Analysis: Why the media got the midterm ‘red wave’ narrative so wrong

The White House believes that the press has “once again eggs in the face”.

That’s according to a White House official who spoke candidly with CNN Wednesday about the media’s “red wave” narrative that was not.

Heading into Tuesday, the dominant narrative in the press — especially the right-wing media — was that Republicans were on course to have a great, if not a monster, night. Focusing largely on the fragility of the economy, coupled with the fact that the ruling party has still not performed well in such elections, the press had virtually declared that the Democrats would be beaten from coast to coast. other.

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But when the election results fell on Tuesday evening, the big wave turned into a simple ripple. Experts like Ben Shapiro Noted the view had gone “from the red wave to the red wedding”. Even on Fox News, the right-wing cable network that had heavily touted the red wave presumption to its audience, pundits acknowledged the reality. Marc Thiessen, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, called it an “absolute disaster” for the GOP.

So what happened?

Norman Ornstein, a researcher emeritus at the center-right American Enterprise Institute, suggested a few factors were at play. Chief among them, a reliance on bad polls (i.e. InsiderAdvantage and Rasmussen), a herd mentality that swept the press and the tendency to treat this election like the midterms of the past when other important issues (like democracy and abortion) were at stake.

But Ornstein also warned of a “more troubling” factor that he said impacted the coverage. “There are so many people in the mainstream press who fear to a remarkable degree that they will be stigmatized as having a liberal bias. And what we see is that the reaction to that is to bend over backwards four times to show that there is no bias.

In other words, Ornstein argued, mainstream journalists accepted a red wave narrative because it showed they were tough on Democrats. “This business of bilateralism to show there is no bias gives us another kind of bias,” he said.

“You put it all together and that’s it,” Ornstein said.

And while it’s likely the GOP will still win the House and could pick up a win in the Senate, the White House official slammed the press for criticizing the administration for its focus on issues outside the economy.

“We talked about constantly fighting inflation,” the official said. “There is also a very important constituency in this country that is extremely concerned about reproductive rights after Dobbs. The same goes for political violence and extremism. It all overlaps too.

“The idea that because inflation is a big problem, we’re not supposed to tackle another problem, that’s just a mistake and not the way campaigns are supposed to work,” the head of the newspaper continued. the White House, adding that “oversimplification is a trap that it is important that the press does not fall into.

It turned out that it wasn’t all about the economy, as some media pundits had suggested. As CNN’s exit poll showed on Tuesday, abortion and the state of democracy were also big factors in the election.

More than a quarter of voters cited access to abortion as a major problem. About 61% said they were unhappy with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and about 7 in 10 of those voters backed a Democratic House candidate. Voters were also deeply concerned about the state of the country’s democracy: around two-thirds said they felt democracy in the country was somewhat or very under threat.

At the end of the line ? “Politics has become extremely unstable,” the White House official said, “and I’m not sure these kinds of large-scale narratives and this obsession with predictions are helping anyone.” It’s hard to argue with that.

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