New York CNN Business  — 

The American presidential election is truly in its final inning. By this time next week, all the polls will be closed and many of the votes will be counted. Here’s what the political press needs to do in the final days of “election season:”

  1. Keep focusing on the Road to 270. Everyone has seen the national horserace polls showing Joe Biden well ahead of President Trump. At this point, the state-by-state contest is much more important to cover in-depth.
  2. Point people to voter guides and the how-to-vote information they need.
  3. Show, don’t tell. Keep featuring the lines at early voting sites. Amplify the voices of voters.
  4. Prepare people for a variety of vote-counting scenarios. Explain the reasons why some states have results sooner than others and why delays are not evidence of shenanigans.
  5. Demystify the decision desks. Trump’s lies about the integrity of the election make it all the more important that the public understand how projections are made. VOA has an excellent new explainer here.
  6. On a related note: Share all the reasons why the public should have confidence in the vote-counting process. Describe how it’s decentralized and point out the checks and balances.
  7. Recognize that hardcore partisans are consuming very different streams of information than casual readers and viewers. Case in point: the Hunter Biden email narrative.
  8. Respect that Covid-19 makes this an election like no other.
  9. Preach patience! And don’t just talk about it, but model it as well.

Put Biden’s Covid-era choices in context

Joe Biden is respecting Covid-era guidelines while Trump is defying those same guidelines. And there is a whole lot of dishonesty in right-wing media about the results. Trump and his flacks routinely mock Biden and surrogates like Barack Obama for small crowd sizes. “Biden is drawing almost no one,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

So it’s worth observing the obvious: Biden’s in-person events are almost 100% for the cameras, not for crowds. They are made-for-TV moments, for cable and the nightly news and YouTube, making a “show” of campaigning while respecting Covid-19 restrictions. Right-wing commentators know this, but they are pretending otherwise.

Biden surrogates, meantime, are applauding his safety measures and ridiculing Trump’s massive rallies. In Orlando on Tuesday, Obama said Trump was recently “fussing about the crowd size at the inauguration again, saying his was bigger. Who is thinking about that right now?”

Understand Trump and Biden’s emotional appeals

I revisit my highlighted copy of psychology professor Drew Westen’s 2008 book “The Political Brain” during every election season. Westen made the case that “elections are won or lost in the marketplace of emotions.” In some ways his book was an argument to cover style just as much as substance, because passion, not policy, determines many voters’ decisions.

When I interviewed Westen the other day, he said “we pick leaders according to two emotional questions: Does this person understand and care about people like me? Does this person share my values?” He commented that people are voting “with their gut about whether they can stomach another four years of Trump.” And he described Trump support as a “cult-like phenomenon.” Here’s the full interview.

Are reporters overcorrecting in response to 2016?

To put it another way: Are they treating Trump-Biden like it’s a lot closer than it actually is?

“A lot of us did not see the Trump victory in 2016 coming. So we’re gun shy this time,” Politico’s John Harris said on last Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” broadcast.

“I am not sure that’s a bad thing, actually,” Harris said. “I think sometimes we go too far in the other direction, of looking like the race is over, when we don’t know that. We probably made that mistake in 2016.” But in the final inning of the 2020 race, “what Trump is avoiding — and it’s a huge gift the media is giving him — he is avoiding ‘death watch coverage,’ the kind of coverage that John McCain got in 2008, where everything is like a hospital vigil.”

Why it’s time to retire the term ‘Election Day’

Veteran journalist and media executive Vivian Schiller penned an important piece about this for CNN Opinion. “It’s time to retire the term ‘Election Day’ and replace it,” she wrote, “with a far more clear and more accurate term: ‘the last day of voting.’ As for the stage we’re in now? Easy: ‘Election season.’ This is more than an arcane exercise in etymology. Focusing on the anachronistic notion of a singular election day is a disservice to the public who are already confused by where and how to vote. Worse, it risks reinforcing the notion that in-person day-of votes are more legitimate than votes by mail, a falsehood propagated by President Donald Trump and his allies.”

Read the rest here.

“This is not magic. This is actually math”

The other day I spoke with Sally Buzbee, executive editor of The Associated Press, about vote-counting and race-calling preparations. “We work through various scenarios… We test all of our systems,” Buzbee said. But “the voters really make the decisions in American elections. So there is only so much you can test.”

Buzbee expressed her confidence in the other national news outlets that assemble and report the election results – which is really important, I think, when the president is out sowing doubt about the entire system. “The networks’ race calling and decision desks are all incredibly professional organizations,” Buzbee said. “We deeply respect them.”

Her bottom line: “This is not magic. This is actually math and facts and science. That’s how races are called.” Watch or read her comments here

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Youu can sign up for free right here.