Following the stunning presidential victory of Donald Trump nearly one year ago, tick-tock recaps of election night began cropping up. They were spellbinding.
And they still are. Esquire just published a whopper of an oral history featuring input from the likes of Trump campaign aide Stephen K. Bannon, New Yorker Editor David Remnick, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, CNN’s Van Jones, cake artist Melissa Alt and several others. Alt’s cake of Trump’s head pretty much steals the show in this exhaustive rundown. “The next day my manager took the cake back to Trump Tower because they didn’t cut it at election night,” says Alt in the story. “Donald Trump Jr. told my friend that it was delicious.”
Confection aside, the look-back piece leaves no mistake about the degree to which the media was blindsided by Trump’s victory. Completely, that is.
Consider the input from Remnick, whose magazine’s preparations for the election’s outcome were a touch lopsided. Here’s what he told Esquire:
I thought about, and actually wrote, an essay about “the first woman president,” and the historical background of it all. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragettes, the relationship with Frederick Douglass … a historical essay, clearly written in a mood of “at long last” and, yes, celebration. The idea was to press “post” on that piece, along with many other pieces by my colleagues at The New Yorker, the instant Clinton’s victory was declared on TV. … Not only did I not have anything else ready, I don’t think our site had anything, or much of anything, ready in case Trump won. The mood in the offices, I would say, was frenetic. … That night I went to a friend’s election-night party. As Clinton’s numbers started to sour, I took my laptop out, got a chair, found a corner of that noisy room, and started thinking and writing. That was what turned out to be “An American Tragedy.“
In speaking to Esquire, Remnick recalled that his essay resulted from a “strange state of focus that happens only once in a while.” It was a memorable indictment of all that Trump stood for: “Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment,” wrote Remnick.
The Remnick essay was widely shared, and the Erik Wemple Blog devoured it in a few minutes. Very persuasive, we thought — just like all those other essays and investigations that had failed to sour enough people on Trump’s fitness for office.
Over at the New York Times, chaos also prevailed. “There was so much going on that night and so many last-minute changes and such a hectic schedule that the story was published with the wrong bylines. The historic front page, ‘Trump Triumphs,’ ran in the paper with the wrong bylines,” recalled the New York Times’s Michael Barbaro. That particular screwup is memorialized at the bottom of the web version of that story:
Correction: November 10, 2016
An article on Wednesday about the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States carried an erroneous byline in some editions. The article was by Matt Flegenheimer and Michael Barbaro — not by Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin.
Post-election analysis focused not so much on the byline mistake, but on the projections of a Clinton victory available at the New York Times and other news outlets.