In Florida, polls gave Biden on average a lead of one point; the New York Times poll showed Biden beating President Trump by three points, and Reuters showed him winning by four points. Instead, Trump won the state by more than three. In Pennsylvania, Biden led by more than a point on average in pre-election polls; the NBC News/Marist survey predicted a five-point Biden victory; instead, the race is down to the wire. In Wisconsin, pre-election polls showed the former vice president up almost seven points. The Post/ABC News poll projected a 17-point Biden thrashing, while the Times predicted an 11-point Biden victory. Trump appears to have lost by just 21,000 votes.
The same is true of the Senate. In Maine, not a single poll showed Sen. Susan Collins (R) winning reelection, and some showed her losing by six, seven and even 12 points. Instead, she crushed her opponent by more than seven points. In North Carolina, with the exception of the GOP Trafalgar Group, not a single poll in the past month showed Sen. Thom Tillis (R) winning his race; he leads by nearly two points. In Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst (R) was supposed to be endangered, but won by nearly seven points. In Montana, Sen. Steve Daines (R) was supposed to be in a nail-biter, but won by 10. Far from taking back the Senate, as of this writing Democrats have gained a grand total of one net seat. And defying expectations, Republicans won almost every toss-up in the House — picking up at least six seats and leaving Democrats with the slimmest House majority in 20 years.
Many in the media bought the polls because they could not imagine that half the country was not as disgusted by Trump and his Republican “enablers” as they were. After four years of branding Trump a bigot, they had trouble understanding how the president succeeded in actually expanding his Black and Latino support in 2020, which helped give him his margin of victory in Florida.
Given this failure to correctly predict the election, is it any wonder that a lot of Americans don’t trust the media to call the election? Or that they buy Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of fraud? Trust in the media, and its essential role as a neutral arbiter of fact, lies in tatters. A recent study from Gallup and the Knight Foundation found that 86 percent of Americans say the news media is biased, and 73 percent say the bias in the reporting of news that is supposed to be objective is “a major problem.” The bias is seen as ideological. Almost three-fourths of Republicans and 52 percent of independents have a “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable view of the news media, compared with 22 percent of Democrats.
Indeed, many Republicans see the polling errors all going in one direction — in the Democrats' favor — and begin to wonder if all those lopsided polls amplified by the media affected the outcome of the election by dispiriting and suppressing Republican turnout.
Of course, the pollsters were not trying to get it wrong. But some in the media intentionally deceived voters. Just before Election Day, we learned the identity of “Anonymous,” the supposedly senior Trump official who had penned a New York Times op-ed claiming to be part of a “resistance” inside the administration. Two years ago, the column roiled Washington, fueling speculation over who had written it. Some even suggested it was Vice President Pence because the author used the word “lodestar” — a favorite Pence term.
It turned out to be Miles Taylor, an unknown mid-level staffer at the Department of Homeland Security. The Times justified identifying Taylor as a "senior official in the Trump administration" because it said he was chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. But when the Times ran the op-ed on Sept. 5, 2018, Taylor wasn’t chief of staff; he was a mere deputy chief of staff. If the Times had put his name on that op-ed, no one would have cared. “Anonymous” was a hoax, plain and simple. Many Americans understandably look at the Times’s deception and ask: If the paper blatantly mischaracterized Taylor as a “senior official,” how many other anonymously sourced news stories attacking Trump have they falsely attributed to “senior officials”?
The Gallup/Knight study found large majorities of Americans say that the media is critical to our democracy and want journalists to provide fair news reports and hold leaders accountable. But news organizations cannot do so if they do not have the people’s trust — and among a majority of Republicans and independents at least, they have lost that trust.
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