Should The Media Ignore The Fact That Hillary Clinton Will Clinch The Nomination Tomorrow?

One media critic is arguing that news organizations should ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton will become the Presumptive Democratic Nominee tomorrow. This is utterly ridiculous.

newsman

Bill Mitchell at Poynter argues that it would be irresponsible for news outlets to report that Hillary Clinton has ‘clinched’ the Democratic nomination or to refer to her as the ‘presumptive’ nominee:

News organizations will face an important decision when the polls close Tuesday night in New Jersey.

If all goes as expected and Hillary Clinton wins even close to a majority of the 126 delegates up for grabs, journalists will make a choice, more or less, between two possible headlines:

  • Clinton Clinches Nomination
  • Clinton Wins New Jersey

There’s no question that headline No. 1 makes the bigger splash. There’s also no question, at least in my mind, that journalists should go with something closer to headline No. 2.

(…)

In a piece published May 24, Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight noted that his organization has refrained from including superdelegates in its tracker because delegates could still change their minds — especially if Sanders were to win a majority of elected delegates. With that scenario now a virtual impossibility, he suggested that Tuesday night might be the time to assume Clinton will hold onto enough superdelegates “to clinch the nomination.”

Since when should journalists be drawing conclusions based on assumptions?

Sanders supporters offer a variety of scenarios that might swing superdelegate support their way: More damning revelations about Clinton’s email problems, polls showing Sanders as a stronger candidate against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, etc.

Clinton backers have as many rebuttals as the Sanders people have scenarios, of course. Neither am I discounting how stunning it would be if the superdelegates — the very embodiment of the Democratic Party establishment — were to end up handing the nomination to the most anti-establishment candidate in years.

Almost as stunning as an outrageous outlier like Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination.

Here’s the real question that journalists need to humble themselves and ask Tuesday night: Who knows what might happen between now and July 25 when the Democratic National Convention opens in Philadelphia?

Especially in an election year like this one, the answer is clear: Nobody knows!

As more and more campaign coverage devolves into unknowable guesswork — speculation about the horserace — journalistic principles like reporting what you actually know have faded into the background.

Here’s an opportunity — an obligation, I’d argue — for news organizations to return those principles to the fore and stick to what they know.

On some level, I suppose, Mitchell’s argument is understandable to the extent that Clinton will not officially be the Democratic nominee until she is declared as such at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July. The same is true of Donald Trump, who is presently projected to have more than enough delegates to win the Republican Nomination on the first ballot, but who’s status at the nominee won’t be confirmed until the Republican Convention in Cleveland. This is why the media has referred to Trump as the “Presumptive Republican Nominee,” or words to that effect, and why Clinton will likely be referred to as the “Presumptive Democratic Nominee” if, as expected, she scores a big enough win in the New Jersey Primary to earn her the nomination. Given the fact that, according to current projections, Clinton stands within less than 25 delegates of having enough projected support between pledged delegates and “Superdelegates,” and that she has an overwhelming lead in the polls in New Jersey, it seems inevitable that the updated delegated projections on Tuesday night will show her above the required majority. At that point, it’s probably true that most if not all of the major media outlets will refer to her as the “presumptive” nominee, and will like inevitably make note of the historical significance of the fact that Clinton is now likely to be the first female Presidential nominee of a major political party in American history. Indeed, given that last fact the failure to make note of where Clinton stands in the delegate count could arguably be considered journalistic malpractice, or at least a case of ‘burying the lede.

Mitchell’s objection to all of this appears to rely upon the fact that Clinton’s status as the presumptive nominee will depend, at least in part, on the fact that she has the support of some 548 of the 712 “Superdelegates” and that, at least theoretically, these delegates could change their mind at any point prior to the convention, as many did eight years ago when “Superdelegates” who had initially endorsed Clinton switched their support to Barack Obama at various points during the race for the nomination. Theoretically, I suppose, it is possible that Bernie Sanders could persuade some number of the “Superdelegates” who have endorsed Clinton this time around to do the same, however the likelihood that these Democratic Party elites are going to abandon the candidate who has won the most delegates, the most popular votes, and the most states is, at best, extremely low. Obviously, if Bernie Sanders does decide to pursue this quixotic strategy, the media will continue to cover it, but that won’t change the fact that, until there is some evidence to the contrary in the form of a mass exodus of “Superdelegates” from Clinton to Sanders, Hillary Clinton will be the Presumptive Democratic Nominee and, most likely officially the nominee when the delegates vote in Philadelphia. For news outlets to not acknowledge this fact would arguably be to irresponsibly ignore reality.

There is one way in which Mitchell does have a relevant point, though. New Jersey’s polls will close tomorrow at 8:oopm Eastern time. At that point there will still be several hours of voting left in the remaining states. especially California where polls will not close for another three hours after they have closed in New Jersey. A projection that Clinton will have clinched the nomination when three hours remain for people to get to the polls and vote could have a significant impact on turnout in those states, especially again in California where, in addition to the Democratic Presidential contest. there is also a hotly contested primary for the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Barbara Boxer, among other offices. This presents the news media with the same dilemma that they often face in national elections, namely how do they handle projections like this when people in other parts of the country are still voting and making the projection is likely to have an impact on whether some segment of the population bothers to go out and vote at all? I don’t know the answer to that question, to be honest, but my inclination is to say that the media shouldn’t suppress the news just because we live in a nation with multiple time zones.

In any case, this isn’t really the point that Mitchell is making. If it was, then perhaps he’d have an argument. Instead, he’s saying that the media should not refer to Clinton as the presumptive nominee at any point before the convention. For a whole host of reasons, that’s just utterly silly. At some point after 8pm Eastern tomorrow, it will be blindingly obvious that Hillary Clinton has clinched the Democratic nomination for all intents and purposes. To deliberately not report this would be to keep the public misinformed, and that would be far more irresponsible than failing to indulge Bernie Sanders in his fantasies about flipping “Superdelegates” into his column.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Alameda says:

    The better question might be:
    Wwill the media, ‘de-facto,’ ignore Clinton because of the 24/7 coverage of Donald Trump?

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Doesn’t the word, “presumptive”, nullify his entire argument?
    More super-delegates are likely to abandon Sanders in favor of the “presumptive nominee” rather than the opposite…as they abandoned Clinton for Obama in 2008.

  3. @C. Clavin:

    I would think it does, but Mitchell appears to object to making any call at all. Given that, i wonder how he feels about the fact that President Obama and Vice-President Biden could reportedly formally endorse Clinton as early as Wednesday. Once that happens, we’ll likely see the remaining Super-D’s flock to her side and the odds that any of them will flip will be even lower than they are now.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    They should just issue trigger warnings so Sanders people can prepare themselves.

  5. Jen says:

    Unless he made the same argument when then-Senator Obama was in the same spot eight years ago, this feels very much like the mild sexism of goalpost moving. When women say they have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition, this is the sort of thing they are talking about.

    It’s annoying, nothing more.

  6. Joe says:

    This is the same media that has virtually ignored Hillary’s lock on New Jersey (relevant) to focus on the horse race in California (irrelevant).

  7. Guarneri says:

    @Jen:

    Hillary married into the position. And you are correct. With him that’s tough duty…….

  8. Jen says:

    @Guarneri: I heard the same thing said about Congresswoman Joann Emerson (R-MO).

    Pretty much ignoring the fact that she had lengthy experience in dealing with legislative issues.

    So yes, ignoring a woman’s accomplishments and attributing any success she has on her husband rather than her own hard work is sexism.

  9. Mister Bluster says:

    Who knows what might happen between now and July 25/July 18 when the Democratic/Republican National Convention opens in Philadelphia/Cleveland?

    Can we assume that Mr. Mitchell is opposed to Trump being labeled the presumptive Republican nominee as well?

    Almost as stunning as an outrageous outlier like Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination.

    I guess not.

  10. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Given that, i wonder how he feels about the fact that President Obama and Vice-President Biden could reportedly formally endorse Clinton as early as Wednesday.

    He would have done endorsed her today but he was busy hosting the Super Bowl Champs.

    Broncos!

  11. michael reynolds says:

    @Guarneri:

    You know, Drew, rather than waste everyone’s time with your eye-rollingly unoriginal snark, why don’t you explain why Trump would be better?

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @Jen:

    I’m in the position of having a very accomplished wife. Anyone who thinks she’s where she is because of me is a moron. Anyone who thinks I’m where I am because of her is a bit closer to the truth, but still a moron. But it is a losing game trying to parse someone else’s marriage or relationship. What’s visible to outsiders at any time is less than 10% of what’s happening inside that relationship. Most people understand this intuitively. But Guarneri is just a misogynist troll, and will never, ever understand.

  13. Bookdragon says:

    Mitchell’s argument is stupid, and you can bet if the situation were reversed and Bernie was the one clearly winning he would not be making it.

    That said, Hillary herself asked SDs not to declare and put her over the top until after CA voted.

    I can see wanting to let voting there close, just of respect and decency, but not acknowledging her as presumptive nominee when you acknowledge Trump? That’s just ridiculous.

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: “banging their sippy cups on the table all over the Internet” catches the complete vibe.

    What’s weird is that I bet there’s a whole bunch of us Bernie supporters who are now withdrawing from him in complete disgust. Ok, dude, you made your point. Now rather than trying to continue to pull the house down a la Samson, team up with Hillary and GO TAKE OUT TRUMP.

    Priorities, dude, priorities.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    I understand how the media wants to gin up a horse race, but it really isn’t much a race when one of the horses is stuck in the mud and its jockey is off to the showers…

  16. PJ says:

    @Guarneri:

    Hillary married into the position.

    What position would that be? The Clintons met in 1971 and got married in 1975.
    Clinton was elected class president in 1964 and 1965, was that the position in question? Girlfriend of ex class president?
    Bill Clinton didn’t win anything of merit before he started to date or married Hillary Clinton.

    Maybe it was Bill who married into the position? Maybe he would have never been President without Hillary?

    Personally, I’m just going to assume that they both work very well together and when it comes to the Clintons that “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” apply…

  17. PJ says:

    As we all know Clinton was against same-sex-marriage until 2013, so it’s better to elect the nominee who would make it illegal again.
    Clinton won’t make college tuition free, so it’s better to elect the nominee who was behind the scam known as Trump University.

  18. Grumpy Realist says:

    @PJ: actually, there’s an amusing SF “what if?” Story called “Hillary on Venus” or something like that. It starts off with Hillary’s father allowing her to take up the NASA internship (the one that in real life he had her turn down) and decide to go the scientific route instead.

    What would have happened had Hillary met and married Dick Feynman instead?!

  19. michael reynolds says:

    The AP says Hillary has now reached the magic number and is now the presumptive nominee.

  20. Pch101 says:

    I would agree that “clinch” is the sort of word that should be left to analysts and commentators, not used by a reporter who is describing events.

    But there should be no problem with “presumptive nominee”. It is factually accurate — those who are in the know, such as members of the party and mainstream observers have good reason to expect that Clinton is the nominee, while the word “presumptive” clarifies that it isn’t final. “Clinch” is judgmental (and a bit of a weasel word to boot); “presumptive nominee” summarizes the consensus view, which is part of the story.

  21. PJ says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The AP says Hillary has now reached the magic number and is now the presumptive nominee.

    I understand that the AP wants to be first to report this, but this have been obvious for quite a while. Doing this now, instead of waiting until NJ closes will just give Sanders and his cultists one more reason to rally against Clinton. But, obviously, the AP doesn’t, nor should it, care about Democrats uniting.

  22. Tyrell says:

    Endorsement by the president and vice president: highly inappropriate and this seems to border on unethical. It is certainly unprofessional. They should not be engaged in partisan politics and any campaign activities.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @PJ:

    I think it’s likely that both campaigns are furious about this announcement. But as you say: the AP is not the Democratic Party.

  24. PJ says:

    @Tyrell:

    Endorsement by the president and vice president: highly inappropriate and this seems to border on unethical. It is certainly unprofessional. They should not be engaged in partisan politics and any campaign activities.

    McCain was endorsed by a sitting Republican President in 2008. Highly doubt that he wanted that endorsement though.

    So, it’s been more than 28 years since a Republican nominee was endorsed by a sitting Republican President and that the candidate actually wanted it.

    WASHINGTON, May 11— President Reagan ended one of Washington’s longest-running and least suspenseful political dramas tonight when he endorsed Vice President Bush as his successor.

    In a speech at a black-tie Republican fund-raiser, the President called Mr. Bush ”my candidate” and added, ”I’m going to work as hard as I can to make Vice President George Bush the next President of the United States.”

    But that was two white guys. We now have a black President endorsing a woman, that’s clearly both inappropriate and unethical.

  25. Davebo says:

    @Tyrell: I must say it’s amazing how you can seem relatively sentient, even reasonable at times.

    And then you dump one of these on my lawn.

  26. grumpy realist says:

    Good comment over at The Economist as to Trump’s allure:

    For the very essence of Mr Trump’s success is his channelling of unhappy nostalgia for a half-imagined America of the 1950s or 1960s. Mr Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” is no accident. To simplify, a big part of his success comes from conjuring up an age when white men with high school diplomas could walk into a well-paid job for life, and women, black citizens, Hispanics and foreigners all knew their place.

    No wonder he’s supported by the alt-right ilk.

  27. Jim R says:

    Regardless of the outcome of this contest or what candidate one prefers, the superdelegate system ought to be discarded.

    That the nomination hinges upon a group of party elites who, technically, could change their minds and the outcome between now and the convention (however unlikely that may be) is really a joke. Clinton has won more votes, more contests, and more pledged delegates, and by any rational standard she is the winner, period.

  28. C. Clavin says:

    @Guarneri:

    Hillary married into the position.

    mi·sog·y·nist
    məˈsäjənəst/
    noun
    1.
    a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.

  29. C. Clavin says:

    @Tyrell:

    Endorsement by the president and vice president: highly inappropriate and this seems to border on unethical. It is certainly unprofessional. They should not be engaged in partisan politics and any campaign activities.

    Not unlike Jenos…you seem to get dumber with every comment.

  30. Ben Wolf says:

    Gotta work on replicating “clinch” more in your posts, Doug. “Clinton will clinchingly clinch the nomination with clinched clenched teeth while awaiting the final clinching.”

    See how serious you would have sounded as a media dude if you’d put that sort of effort into it?

  31. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    President Obama and Vice-President Biden could reportedly formally endorse Clinton as early as Wednesday.

    And then watch Obama and Biden, gloves off, contribute to the ongoing and accelerating Trump melt-down.
    Depending on how turn-out goes…and that’s a huge caveat given her unfavorables and the Sanders factor…this could be the most embarrassing Presidential election, for a major party candidate, in history.

  32. Jen says:

    @Jim R: For most of this election cycle, I’ve defended both the super delegate system and the GOP’s process because I have thought that having an emergency brake available was a good idea, just in case the primary process gave rise to a candidate that was personally popular but a potentially disastrous candidate. I’ve come to realize that neither party would likely ever, ever use this power to overturn the selection made by the voting population in the primary process; the consequences are perceived to be too great.

    If the Democratic party chooses to eliminate the super delegate system, I hope they carefully think through the potential ramifications of that action–it was, after all, a system put into place as a response to a primary process result that didn’t work out so well for them. Same goes for the GOP: if they reform their system so that the nominee is whomever receives the most votes–a plurality rather than a majority–they need to realize where that might leave them down the road. This is what’s tough about designing rules to address a current problem rather than looking at the system as a whole–you never know what’s coming down the pike.

    In many ways we are inching towards a direct democracy, with all of its potential and pitfalls currently on display. I’m going to console myself by re-reading Federalist #10. 😉

  33. KM says:

    Sander needs over 800 delegates to catch up to Hillary at this point. Let’s say he takes exactly half of all the remaining delegates from the states – that leaves him a good 400+ short still. That’s a lot of phone calls in a really short amount of time to people he’s denigrated for months. Not to mention by making them shift to him he’s putting them in the unenviable position of having to publicly explain why they left the person who was the clear choice of the Democrats via a half year long, heavily publicized process.

    What possible incentive would the superdelegates have to do this? It’s obviously not the will of the people, it’s not in their best interests of the Party (or their own, frankly) and it would cost them dearly in terms of intra-Party support down the line if they turn away from the presumptive nominee. Honestly, they only way they’d cross the line is if the benefits outweighed the consequences….. which implies backroom wheeling and dealing. Do Sanders people really understand what they are implying when they say the superdelegates might flip en masse – that the narrative they’re hoping for will have the strong undertones of scandal and quid pro quo?

  34. Pch101 says:

    @KM:

    Do Sanders people really understand what they are implying when they say the superdelegates might flip en masse – that the narrative they’re hoping for will have the strong undertones of scandal and quid pro quo?

    Populists don’t excel at consistency. Judging from what I’ve seen on the internet, they aren’t very good at math, either.

    Clinton has received 57% of the popular vote to date, yet I see more than a few people who insist that the guy with 43% is the winner. Cognitive dissonance would be a polite way to describe it.

  35. al-Alameda says:

    @Pch101:

    Clinton has received 57% of the popular vote to date, yet I see more than a few people who insist that the guy with 43% is the winner. Cognitive dissonance would be a polite way to describe it.

    It’s that super-delegate thing: it’s a free pass for those who want to whine incessantly that the fix was in from the beginning.

    Any guesses as to how many Republicans (like, say … Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell or ________ (fill in the blank) … now wish that they had a super-delegate system in place prior to their campaign season festivities?

  36. Moosebreath says:

    @al-Alameda:

    “Any guesses as to how many Republicans (like, say … Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell or ________ (fill in the blank) … now wish that they had a super-delegate system in place prior to their campaign season festivities?”

    Or even proportionate delegate selection throughout the process. If the Democrats had a winner-take-all system like the Republicans, Hillary would be up around 1,000 delegates by now.

  37. Andre Kenji says:

    I would not end the superdelegates system. If you remember the Bob Torricelli issue some years ago, then, a superdelegate is a pretty smart problem if there is a problem with the winner of the popular vote. A better idea would be to shorten the primary process. They should end three or two months after Iowa.

  38. al-Alameda says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    I would not end the superdelegates system. If you remember the Bob Torricelli issue some years ago, then, a superdelegate is a pretty smart problem if there is a problem with the winner of the popular vote. A better idea would be to shorten the primary process. They should end three or two months after Iowa.

    I really believe that a real problem is/are the caucus states – every state should have an ACTUAL vote to determine the party preferences of registered voters.

  39. Mister Bluster says:

    @Andre Kenji:… A better idea would be to shorten the primary process. They should end three or two months after Iowa.

    Yes!
    Now all that needs to be done is to get 50 State Legislatures and PR and Guam and VI to work with the hundreds of local and State Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green Bean and other political parties and the national political parties to draft legislation that each State/Territory can enact to bring this about.
    Plan B: Federal legislation or a Constitutional Amendment that would set the rules for all States/Territories and political parties to follow to nominate candidates for President USA.
    Plan R*: Don’t change a thing so all the political sages and muckety mucks will have something to whine about every four years.
    *The Reality Plan