There are a lot of complaints about the media coverage of this campaign that are entirely justified: In the name of ratings and readership, many of us have allowed showmanship to trump (yes, that was intentional) the real issues. We’ve irresponsibly gone along while a cheap-shot artist has given us a cheap way to profit instead of spending the money and resources to do even basic journalism. But what happens when a news organization does the tedious job of reporting what it knows when it knows it? Well, we get bent out of shape. At least, that’s what a lot of otherwise thoughtful people did when The Associated Press had the audacity to go through the drudgery of tallying the 719 so-called superdelegates, the Democrats’ luminaries who are unpledged. They can vote for any nominee they choose, although they usually declare their commitments at some point.
So, the AP reporters worked the phones, counted up those declaring their fealty to Hillary Clinton, added those bound to her from the primary elections and determined that she had gone over the top and had the delegate majority she needed to be declared the “presumptive nominee.” They reported this on the night before the elections in California, New Jersey and four other states. By doing so, AP managed to antagonize just about everyone in the party.
Bernie Sanders and his peeps were furious. When are they not furious? This time they charged that the story would suppress the vote of their supporters, whose enthusiasm would be overtaken by a what’s-the-use lethargy. Besides, they bristled, the report was premature. These superdelegates can change their mind, particularly if Hillary Clinton is indicted for mishandling classified information, or some other massive wrongdoing oozes out from her secret emails. That seemed to be all he had left, a what-if-Hillary-goes-down-in-flames strategy.
The Clinton forces, meanwhile, were not at all happy with the timing of the report. It came one day before the six elections that would put her over the top, thereby raining on their parade, where they were going to do a victory lap and celebrate the historic achievement of her becoming the first female presumptive presidential nominee of a major party. It is historic, and after the polls closed, they had their parade — well, it actually was a rally, accompanied by this tweet: “To every little girl who dreams big: Yes, you can be anything you want — even president. Tonight is for you. -H.” That “-H,” we’re told, means that Hillary composed the words herself. And Bernie is about to exit stage left.
The stage is now set for a vicious battle between “-H,” with all her claim to history, but also with the baggage from her personal history, and a man, let’s call him “-D,” who is struggling with the perceptions that he’s a vindictive, bigoted, liar. The amoral politicians on his side, the Republican side, are beyond perplexed. How do they look like they have principles while endorsing someone who they themselves accuse of making racist comments about the judge trying Trump University litigation? Put another way, how can they embrace Donald Trump while keeping him at arm’s length?
One would think that the Democrats and Hillary could just waltz their way into the Oval Office. Except that Bernie Sanders kept cutting in, even though his song was long over. Finally, he’s changing his tune, she may be tripped up by all the hard feelings that remain. It won’t be a dance into the White House. Unless Bernie’s millions of supporters follow his lead when he acts on his promises that he’ll do whatever it takes to rescue the nation from a President Donald Trump. So far, that’s a work in process, that won’t really take shape until he stops sulking.
It’s closer than anyone was predicting. Trump could win this thing. Neither AP nor any news organization can project a result. All we can do, should do, is report facts and context, when we know them. Then it’s up to the American voters.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.