Mark Murray on “What the Media Missed in 2016 & What Must Change in 2020”

Mark Murray's seminars will be held on Tuesdays in April at 3:30pm.

All IOP Pritzker Fellows Seminars will be held in the IOP Living Room unless otherwise noted. 
All seminars are students only and closed to press/off the record.


The 2016 presidential election was a triumph for many journalists and news organizations. Higher ratings. More clicks. Must-see debates and candidate forums. Captivated audiences. More stories and information than ever. And a Pulitzer Prize (by the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold). But it also was a failure. Very few political observers – including me – saw Donald Trump’s victory coming. The most-covered issue in the election was Hillary Clinton’s email server, according to a Harvard study. And many Americans continue to be surprised by Trump’s governing choices and style, suggesting that the news media didn’t convey to voters what kind of president Trump would be. So what happened? How can we learn from our mistakes? And how should we cover the next presidential contest? These are the questions I’ve pondered over the past year as a political journalist who covered the last four presidential elections – 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 – and who is looking to cover my fifth in 2020. And in these seminars, we’ll work through some of the answers together.

Session 1 (April 3): Frontrunners: The Real Bias in Political Journalism | RSVP

One ironclad rule of political journalism is that the candidate who’s leading in the polls usually gets the bulk of the scrutiny and tough press. That dynamic, which has played out in ever presidential contest I’ve covered since 2004, is arguably the most powerful bias in political journalism—more so than any bias in favor of a political party or ideology. But what was fundamentally different about 2016 was a different kind of frontrunner bias: almost everyone assumed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton was going to win, while Republican frontrunner Donald Trump was going to lose. And that assumption drove important decisions – by the press, by FBI Director James Comey, and even by the Obama administration (when it came to Russia’s interference) – that ended up shaping the race. Has the political press learned their lesson from 2016? Or is it already repeating the mistake as we head into the midterms?

Session 2 (April 10): The Media Report Card for 2016 & Recommendations for 2020 | RSVP

In this seminar we’ll look at political journalism from the campaign’s perspective. Democratic strategist Brian Fallon (who was Hillary Clinton’s national press secretary) and Republican strategist Alex Conant (communications director for Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign) will share their opinions on what the political press got right in 2016, what it got wrong, and how it can get better for 2020. What needs fixing? What doesn’t? Can we see evidence of a better job being done now that indicates progress toward 2020?

Special Guests: Brian Fallon, national press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s campaign; and Alex Conant, communications director for Marco Rubio’s campaign

Session 3 (April 17): How the Political Media Should Read Polls & Projections | RSVP

Despite Trump’s surprising victory, the 2016 race wasn’t a polling failure when it came to the national polls – the RealClearPolitics average had Clinton ahead by 3 points; in the end, she won the popular vote by 2 points. Instead, 2016 was a failure of analysis: Many failed to see how Clinton’s standing in the battlegrounds was weaker than Obama’s in 2012, and how that could cost her in the Electoral College. In this seminar, we’ll discuss how the media and political observers can better interpret polls and projections. And we’ll use current polling for the midterms to hone these skills.

Special Guest via Skype: political polling expert Harry Enten from CNN (formerly from FiveThirtyEight

Session 4 (April 24): Foreign Interference is Coming Again - How Will We Cover It? | RSVP

We now know about the bots, the fake news, the Facebook ads and the WikiLeaks releases that were all part of the 2016 presidential campaign, and how they may have influenced the race. The questions the media need to ponder: How should we cover it if it happens again? Are releases via WikiLeaks fair game to report, especially if it’s just one side being targeted? And how does a country hold a free and open elections when there’s foreign interference? With the midterm elections just months away, these questions couldn’t be more important to answer.