Election Night Showed Why We Need Abortion Storytellers on TV

Men sermonizing on possible political outcomes from the perch of their cable TV ivory towers are ill-equipped to cover abortion in any respect.

[PHOTO: MSNBC electoral map projected on two screens]
White male pundits had fun on election night—and they were unafraid to talk about it. Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

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On Tuesday, the day of the 2020 presidential election, a reported 1,130 people in the United States died from COVID-19. In Louisiana, voters passed an anti-abortion amendment to the state’s constitution that allows the state to ban abortion if the conservative Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. And at around 2 a.m., the president falsely declared victory in a too-close-to-call election, attacking the very foundation of the country’s democracy by threatening to have the Supreme Court impede efforts to count votes that were already cast.

Amid an ongoing public health crisis that has killed over 230,000 people, left millions more without a job, and left 14 million children without enough food to eat, the country does not know who the next president of the United States will be, what the makeup of the House or the Senate will be, and how our constitutionally protected rights will be impacted by it all.

But the white male pundits covering election night in the United States wanted you to know that they were having an all-out blast.

Throughout the evening and well into the following morning, CNN’s John King repeatedly commented on how much “fun” he was having tallying up votes, imagining potential electoral outcomes, and turning states blue then red then blue again with his fancy touchscreen map. “This is why elections are fun!” King said with a giggle.

At around 1 a.m., when it was clear the presidential race was far too close to call and that it could take days, if not longer, to count all the votes, CNN commentator David Axelrod, a former chief strategist to President Barack Obama, exclaimed, “Exciting, isn’t it?” He went on to say how fascinating it was that “no one has taken a piece from the other player”—as though the race to reach 270 electoral votes was an afternoon game of chess.

And over on MSNBC, James Carville—inexplicably dressed head to toe in U.S. flag attire—joked that every Democrat should “just put the razor blades and the Ambien back in the medicine cabinet.” This is at a time when rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then at 8 this morning on CNN, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe bet fellow commentator Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, dinner and a beer that Joe Biden would win the election—as if they were betting on the outcome of an NFL game.

We need Black and brown abortion storytellers breaking down the threats to bodily autonomy and reproductive justice to an electorate that overwhelmingly favors abortion access.

That white men dominate the national news discourse is nothing new. In a 2014 study surveying six primetime cable news programs, 84 percent of the guests were white and 72 percent of the guests were men. The same study showed that the least diverse cable news show was on liberal-leaning MSNBC. Political punditry has never adequately represented the communities that are disproportionately impacted by politics.

But Roe v. Wade is on the chopping block, six states only have one clinic that provides abortion, millions of people live more than 100 miles away from the nearest abortion clinic, and ten states have “trigger laws” that will ban abortion immediately if Roe is overturned. It’s vital that political pundits not only better represent the diversity of the country, but also better represent the large number of people who have abortions.

A cisgender white guy with a $1.25 million condo does not represent the predominantly Black and brown people disproportionately affected by anti-abortion laws. Nor can the longtime strategist and pundit who makes $40,000 per speaking engagement adequately discuss what is on the line for those most harmed by these restrictions. In 2014, 49 percent of abortion patients lived at or below the poverty line. Of the many reasons why people choose to have abortions, 73 percent in a 2005 study cited the inability to afford a child. And studies have shown that those who are denied abortion access are more likely to live in poverty and face food insecurity.

Men sermonizing on possible political outcomes from the perch of their cable TV ivory towers are ill-equipped to cover abortion in any respect. And that’s if they choose to discuss abortion at all.

A 12-month study of cable news programs conducted by Media Matters in 2019 found that MSNBC and CNN aired far fewer segments covering abortion than the right-wing Fox News. During these infrequent segments, CNN was wrong about abortion 67 percent of the time, while MSNBC was wrong 40 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, Fox News hosts discussed abortion more frequently, taking the time to spread lies about abortion procedures that have no doubt contributed to a rise in anti-abortion harassment, violence, and death threats.

We do not need political pundits who spend their time imagining electoral outcomes as if they’re filling out this year’s March Madness brackets and pontificating on the over/under odds in Vegas. We need pundits who better represent the 1 in 4 women who will have an abortion, as well as the trans and nonbinary people who have abortions—pundits who can speak candidly and truthfully about what is at stake for those living in states hostile to abortion access.

We don’t need star-spangled banner-adorned men downplaying the very real anxiety that can overcome anyone who witnesses their constitutional rights and those of the people they love to hang in the balance of a contested election. We need Black and brown abortion storytellers breaking down the threats to bodily autonomy and reproductive justice to an electorate that overwhelmingly favors abortion access and believes Roe v. Wade should stand.

Because while presidential elections—whether a pre-election night simulation or the real deal—seem to be a turn-on for affluent, privileged white male pundits with little-to-nothing to lose and an affinity for large interactive maps, the potential demise of our human rights do not exist for the purpose of filling their political spank banks.

It’s time booking agents and cable news networks act accordingly.