now this question: Have you ever worked through a time when there has been this much distrust in the free press? When there has been this much of a broken relationship between so many citizens and journalists?
“I’m a good bit older than you are, so I’ve lived through a number of times from people of hated what I do for a living,” he said. “They hated us for covering Richard Nixon, they hated us for covering civil rights, they hated us for covering, you name it, they hated us for it. Journalism is not terribly popular with people, but that’s different than whether we are believed.”
He said social media and even the social separation from the COVID-19 pandemic are factors in some of today’s issues and division.
“The people that I know who are most frightened to change their mind other people who are least sure of what they believe,” he pointed out. “And I am concerned that we are getting to a point where dialogue and debate no longer change minds. When is the last time anybody on Twitter ever said the words, 'You know, you’re right. I never thought of it that way.’ Nobody’s ever said those words on Twitter. Why? Because the only few reasons people go there is to assert how right they are and how wrong you are. And that’s not productive. We’ve got to break that cycle.”
Legally, the process isn’t over and technically anything can happen.
According to law, states have until Dec. 8 to settle elections disputes.
The electors vote on Dec. 14.
The House and Senate work together to count the electoral votes on Jan. 6.
Finally, the president is sworn in on Jan. 20 at the inauguration.