NEW YORK — This coming weekend, CNN’s Sam Feist will distribute to his staff copies of the testimony news executives gave to Congress when they tried to explain how television networks got 2000’s disputed election so spectacularly wrong.
It’s required reading — perhaps never more than this year. Media planners are preaching caution in the face of a surge in early voting, high anxiety levels overall and a president who raises the spectre of another disputed election.
“We need to prepare ourselves for a different kind of election night,” said Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief, “and the word I keep using is ‘patience.’”
Nearly half of people polled recently by the Pew Research Center said they intend to follow election night returns closely. It’s easy to see this year eclipsing 2008’s record of 71.5 million people who watched for results, and many will have laptops, tablets or smartphones ready for a multi-screen experience.
CBS News built a new studio where pop stars once visited MTV’s “Total Request Live,” and Fox News hired the makers of the “Fortnite” video game to design whiz-bang graphics, an illustration of the money and planning that goes in to the quadrennial event.
Live television coverage will extend into the early morning of Nov. 4 and perhaps beyond. NBC News has mapped out a schedule to stay on the air for days if necessary, said Noah Oppenheim, NBC News president.
Besides the traditional broadcast and cable news networks, there will be live-stream options from the likes of The Washington Post and others, including websites filled with graphics and raw numbers.
“There is an odd combination of anticipation and uncertainty about this election night, more than any other election night I can remember,” said David Bohrman, a television veteran who this year is producing the CBS News coverage.
Election nights always have surprises, but the worry this year is being driven by the large number of people voting early or by mail, in part driven by the coronavirus. By many estimates, the early vote will eclipse the number of people going to polling places on Election Day for the first time.
That’s an extraordinary change: In 1972, only 5 per cent of votes were cast prior to Election Day, and by 2016 it was 42.5 per cent. That profoundly affects how the results are reported.
Some states begin counting early votes as they come in. Some wait until Election Day or even after polls close. Some key states count absentee ballots only if they are postmarked by Election Day. Elsewhere, ballots can arrive as late as Nov. 13, as is the case in Ohio.
Some states have enough experience that their counts usually go quickly and smoothly. Other counts are more problematic. Florida and North Carolina are two battleground states that have, historically, done well at counting and posting the results of mail ballots on election night.
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are prohibited by state law from processing mail ballots until Election Day. It can be a cumbersome process, and since neither state has experience counting as many ballots as are expected this year, it may be days before their results are known.
With more Democrats than Republicans voting early, the pace of how votes are reported is also important. Some states will release early votes before the Election Day tallies. That can make the first numbers shown on the screen appear deceptive, said Steve Kornacki, elections guru at MSNBC.
The challenge is knowing all those idiosyncrasies and communicating them clearly, he said.
“When I say I want a few more days (to study), that’s why,” he said.
Instead of listing how many voting precincts are reporting, ABC News will tell viewers the percentage of expected votes that are in so far, said Marc Burstein, senior executive producer who’s been in charge of ABC election coverage since 2000.
“Our byword of the night is transparency,” Burstein said. “We will tell people what we know. We will tell people what we don’t know, and we will tell them why.”
News organizations will still declare winners in individual states much as they have done in the past, using a combination of poll results and actual vote totals. Again, the expectation is these calls may be slower than in past years.
Producers say viewers should look to Florida as an early bellwether, because of its importance, efficiency in counting and early poll closing time. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog said last week that if Democrat Joe Biden wins Florida, his chances of winning the presidency shoot up to 99 per cent. If President Donald Trump wins the state, his reelection chances jump to 39 per cent, what Silver calls essentially a tossup.
North Carolina and Ohio are other states where relatively early results could give an indication of how the night is going.
“If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected,” said Alan Komissaroff, Fox News senior vice-president of news and politics.
More reporting from outside of studios will likely be on display, with news organizations placing greater emphasis on voter integrity issues and the possibility of legal challenges. PBS is tapping a dozen public broadcasting reporters from across the country to contribute to its coverage. The Washington Post is stationing reporters in 36 states.
Networks are hiring election law experts in case those issues need to be addressed.
Because of the coronavirus, CBS’ Bohrman said people who will be on the network’s new set are being tested every day.
ABC News’ Manhattan set isn’t big enough for everyone to be 6 feet apart, so the network will operate out of three different studios on election night, including the set of “The View,” Burstein said.
At some point, after months of pontificating and speculating, the conclusion of the 2020 election will be known. Four years ago, The Associated Press declared Trump the next president at 2:29 a.m. the day after the election.
“We’re going in prepared but without preconceptions,” Oppenheim said.
AP’s Election Decision Editor Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington contributed to this report.
David Bauder, The Associated Press
Britney Spears calls recent documentaries about her ‘hypocritical’
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Pop singer Britney Spears spoke out on Tuesday about recent documentaries about her life and career, calling them “hypocritical” because they rehash her personal problems while criticizing the media for reporting them the first time.
Walt Disney Co’s FX network and The New York Times released “Framing Britney Spears” in February. The documentary examined the singer’s meteoric rise to fame as a teenager, the ensuing media scrutiny and her widely publicized breakdown.And this month, the BBC released “The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship” in Britain. It will debut in the United States and Canada starting May 11 via the BBC Select streaming service.
In an Instagram post, Spears did not name either documentary but said “so many documentaries about me this year with other people’s takes on my life.”
“These documentaries are so hypocritical … they criticize the media and then do the same thing,” she added.
In March, Spears said she cried for two weeks after watching part of “Framing Britney Spears”.
The BBC said in a statement on Tuesday that its documentary “explores the complexities surrounding conservatorship with care and sensitivity.”
“It does not take sides and features a wide range of contributors,” the statement added.
A New York Times spokesperson declined to comment.
Spears, who shot to fame in 1998 with the hit “Baby One More Time,” is in a court battle seeking to replace her father as her conservator. He was appointed to the role in 2008 after she was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.
Her fans have shown their support on social media under the hashtags #We’reSorryBritney and #FreeBritney. Spears is scheduled to speak to a Los Angeles court in June.
In her Instagram post, which included a video of herself dancing, Spears said that “although I’ve had some pretty tough times in my life … I’ve had waaaayyyy more amazing times in my life and unfortunately my friends … I think the world is more interested in the negative.”
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by David Gregorio)
Grammy organizers change rules after allegations of corruption
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The organizers of music’s Grammy Awards on Friday announced an end to the so-called “secret” committees that have led to allegations that the highest honors in the industry are open to rigging.
The Recording Academy said that nominations for the next Grammy Awards in January 2022 will be selected by all of its more than 11,000 voting members, instead of by committees of 15-30 industry experts whose names were not revealed.
The Academy was slammed last year when Canadian artist The Weeknd got zero Grammy nominations, even though his critically acclaimed album “After Hours” was one of the biggest sellers of 2020.
The Weeknd, in a Twitter post last November, said “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.”
The Recording Academy said in a statement on Friday that the changes were significant and were made “to ensure that the Grammy Awards rules and guidelines are transparent and equitable.”
Allegations that the Grammy nominations process is tainted were made in a legal complaint filed in early 2019 by the former chief executive of the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan.
At the time, the Academy dismissed as “categorically false, misleading and wrong” Dugan’s claims that its members pushed artists they have relationships with. Dugan was later fired.
American pop star Halsey, also shut out of the 2021 Grammys, last year called the nominations process “elusive” and said she was “hoping for more transparency or reform.”
Former One Direction singer Zayn Malik called in March for an end to “secret committees.”
“I’m keeping the pressure on & fighting for transparency & inclusion. We need to make sure we are honoring and celebrating ‘creative excellence’ of ALL,” Malik tweeted hours ahead of the 2021 Grammy Awards ceremony.
The Recording Academy on Friday also said it was adding two new Grammy categories – for best global music performance, and best Latin urban music album – bringing to 86 the total number of Grammy Awards each year.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by David Gregorio)
Movie theaters face uncertain future
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Maryo Mogannam snuck into the Empire theater in San Francisco with his older cousins to watch “Animal House” when he was 14. He watched most of the James Bond movies at the historic art house and took his wife there on some of their first dates.
The cinema, which had been showing movies since the silent film era, served notice in February that it was permanently closing because of the impact of COVID-19. The marquee is now blank, and cardboard and paper cover the box office window.
“It’s kind of like losing a friend,” said Mogannam, now 57, who owns a retail shipping outlet near the theater, which had been renamed the CineArts at the Empire.
As vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes, they also may find their neighborhood theater is not there to greet them.
An eight-cinema chain in New England said it will not reopen. The same fate hit a Houston art house beloved by director Richard Linklater and, in a shock to Hollywood, more than 300 screens run by Los Angeles-based Pacific Theatres. That includes the Cinerama Dome, a landmark that hosted several red-carpet movie premieres.
Following a year of closures, theaters face deferred rent bills plus media companies’ focus on drawing customers to streaming services. Up to one-fourth of the roughly 40,000 screens in the United States could disappear in the next few years, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.
The National Association of Theatre Owners rejects that estimate, spokesman Patrick Corcoran said, noting that similar dire warnings accompanying the advent of television and the switch to digital screens never came to pass.
Hollywood filmmakers want cinemas to thrive.
“It’s the only place where the art dominates,” said “Avatar” director James Cameron. “When you watch something on streaming, the other people in the room with you are welcome to interject, to pause to go to the bathroom, to text.”
At theaters, “we literally make a pact with ourselves to go and spend two to three hours in a focused enjoyment of the art.”
“For 300 people to laugh and cry at the same time, strangers, not just your family in your house, that’s a very powerful thing,” said Chloe Zhao, Oscar-nominated director of best picture nominee “Nomadland.”
At the Academy Awards on Sunday, the movie industry will “make a case for why cinema matters,” producer Stacey Sher said. While acknowledging the hardship of the pandemic, “we also have to fight for cinema and our love of it and the way it has gotten us through things,” she said.
About 58% of theaters have reopened in the United States and Canada, most restricted to 50% capacity or less. The biggest operators – AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld – make up roughly half the overall market.
Industry leaders project optimism, forecasting a big rebound after restrictions ease and studios unleash new blockbusters.
Coming attractions include a new Bond adventure, the ninth “Fast & Furious” film, a “Top Gun” sequel and several Marvel superhero movies.
“Avatar 2,” Cameron’s follow-up to the highest-grossing film of all time, is set to debut in December 2022. Some box office analysts predict 2022 ticket sales will hit a record.
Supporters point to late March release “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which brought in roughly $48.5 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices over its first five days, even though audiences could stream it on HBO Max.
“That was a big win for the entire industry,” said Rich Daughtridge, president and chief executive of Warehouse Cinemas in Frederick, Maryland.
But near- and long-term challenges loom, particularly for smaller cinemas.
Theaters are negotiating with landlords over back rent. A federal aid program was delayed due to technical problems.
Plus, media companies are bringing movies to homes sooner. Executives say streaming is their priority, pouring billions into programming made to watch in living rooms as they compete with Netflix Inc.
Most at risk are theaters with one or two screens, Wedbush Securities’ Pachter said. He said his best guess is between 5,000 and 10,000 screens could go permanently dark in coming years.
“I think we’ll see a gradual decline in the number of screens,” Pachter said, “just like we’ve seen a gradual decline in the number of mom-and-pop grocery stores and bookstores.”
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles, Alicia Powell in New York and Nathan Frandino in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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