Analysis: Why the news media so misread the medium-term ‘red wave’ narrative

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The White House believes the press is “making balls in the face again.”

So says a White House official who spoke candidly with CNN on Wednesday about the media’s “Red Wave” narrative, which it wasn’t.

Heading into Tuesday, the dominant narrative in the press – particularly the right-wing media – was that Republicans were on course for a big, if not monstrous, night. The press, largely focused on the fragile state of the economy, coupled with the fact that the incumbent party has historically not done well in such elections, had come close to declaring that Democrats would be crushed coast to coast.

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But when the election results came out on Tuesday night, the big wave turned into a mere wave. Experts like Ben Shapiro written down The view had wandered “from the red wave to the red wedding”. Even on Fox News, the right-wing cable network that had hyped the Red Wave suspicion to its audience, pundits acknowledged the reality. Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, called it an “absolute disaster” for the GOP.

So what happened?

Norman Ornstein, scientist emeritus at the centre-right American Enterprise Institute, suggested that a few factors played a role. Chief among them are reliance on bad polls (e.g. InsiderAdvantage and Rasmussen), a herd mentality that gripped the press, and a tendency to treat these elections like past midterms when other important issues (like democracy and abortion) were in the game.

But Ornstein also warned of a “more troubling” factor that he believed was influencing reporting. “There are so many in the mainstream press who are remarkably afraid of being branded liberal. And what we see is that the response to that is to bend backwards four times to show that there is no bias.”

In other words, Ornstein argued, mainstream journalists subscribed to a Red Wave narrative because it showed they were cracking down on Democrats. “This business of mutuality to show that there is no bias gives us a different kind of bias,” he said.

“They put it all together and it’s not a show,” Ornstein said.

And while it’s likely the GOP will still take over the House and could win a Senate victory, the White House official has criticized the press for stinging the administration for its focus on issues outside of the economy.

“We constantly talked about fighting inflation,” the official said. “There is also a very significant constituency in this country that is extremely concerned about reproductive rights, according to Dobbs. The same applies to political violence and extremism. These all overlap.”

“The idea that inflation is a big problem and we shouldn’t concern ourselves with another issue is just a fallacy and not how campaigns are supposed to work,” the White House official continued, adding that “too strong a Simplicity is a trap It’s important that the press doesn’t fall into it.”

Turns out it wasn’t just about the economy, as some media pundits had claimed. As CNN’s exit poll showed on Tuesday, abortion and the state of democracy were also important factors in the election.

More than a quarter of voters named access to abortion as a top issue. About 61% said they were comfortable with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. unsatisfied with overthrowing Wade, and about 7 in 10 of those voters backed a Democratic House candidate. Voters also expressed great concern about the state of democracy in the country, with around two-thirds saying they felt democracy in the country was somewhat or very threatened.

bottom line? “Politics have become extremely volatile,” the White House official said, “and I’m not sure that kind of sweeping narratives and obsession with predictions are helping anyone.” It’s hard to disagree.


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