On November 3, the world watched the title bout of the U.S. election between a politician and a reality TV star, the latter of whom had been in power for the last four years.
No matter who you wanted to win, the newsworthiness of this event was undeniable and news networks fed on this. Each network offered captions, reporters, and analysts alongside unique presentation styles for the night. Some had live feeds of desolate polling sites while others had colourful touchscreen displays. Whatever the tone or method, the night’s overarching theme was the all-consuming worry that anything could happen. Each channel showcased the election like it was the FIFA World Cup and everybody, soccer fans or not, watched with anticipation. Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump, the world as their pitch.
CNN, who often draws the ire of Donald Trump, had political analysts John King and Wolf Blitzer hosting the election event. King, stationed beside his fancy touchscreen, stylized his presentation in a soothing way. He compared graphics of current electoral votes to data from the infamous Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trumprace in 2016. King’s calm, reassuring personality contrasted Blitzer’s energized, foreboding tone, who ramped up the tension like a broadcaster at the Super Bowl, framing the event as the “battle” of our times. The duo demonstrated the event’s competitive spirit. Blue and red divided the states and the counties within the electoral map like competing colours in a sports bar.
Despite their competing personalities, Blitzer and King rehashed the same message: democracy is at stake. It’s well known that CNN covers politics in a pro-Democratic way. This can create subtle and sometimes less subtle “us versus them” or “good versus evil” narratives—the hallmarks of classic Hollywood. Blitzer’s less-encouraging words about Biden’s vote totals only amplified viewer anxiety. The almost 24/7 “breaking news” caption made it impossible to leave your seat.
CNN’s chyrons, or “captions,” were also entertaining. One read, “Without any evidence, Trump says he’s being cheated,” while another said, “Trump complains mail-in votes are being counted.” And among their finest comedic moments of the evening, CNN put the chyron: “Donald Trump says he’ll go to the Supreme Court; unclear why.”
The following day, CNN host Jake Tapper continued the rapport King had with Blitzer into the second round. In a Freudian slip, Tapper used the word “clitter” when referring to Twitter, which eased some election stress.
When vote counts began shifting to Biden’s corner, Trump doubled down on misinformation, asserting he’d won the election, and that the media was suppressing votes. It was a claim with no concrete evidence, one that ruffled even diehard Republican feathers. It also led CNN host Anderson Cooper to compare Trump to “an obese turtle on its back, flailing in the hot sun.”
Whether Cooper and Tapper or King and Blitzer, CNN wonderfully framed the election like an entertaining sports game. The inherent tension, along with the continuous graphics updates and energetic reporters, made it the hottest TV show of the season.
Meanwhile, Fox News, known for its selection-bias toward Trump, retained some legitimacy uncharacteristic of the network. It surprisingly called states for Biden correctly, prompting Trump to spew his fury at the right-wing network and rally his allies to do the same.
Like CNN, Fox News also provided some Emmy-worthy moments on election night, some that Netflix could only dream of. One of my favourites came when Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, was complaining about voter fraud before being interrupted by Fox to announce Biden had won Michigan. His facial expression, and the timing of Fox, made the night.
While the American juggernaut networks stole the show, the Canadian side of the border did things a bit differently. CBC News, which has less presentation bias than its Southern counterparts, not only reported the election results but also explained how American politics work. These explanations made the coverage comparatively stale.
CBC News, albeit toned down, emphasized bipartisanship and interviewed people from both Republican and Democratic camps. This style is rare in American news stations. CBC News capitalized on that, offering unique angles that refreshed the election retreads.
The 2020 U.S. election was a spectacle. Every newspaper, TV station, website, and social media platform was abuzz with predictions for the millions of viewers worldwide. With slightly different styles, news networks captured the cuticle-gnawing event that’ll carve itself in history books.
During his tenure, Trump was arguably America’s first and (hopefully) last authoritarian president. His constant attacks on the media, controversial tweets, and fear-mongering press conferences have been contentious yet very newsworthy. For the media, Trump losing the election was a moment perfect for primetime television.
Whether it was CNN, Fox News, or another, the networks made the election feel like a palm-sweltering sports game or the most satisfying Netflix melodrama. It was compelling TV, with one too many cliffhangers.
On November 7, at 11:27 a.m., Joe Biden became the next president-elect of the United States. Minutes later, “You’re Fired!” started trending worldwide on Twitter, signifying one classic end to the storyline that is Donald J. Trump.