UPDATE: So, while I was posting this, the Associated Press was busy preparing a declaration that Hillary Clinton has already clinched the nomination, which they declare on the basis of a survey of superdelegates, in full knowledge those supers will not be voting for another 7 weeks. Here I was, concerned the press would suppress the California vote, when what they’re did the very same night is suppress the vote in six states at once.
At around 8pm tomorrow when Hillary Clinton likely wins the NJ primary, most of the press is poised to announce that that secures her the Democratic nomination. That will be incorrect. In fact, it will be bullshit. Most journalists know better, but the demands of the 24-hour news cycle is a powerful incentive to call definitive conclusions before anybody else. Today, journalism watchdog Poynter reminded journalists of these two Tuesday headlines …
Clinton Clinches Nomination or Clinton Wins New Jersey
… the first makes a bigger splash, but the second, or something more nuanced, is factually correct from the standpoint of non-partisan journalistic principle. You know: reporting. Not familiar with Poynter Institute? It’s a non-profit journalism school, which also owns Tampa Bay Times, which runs PolitiFact. Its website on the journalism ethics and issues is well-regarded, if not always listened to.
If national media calls the nomination, that will come around 5pm California time, when West Coast Dems get off work and head to the polls. And it will depress the vote in western time zones, media effectively telling voters by the tens of thousands that their vote won’t count. California has 475 delegates, a far more target-rich environment than NJ’s 126. In fact, there are 692 delegates up for grabs tomorrow (plus the supers) – New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, California. It’s one thing that Clinton, for 9 years “inevitable nominee,” would want to depress the vote west of her sure-thing in NJ. And both candidates have haunted Cali for weeks; he to show momentum to make his best case to the superdelegates at convention, and she to shut that mother down.
But why would the press play either candidate’s game?
Look, Blue Jersey is a progressive blog, and I am a partisan. I’m on this ballot, too. If you’re a Dem voting in the 16th/17th assembly districts, you will find my name on the ballot as Bernie Sanders’ delegate to the Democratic National Convention – where we elected delegates will vote along with the supers. It’s a privilege for me to ask for your vote to send me to Convention. But as much as I care about outcome, process – and accurate coverage of that process – matters too.
Many news outlets are adding superdelegates to the delegate total – like this – making no distinction between delegates won in state contests and superdelegates (about 15% of the total), who are mainly party insiders, big donors or lobbyists. Most of them announced their support for Clinton before she even had an opponent – and they may indeed stick to that. But the fact is, they don’t vote till late July, and all kinds of events could shift their vote either way, including a Sanders win in Cali. The Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign both have strong incentives for voters not to even think about that, because the reality is the most likely scenario it’s these supers who will be deciding who the nominee is. And if that feels like the party insiders detaching from the will of their state’s voters, that’s exactly what it is. Democrats have been under fire for months for being undemocratic like no cycle I’ve ever seen – for Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ conduct which does not appear evenhanded (as DNC Charter requires), for the resignation of a DNC Vice Chair in disgust, for a process in which millions of dollars were funneled through state parties for spending towards Clinton, and for the reliance on superdelegates to put the kibosh on any grassroots uprisings the party can’t otherwise control:
Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.
– DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Feb. 2016
Gee, I wonder who she was talking about?
I’m happy as hell to see New Jersey relevant in the party’s process. I’m on record criticizing the current delegate selection process that ensures the starting order of IA, NH, SC and NV gives those state’s unearned and outsized power over the rest of us to winnow the field by their choices months before we get ours. But the reality is that New Jersey’s vote is nothing more than our vote. And reporting it as the whole enchilada is helping the establishment campaign at the expense of the truth.