Six rules for the media on how to cover the 2020 election


With the entrance of multiple Democrats into the 2020 presidential contest and with several others either waiting in the wings or still pondering, the nation’s political reporters have a chance to do a better job than they did in 2016.

The question is: Will they?

Other journalists are offering advice and warnings. Many acknowledge that the media blew it in 2016, giving Donald Trump all the airtime he wanted and not taking him seriously—or looking at him critically—until it was too late.

Once media stopped giving Trump superficial treatment (especially after the election), pointing out his failures, never-ending lies, and actions of questionable legality (most of them aren’t so questionable), it was too late. Too many voters believed his taunts about the media being “fake news” and the “enemy of the people,” so they’re not likely to give the media the benefit of the doubt now. (A recent Poynter study showed that trust in the media is heavily polarized.) And because he is the president, the media have to cover him, even though they sometimes take the wrong approach in that coverage.

So the cycle begins anew. Democratic candidates announce, and women candidates are judged on their “moralizing tone” (Elizabeth Warren), their “hysteria” (Kamala Harris), or their “likability” (Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren). Sometimes candidates are dismissed immediately because they’re too old or too young, they’re no longer relevant, or their time has passed.

It’s true that most Americans—nearly seven in 10 people, according to Pew Research—feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the news. But that’s no reason to give short shrift to substantive issues for the 2020 election. If anything, news consumers want substance, not just coverage of the latest Trump tweet.

So what should the media do this time around? Here are six tips, compiled from advice by several journalists, along with some well-rounded common sense.

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