From early results to Biden victory, story of four days of frenzy in US media

Four breathless days, until the outcome on Saturday afternoon. Joe Biden was announced president-elect of the United States after an endless counting of several thousand ballots in a handful of key states. Unlike the situation in France and in many countries, no official authority is responsible for revealing these results. It was the mainstream media which gave the “la” by announcing the name of the winner in such and such a state. Behind the scenes story of a soap opera with multiple twists.

A map that colors blue and red

Tuesday evening, 7 p.m. Polling stations are closing in the first six states on the east coast. Indiana goes first in Donald Trump’s purse, CNN and NBC announce. Each major media has its own analysts who grind their forecasts based on the first known results or on polls carried out at the polls. There are two main circuits. On the one hand, the National Election Pool (NEP), on which CNN, NBC, but also ABC and CBS are based. On the other hand, the conservative Fox News channel and the prestigious Associated Press (AP) agency are apart, within another consortium. It is moreover AP, created in 1846, which, historically, usually announces the name of the winner.

Other less “prestigious” media, such as Business Insider and Buzzfeed News, are working on their side with the Decision Desk HQ site, which has been famous since it first announced the defeat of majority leader Eric Cantor in 2014.

As soon as a large American “network” announces the victory of one or the other of the two candidates, Agence France Presse (AFP) in turn sends its many customers around the world an “alert”, in the sourcing “media”. On the websites of television channels and major newspapers, the map of the United States is colored almost simultaneously in blue and red, the colors attributed to the Democratic camp and to the Republican one.

On the air at CNN, star presenter John King scrolls through the results on his interactive map, calculating all the possible scenarios leading to one or the other of the two winners. “I spent 12 to 2 pm on the air Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday night, I slept two and a half hours. Wednesday evening, 4 o’clock, ”he said on Thursday at the Los Angeles Times, confident of the excitement that this mission brings him.

“A lot of us have spent more time this week with John King than with anyone else in the world. CNN’s chief national correspondent has spent endless hours dominating his touchscreen cards in the same way Michael Jordan used to dominate the NBA, ”praises Sports Illustrated magazine.

Arizona misunderstanding

A first quack arises concerning Arizona. At 11:20 p.m. Washington time (5:20 a.m. in Paris overnight Tuesday to Wednesday), Fox News and the AP agency announced Biden as the winner in the Mexican border state. CNN, the New York Times and others are refusing to vote pending the counting of the remaining 27% of the ballots, as these mail-in votes may still tip the scales in Trump’s favor.

At the White House, he is furious. The American president may have already won Florida and Texas in particular, he knows his chances of being re-elected are dwindling without Arizona and its 11 major voters. In the middle of the night, he gathers his closest advisers to share his anger with them. In the process, his political adviser Jason Miller frantically calls Fox News to ask them to reconsider their announcement, tells the New York Times. In return, the conservative channel brought in the boss of its “Decision Desk”, Arnon Mishkin, on the set. The latter is, since 2008, at the head of this cell of a dozen electoral analysts who must all agree before the channel announces the slightest forecast. On the air, he maintains: Trump “will not be able to gain the upper hand” on Biden. Arizona remains blue on Fox News map.

Over the hours and days that followed, the tension crystallized in five other states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Millions of Internet users and citizens watch for the announcement of the counting of a few thousand additional ballots. Biden is announced the winner in Wisconsin and Michigan on Wednesday. A big step, but not enough to reach the absolute majority of 270 large voters. The gaps are gradually reduced, over the – very slow – counting of the ballots by correspondence. The gap will ultimately be too tight in Georgia, where a recount of the votes is announced.

News channels zap Trump

On Twitter, which moderates many of his messages, Donald Trump insists that he has “won” the election and calls for an end to the count. “If you count the legal votes, I win easily. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us, ”he insists in the evening from the White House. MSNBC, NBC News and ABC News interrupt the live broadcast. “Well, here we are again in the unusual position of (having to) not only interrupt the President of the United States, but also to correct the President of the United States”, justifies on the air the presenter of MSNBC Brian Williams.

Friday night, while Joe Biden must speak in prime time, the editors are buzzing with rumors. Pennsylvania could imminently switch to the Democratic side. With 20 more major voters, the game would be over. The Business Insider website already announced it during the day, relying on its partner Decision Desk HQ. Finally, nothing comes out on the mobile alerts and the banners of the big news channels. In his intervention later than expected, the Democrat is content to call – once again – for patience. Shortly before, on ABC, we ask Nate Silver, the editor of the specialist site FiveThirtyEight, if he thinks the election is folded. “At this point, yes”, answers the expert. “Why are we still here then? “, We then burst out laughing on stage.

CNN, first to announce Biden the winner

Everything will settle on Saturday. In the morning, the political scientist Jean-Eric Branaa predicted it to us: “It will fall at the end of the day, French time. We are 0.4 point ahead in Pennsylvania, we are just waiting 0.5 to exceed the margin. CNN will launch, then everyone will follow: CBS, ABC, etc. One just needs to get started! In the early afternoon, New York Times analyst Nate Cohn warns on Twitter : Biden can be declared the winner “at any time”.

The ax falls at 11:24 am on the east coast, 5:24 pm French time. CNN announces that Biden wins Pennsylvania and therefore automatically crosses the threshold of 270 voters. It’s done: “After four long tense days, we have reached a historic moment in this election. CNN projects that Joseph R. Biden will be elected 46th President of the United States ”, announces solemnly the presenter Wolf Blitzer on the air.

NBC, ABC, CBS engage in the seconds which follow. AFP in turn sends a “flash”, the highest level of importance, at 5:26 pm. Ironically, Fox News took a few more minutes to react, announcing – last – the election of Biden at 5:40 p.m. On the CNN set, political columnist Van Jones bursts into tears. “It’s a liberation for many people who have really suffered”, testifies this former adviser to Barack Obama between two sobs.

The AP agency publishes the first photos of Donald Trump, looking bad, in the middle of a game of golf. America has its new president, who will not take office until January. Even if officially, we still do not know this Sunday morning who won the Arizona.

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