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The Media Will Spark Mass Violence in November…or Maybe Not

I’m very concerned about the risk of civil strife when election results come in. I suggest the most important lever to promote a smooth transfer of power is for the major media companies (especially Fox) and major social media companies to plan their moves carefully.

I have some friends who are executives at influential media companies. I shared the template memo/talking points below with them, for their internal use. I thought others may find this useful.

RE: Election Week coverage/Promoting smooth transition of power

Dear colleague,

We have a unique position and could be highly impactful in the 2020 election. Without exaggeration, I think we have a chance to shape history and save lives.  

Whatever the election results are, there is a risk of civil strife. We know that Trump will dispute them; he won in 2016 and disputed those results. The president has refused to commit (clip) to a ‘peaceful transfer of power’. Many thoughtful observers are extremely concerned about the possibility of violent civil conflict. Howard Kurtz wrote on Fox, “When you combine that with his warnings about massive mail-ballot fraud, you see a leader determined to cast doubt on the legitimacy of an election that polls show him losing.” Quoting the Atlantic, The Election That Could Break America: “Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede…Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.”

The Biden-Harris campaign has made it clear that they will honor the election results, so I’m a lot less worried about violence in the statistically unlikely scenario of a clear Biden-Harris loss.

If America descends into violence, that’s bad for the country, and also inevitably going to have a negative impact on our physical plant, the overall economy, not to mention the lives and homes of our staff. Civil strife is bad for business.

We as a media company have significant influence over the country. I wanted to request we first review five thoughtful recommendations:

  • Frank Luntz, prominent Republican consultant, posted this infographic which I think is a great summary of how to think about Election Week:
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In addition, I have 2 specific suggestions for our public-facing team:

1) Draw comparisons to past elections, to remind listeners of the norms of US elections.

2) If Trump loses, ask all on-air personnel to message something like: Trump lost unequivocally. This is not fake news. We’re asking Trump to acknowledge this defeat, for his own self-interest, for three reasons:

  • Protecting Trump properties. On January 20, 2021, Trump is going to go back to full -time leading the Trump Organization. The only way he’ll have all of his hotels and other properties in good order is if he arranges a smooth transfer of power. If Trump calls this election result fake news or calls for violent resistance, this will certainly provoke much more substantive violence than the BLM protests, and the #1 target will be Trump properties. Visualize: bombing Trump hotels, riots at Trump resorts, etc.  (Ideally, show visuals of this.)
  • Jail.  If Trump does anything that looks like a call to violence, he’s going to open himself up to hugely expensive legal problems which will send him straight to jail. There aren’t many restrictions on freedom of speech, but we hope that President Trump is well aware that one of the classic restrictions is that you’re not allowed to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. America now is a crowded theater.
  • Losing Twitter and Facebook access. If Trump calls for violence, he will immediately lose his Twitter and Facebook access. Twitter and Facebook will feel much more comfortable blocking Trump than they have in the past, as they prepare for the inevitable Biden ascendance to power. 

If you’d like to read some more analysis on how the media is handling the unique Trump phenomenon, see the Columbia Journalism Review: Yes, we’re doing it all over again .

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