Politics writer chats with press club

Mark Niquette returns to Valley to discuss election coverage

YOUNGSTOWN — Former Vindicator and current Bloomberg News politics and government reporter Mark Niquette noted changes in election and campaign coverage extending beyond technological advances in media.

“Really, there’s that seismic shift in our politics that raises unheard of challenges for reporters and editors covering elections when now you see the losing side, in some cases, refusing to accept the results,” Niquette said.

He spoke Thursday to the Youngstown Press Club on “An Insider’s Look at Covering Elections” at the V2 Wine Bar Trattoria downtown.

Niquette recalled being in Philadelphia during the 2020 election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, driving to a press stop for the Trump campaign who had called in the morning.

“We thought it was the Four Seasons (hotel). As it turned out, it was the Four Seasons landscaping company, off of 1-95 in a seedy neighborhood next to an adult bookstore,” Niquette said. “We’re sitting out in the yard next to the mowing equipment and all the other elements with our N95 mask and we didn’t know whether they would cancel the press conference. Rudy Giuliani would come out and say, ‘we concede, congratulations to Joe Biden’ or if he would come out and say ‘we contest the results, it was fraud.’ Obviously, it was the latter, and that sort of set in motion the chain of events that led to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.”

Niquette also recalled being present for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 and her choice to not respond to the email scandal immediately, instead going to her rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and holding a press conference later that night.

Niquette said by that point, the damage was already done and Trump won the election by about 8,000 votes in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Niquette said that case was an example as to why candidates cannot wait as long to respond to big developments, as the 24 /7 news cycle has greater demands.

Niquette said reporters still haven’t been able to figure out how to cover candidates and fact check them simultaneously in real time, but considered disinformation and its devastating impact it can have on an election to be a broader issue.

“We already saw the impact of disinformation in the 2020 presidential election, and we’re already seeing the impact of artificial intelligence,” Niquette said. “Campaigns of both parties have used AI and computer systems to collect and analyze data. We’ve seen AI-generated robocalls that mimic Joe Biden’s voice earlier this year, telling New Hampshire voters not to vote in the general election. There’s also AI-generated photos of Trump getting arrested.”

Niquette noted one thing the press can do a better job with is the process story, with a deeply polarized electorate trying to tell people not to trust or accept the results of an election.

“It’s critical for the press to educate voters about the process, document potential threats and report them,” Niquette said. “That means writing about the vulnerabilities and potential for manipulation.”

Attendees were allowed to ask questions afterward, with questions ranging from his personal experiences covering elections, to his opinions on what changes the upcoming presidential election could bring to the country depending on who wins. Attendees also asked about how his newsroom handled their majority owner Michael Bloomberg running for president in 2020.

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