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CNN’s Breathless Iowa Caucus Coverage Filled with Huge Caveats, Little Real Information: ‘It Doesn’t Really Mean Anything’

CNN’s early evening Iowa caucuses coverage offered up a journalistic case study of cable news trying to manufacture coherent news out of random data points and anecdotal moments.

With reporters stationed at just a handful of the 1,600 precincts caucusing on Monday night, CNN was mightily trying to grapple with a state-wide election that it only had a granular view of, at best. At times, network reporters were reporting that certain candidates had failed to reach the 15% viability threshold in their precinct only to turn around literally seconds later and be corrected. The fluid nature of the vote effectively rendered CNN’s attempts to understand in real-time a pointless effort.

Jake Tapper, reporting from a large caucus site in Des Moines, was left with vaguely describing the Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg groups there as “big.”

“Clearly a number of groups that won’t meet the 15% eligibility threshold. One thing that’s interesting, I want to point out, is that caucuses are all about passion, who can get there to advocate for them on a winter night in February?” Tapper noted. “The Yang gang is a bigger gang than the Biden gang, it’s very clear,” he added, before dropping in a huge caveat. “It’s one precinct. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”

Later, CNN correspondent Brian Todd, reporting from Sioux City, tried to offer his analysis to host Wolf Blitzer but then contradicted his conclusion almost constantly.

“Wolf, they just divided up into the sections here and we’re getting a good sense of who may be viable and who, maybe, where the votes may be siphoning off,” Todd claimed. “Biden section just let off a cheer. They think that they’re viable.”

But then: “We don’t have the estimates yet.”

“Now we’re going to come down here. Buttigieg section. They just told me they believe they’ve got enough numbers to be viable,” Todd reported.

Or, maybe not: “Again not, the official count for the first round is not in yet.”

“Take a look. This is the Amy Klobuchar section. It’s touch and go for them as to whether they’ll be viable,” Todd said.

Look out, more disclaimers coming: “So, we have to keep an eye on them. Are they going to go — where are these people going to go in the second round? How are the pitches going to be made?”

Finally, Todd found himself second-guessing his own eyes (and lapsing into the first-person plural) when surveying the caucus crowds.

“Lot of energy for the Bernie Sanders people. Now, another candidate to watch over here. Precinct chair crossing in front of me here. He is a busy man tonight. These are the Elizabeth Warren people here, keeping a close eye,” Todd noted, just listing everything he sees. “What’s interesting here, Wolf, [the Warren camp] is in good proximity to the Andrew Yang crowd over here. The Yang crowd, is a smaller one, we think. We have to keep an eye on him.”

All of this breathless coverage of who knows what did not go unnoticed. Media critic Jack Shafer, for example, dedicated his Twitter thread to brutally dismantling CNN’s commitment to inundating its viewers with ambiguous ephemera of unknown import.

He was joined by many others who acknowledged that the real-time coverage of the caucuses was akin to trying to predict the winner of the Indianapolis 500 after 40 laps.

 

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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