On Unity: The News Media’s Role on Election Night

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Friends and fellow citizens,

This week, we invited the American Enterprise Institute’s Chris Stirewalt and Vanderbilt’s Josh Clinton to share their firsthand experience overseeing the intricate data-driven processes that allow major networks to accurately call election winners and losers. Months of diligent preparation, statistical modeling and robust research inform these election night announcements, they observed during a discussion moderated by John M. Seigenthaler, former anchor and correspondent for NBC Nightly News. 

Stirewalt and Clinton noted that while election night coverage can be likened to calling “balls and strikes,” election results can sometimes seem jarring to cable audiences who have been fed a steady diet of opinion and commentary in the preceding months.   

“It’s great to call races if you’re calling races that your audience likes, but if you’re giving your audience stuff that they don’t want to hear, that’s not good for business,” said Stirewalt, who eventually lost his position at FOX News after that network’s decision desk was the first to call Arizona for Joe Biden in 2020. 

The trio all agreed that media play an integral role in this most important democratic function, because a system devoid of a neutral watchdog institution could invite fraud and harbor opportunities for conflicts of interest.  

Clinton reminds us, “There is a vital role for an objective source like the media to play in reporting out who wins and who loses.”  

So, how do we re-instill people’s trust in the media outlets responsible for fulfilling this vital role? Stirewalt says the solution must be an inside job that hinges on a deep sense of duty to the U.S. Constitution and to every life spent to protect our precious freedoms.  

I promise that this conversation will prove a welcome and informative respite from the “hot takes” dominating your Twitter feed as we get closer to the midterms. 



Gray Sasser 

Executive Director 

The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy   

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