News Analysis Nov 3, 2020 10:49 PM EST

The New York Times spreads election disinformation about declaring the winner on election day

The New York Times spread election disinformation on Twitter as they proclaimed that the news media are the ones who are meant to declare the winner of the hotly contested US presidential election.

The New York Times spreads election disinformation about declaring the winner on election day
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY
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The New York Times spread election disinformation on Twitter on Tuesday evening, as they proclaimed that the news media are the ones who are meant to declare the winner of the hotly contested US presidential election.

They wrote that "The role of declaring the winner of a presidential election in the U.S. falls to the news media. The broadcast networks and cable news outlets have vowed to be prudent. Here’s how it will work."

This is just not true at all. Yet Twitter did not flag or removed this obvious election disinformation, nor block The New York Times for posting it. The Times came to their senses, seemingly, and deleted it themselves, but the article's claims remain the same.

When the New York Post was falsely accused by Twitter for running afoul of their misinformation ban (for a legitimate story about the contents of Hunter Biden's laptop) they were suspended for two weeks before Twitter acknowledged their mistake.

The Times deleted their tweet, and reposted, saying "We've deleted an earlier tweet that referred imprecisely to the role of the news media in the U.S. presidential election. The news media projects winners and reports results; it does not declare the winner of the election."

The New York Times, nor any other news media source, is responsible for determining the outcome of the US presidential election. Instead, it falls to each states' board of elections to round up the tallies from all the counties to determine which candidates receive electoral votes from that state.

Those electors then cast their votes for president, and it is the outcome of that vote that determines who takes the White House. Often, the result of the popular vote matches the votes of the Electoral College, but it is possible, as it was in 2016, for the popular vote to be won by one candidate while the Electoral College votes to choose the other.

The final results are often able to be called on election night, as polls close and tallies are reported, but this year, there was such a large number of votes cast by absentee, or mail-in ballot, that states will need time for those ballots to arrive and be counted. States each have different timelines for how late after election day those ballots can be received and counted.

However, according to the Times, "In the United States — which, unlike many other countries, does not have a national electoral commission — the role of calling the winners of presidential elections falls to the news media."

That's not Constitutional, however. In fact, the Constitution has a process for determining the winner of the presidential election, and nowhere does it mention the responsibility of the press to make the call. Why? Because the press— while it certainly does report on the results, and has notoriously been wrong in the past as in 2016 and 2000 were both examples of overzealous reporting by pundits— is not the arbiter of the winners and losers.

States make their own announcements, and each state has their own methods for counting and tallying, according to their own timelines. Both Pennsylvania and Michigan said today that their final results should not be expected on election day.

The New York Times' article on the topic of their responsibility to declare a winner of the election, says that "It's a thrill to be the first news organization to declare the winner of a presidential race." They speak to different executives at news media agencies, who take their stand as to how they go about declaring for one candidate over another, even without final tallies.

"With their interactive maps and coifed pundits, the broadcast networks and cable news outlets are set up to deliver some spectacle along with the news — but they have vowed to be prudent. 'Frankly, the well-being of the country depends on us being cautious, disciplined and unassailably correct,' Noah Oppenheim, the NBC News president, said in a recent interview. 'We are committed to getting this right.'"

Many outlets look to the AP to call the race before making the call themselves. And the AP, it seems, is cautious, perhaps even waiting for the election to be determined by voters before declaring it themselves.

"'If there’s no way for the trailing candidate to catch up, no legal way, no mathematical way, then the race is decided, essentially,' Sally Buzbee, The AP's executive editor, said. 'And if there is any uncertainty, or if there are enough votes out to change the result, then we don’t call the race.'"

Yet, even if they get it wrong, their determination on who wins and loses, at least this time, will not be the final word. State leaders have been steadfast in their determination to count all the votes, and to make sure every voice is heard, no matter what The New York Times says.

Twitter has been outspoken in its assertion that it would flag false election information, misinformation, disinformation, and false news. The New York Times issued decidedly false information in saying that "The role of declaring the winner of a presidential election in the U.S. falls to the news media."

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