Could Donald Trump really 'declare victory' after the polls close tonight?
He could! And if it appears as though Trump is ahead on election night, there's a decent chance he will actually do so, according to reports.
As a result, newsrooms across the U.S. are already bracing for the volatile situation that could arise should the president prematurely and falsely declare "victory" before large numbers of mail-in ballots are counted.
Jim Newell, writing for Slate, said that journalists have a responsibility to not grant this potential campaign strategy any credence. "If the race is close, [the Trump campaign] will sue to stop the acceptance and counting of mail ballots that lean Democratic in key states, and they will hope that the revamped, conservative federal judiciary goes along with it," Newell writes. "On the PR front, Trump will 'declare victory' on Tuesday night and claim that any 'blue shift' in vote counts amounts to Democrats 'stealing' the election. This strategy is dangerous and offensive, and no one on the Trump campaign should be welcomed in polite society ever again if they attempt it. The narrative is not legitimate, and any journalistic outlet that treats it as real or worth considering has failed at its job."
Vivian Schiller, a former president and CEO of National Public Radio who was also NBC News’s chief digital officer, told the Guardian that news organizations have no excuse for being unprepared for such an eventuality, pointing to potentially toxic headlines such as "Trump declares victory" that could be used to sow discord on social media and “shape public opinion and become a weapon against truth and trust in the democratic process." Outlets will need to counter whatever "news value" Trump's words might hold, if any, with deep context and information about the ongoing ballot count. How the information is presented, and under what headline, will also be key. (A better headline might be: "Trump falsely declares victory among ongoing vote count.")
Schiller has even written a 10-point plan for newsrooms on how to cover this year's election, which reiterates in point seven that "results aren’t 'late' simply because the winner isn’t known on election night," which would seem extraneous most years, but feels vital to note this time around.
Sure, there will be outlets that fall well short in some of these regards, as well as others that openly cheerlead whatever play the president decides to make. (Earlier today, on "Fox & Friends," host Brian Kilmeade said, "I think the president has a say in whether he wins or not," which is true only in the sense that he has one vote, the same as anyone else.) But no one else should give so much as an inch until all the votes have been counted, regardless of the message being broadcast from the White House in the coming days.