Previewing Election 2024

Friday, May 10, 2024

Associate Professor of Multimedia Journalism, School of Global Journalism and Communication, Morgan State University; Political Analyst, MSNBC

Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations


Founding Director, Institute for Democracy, Citizenship, and Journalism, Syracuse University; Professor of Practice, Syracuse University Newhouse School of Political Communications; Managing Editor for Politics, Axios

This event was part of the 2024 CFR Local Journalists Workshop, made possible through the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


TALEV: Amazing, awesome.

Well, we’re the last thing standing between you and happy hour or your flights home—(laughter)—hopefully happy hour, so let’s make it count. (Laughter.)

It’s great to see all of you here with us today. My name is Margaret Talev from Syracuse University and Axios, and I am joined by this esteemed panel here for the final act, which you all came here for, which is how does your work and our work in the 2024 elections all connect.

So full bios are in your packets, but let me just do a little bit of quick introduction. Starting on the far end, the great Jason Johnson. We’re going to do a little hometown introductions also, so let me start with Jason’s. He’s from Illinois, Nebraska, Virginia, New Jersey, and Germany. (Laughter.) He lived in eleven different homes from birth through high school, and his mom might have forgotten one or two, but we think eleven is—(laughter)—the rough count.

Many of you know Jason from his work as a contributor and host with MSNBC or as host of the podcast, A Word…with Jason Johnson on Slate. You may also know him for his work as a tenured professor at Morgan State, working with global journalism and communications students in Baltimore. But you may also know that he has done work for Republicans, as well as Democrats.

And Christopher Tuttle, sitting next to me—I’m sorry to be so boring—he’s just from one place, but it’s a great place: the great state of Wisconsin. Chris is now a senior fellow at CFR that has served in a number of different roles. He has been at the State Department, he has been the chief-of-staff to a congressman, and of course he was the policy director at the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations when Bob Corker was the chairman. So he’s got a ton of Hill experience and American political experience, understanding how foreign policy connects to Americans.

And I started out as a local news reporter in Florida and California before coming to Washington to cover politics, so like I know that feeling when there is a big story that’s happening in your community and it’s tied to something in the world, and your editors are like, we’ll just take the AP story on that. Why are we talking about this?

So anyway, what we want to do, I think, is we’ll start the conversation here. We’ll move it to this part of the room, but as we are kind of getting you warmed up, I want you guys, if you can, to think a little bit about—for the Q&A section—about how we could maybe crowdsource some coverage..

This conversation is being taped. It’s being livestreamed, but it’s also being captured on video. That conversation is going to be posted on the website. So while I really do want everyone to share your questions and ideas, just be mindful that if you have like a great scoop coming on the mayor, and you don’t want the mayor to know, maybe don’t talk about that—(laughter)—that specifically when we get to that part.

But I do want to try to get a sense from everyone about, like, how are you already covering issues in your hometown that are also playing out globally, and I think we want to learn from you as much as we can share any pearls of wisdom from up here.

So, OK, let’s get started on this part of the room, on the stage, with the dumbest question ever: do either of you have any top-line predictions who is going to win? Who is winning the 2024 election—(laughter)—in the White House, and who is going to take control of the House and the Senate?

TUTTLE: Can I start?

TALEV: Yeah. Yeah.

TUTTLE: OK, yeah. Well, first of all, I want to say thank you all for being here. It really is terrific—and I’m not just sucking up—to be able to talk to what is a group of the most trusted journalists in America, and I mean that. If you look at the Knight Foundation, they’ve done surveys. You guys are still doing really well in comparison to how the national media is doing, and it’s because of your proximity, your closeness to the community, how you know things on the ground. People still trust you, which is really terrific. And I’m dedicated to making sure that, you know, we maintain that and maintain strong, local journalism because it’s critically important.

I came up in a couple of state legislatures, and knew the local reporters really well, even the weeklies in some of the small towns in Wisconsin. And they were all really rock solid journalists who understood that they had a mission to inform people. So thank you all for being here.

Predictions: I will just give a quick answer to that, and then if you have further questions about why, I’ll explain. I think it’s going to be Biden. I think it’s going to be a Republican Senate, and I think it’s going to be a Democratic House.

TALEV: Well, let’s just do a quick follow-up, and then we’ll pop over there, and then you can redirect.

Why do you think it’s going to be Biden?

TUTTLE: I—(laughter)—I think Biden hit a low point round about January. The economy had been bad for quite some time, inflation had been bad for quite some time—still not great. We have new CPI numbers coming out May 15, so we’ll see what that portends for the election.

TALEV: Any Michigan reporters? OK, great.

TUTTLE: Yeah, but I think a lot of Democrats—and Jason will know this better than me—have been talking a good game about sort of protest votes against Biden, voting non-committed and, you know, saying they’re not really satisfied. Well, they’re not really satisfied, but there is a huge existential threat—as far as they’re concerned—coming, and ‘round about January it wasn’t quite real, right? The Republican primary was still going on, the reality of Trump was sort of far away compared to how it is, not just today, but how it’s going to look in the summertime, and how it’s going to look ultimately in November, OK? So he’s like a meteor coming at the Democratic Party base and Democratic voters. And once that meteor starts to loom larger and larger in the sky, I think Democrats are largely going to come home.

You know, if you are dissatisfied with the president’s position on Gaza, well, what do you think Trump’s position is going to be? And it’s going to be sort of, you know, this sort of binary calculus.

At the same time, there are significant divisions within the Republican Party. We saw it, you know, just this week. Twenty-two percent of Indiana primary voters went out and voted for Nikki Haley. That is a lasting—you know, I mean, that’s a lasting factor, and I don’t think that’s necessarily going to go away. People were voting for Nikki Haley in the primary because they don’t really want to vote for Trump. I’m not saying they’re going to go out and vote for Biden, but I think a lot of those folks are going to stay home. And I think—

TALEV: So the polls on where Nikki Haley voters are going to go—as that polling takes place—

TUTTLE: Not just Nikki Haley. There are Ron DeSantis voters out there who, you know, maybe didn’t—you know, don’t really particularly care for Trump. And Biden to them does not represent—I don’t think—in most cases—most of their cases, an existential threat in the same way that Trump represents that to Democratic base voters. So that’s my theory of the case.

TALEV: OK, and then—I don’t need to ask you why on the chambers. I think we all know the math.


TALEV: Jason, do you second that or are you on a—

JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, I’m very, very apprehensive about making predictions this far out.

TUTTLE: (Laughs.) I should say I am, too, so—(laughter)—

TALEV: But you didn’t have to answer that question. I’m just saying—

TUTTLE: I may have—I may have just stacked the—so I’m sorry.

JOHNSON: You know, and—you know, political science, you know, sort of forces you to try to be responsible about those sorts of things.

Generally speaking, my guess goes with the incumbent. The incumbent tends to win unless you have like a once-in-a-century pandemic that makes people realize how incompetent you are—(laughter)—so, you know, I suspect Joe Biden gets reelected. It’s going to be really close. National news media is incentivized to make you think that everyone’s vote is going to matter in the last few minutes; they don’t. It’s only going to be a couple of states that matter.

The Republicans just handed Arizona to the Democrats with this ridiculous sort of abortion, you know, bill that they passed, and so it actually allows the Biden campaign, which has not been particularly fleet-footed, to concentrate the money in the places where they really have to worry, like Georgia—which they’re going to lose—like Michigan, which they’re probably going to win, like Pennsylvania, that they’re probably going to win.

So that’s my—that’s my guess if you put a gun to my head, and tie me to the railroad tracks—(laughter)—and Mighty Mouse is coming to get me, Joe Biden ends up getting reelected.

I really don’t know about the Senate yet. I still think it’s up in the air. I don’t know about the House; I think it’s up in the air. But I suspect that Biden wins, and I suspect also that you’ll have a lot of state candidates that are running ahead of him that will drag him over the finish line because his personal popularity isn’t that high.

TALEV: Just a show of hands—anyone surprised by the certainty—and gun-to-my-head certainty of the stage? I’m going to raise—I’m going to raise my hand. I’m surprised.

I’m not making any predictions, by the way—(laughs)—but the polling definitely shows the race is in the margin of error, and that gives Trump the edge, so yeah.

JOHNSON: Here’s the thing. I say this somewhat mockingly but somewhat seriously, like these polls ain’t loyal. You can’t trust any polling that’s this far out. You really can’t. And people aren’t paying attention, they don’t care, they’re going to lie to pollsters until we get closer to the election.

The other thing is the sort of long time series analysis things that I pay attention to, like Democrats have been overperforming in special elections like by like 6 percent. Republicans have won the last couple, but Democrats have been massively overperforming in special elections, and that tends to be a better predictor of where things are going to end up going. If we get into the sort of binary of the specific candidates themselves, I mean, you—people are—and I think this is important when you look at how people are going to turn out to vote, right? People are disappointed in Joe Biden, but they don’t like Donald Trump, and there’s a difference. There’s a difference in someone who you believed in who didn’t do what you wanted versus someone who you think is inherently bad.

Lots of people think Donald Trump is an inherently bad person. Falling asleep and tooting during a trial about cheating on your wife and paying off an adult film star are the kinds of things that people tend to remember, right? (Laughter.) You may not like Joe Biden, but you can’t say those things about him.

And so ultimately, I think, you know, people will hold their nose; they’re still going to poll the line. I don’t think—you know, there’s arguments as to whether or not he affects Trump more than Biden; I don’t think RFK makes much of a difference. When you sort of announce to the country in an interview that, you know, you had brain worms and then they starved to death, that’s—(laughter)—it doesn’t tend to work in your favor.

And so, you know, if he even continues, I don’t see that as necessarily being much of a harm. And then, at the end of the day, I don’t Cornel West, I don’t think Jill Stein are going to end up making that much of a difference. So, yeah, I mean, I say all of these things with massive grains of salt because I think anything can happen.

TALEV: (Laughs.) Yeah, right. It could be within one percentage point, or RFK could make all the difference, and everyone here could be wrong.

So this is the Council on Foreign Relations, so we’ll start with a global adult film star conversation. (Laughter.) No, we will not. We will start with a global conversation about the economy because inflation—the polls have shown consistency—is the biggest domestic issue, and inflation looks a little bit different in every state. The cost of living, the availability of housing looks a little bit different in every state, but it is tied to something larger.

Chris, we’ll start with you. How is the economy and inflation playing out around the world, and where does the U.S. kind of fit into that?

TUTTLE: Yeah, I mean, we’re in an inflationary period, right? How the U.S. is playing into it as far as the—our policies and fostering sort of—

TALEV: Yeah, I’m just saying, like are other nations in the world also dealing with—


TALEV: —inflation?

TUTTLE: Yes, other nations in the world are dealing with inflation, and you are seeing that has some electoral consequences, right? You’ve seen that in some elections.

But, you know, we’re—when we sneeze, a lot of places, you know, catch cold and, you know, you see—and this is a—you know, in an increasingly globalized economy, of course inflation is going to be, you know, all around. We’ve got energy costs—you know, with the Ukraine situation energy costs have gone up pretty substantially, and that’s not just us; that’s all over. And that drives all kinds of secondary and tertiary effects because you can’t ship your melons to the supermarket unless you pay more. And then you’ve got to raise the prices on your melons, and you’ve got to raise the prices on just growing the melons because—I mean, you know how inflation works because you’ve got all the inputs that need to be shipped to you.

So this is a—it’s a global issue, and I think that, you know, I’m not an economist. We have plenty of folks here who could answer that question in a much more educated way, but that’s basically the case.

TALEV: But inflation is not just this thing that’s happening in the United States. It’s something that is happening around the world and that there are repercussions for the U.S.’s role around the world and vice versa.

Jason, give me like a list of a few other things that you see as both major domestic issues on the 2024 ballot, but also that are playing out on a larger stage around the world right now.

JOHNSON: I think the border is probably the biggest issue in that regard, and how it’s framed, so our southern border—

TALEV: The southern border.

JOHNSON: —you know, with Mexico. Nobody is worried about the Canadians, at least not right now. (Laughter.)

TALEV: Maybe we should be, but they’re not, right.

JOHNSON: And a lot of that has to do with how it is framed by sort of most American voters, and we sort of talked about this last night. If you look at—if you looked at the language that voters use, it usually sort of details their partisanship. So if you went back twenty years ago and you asked someone, what do you think about Iraq, right, if they said, it’s part of the war on terror, they were probably Bush supporters. If they thought it was just the war in Iraq, then they were like—they were probably voting Democrat or Independent, right?

So the current issue like that is the border. Do you think that migration is a problem? Do you think immigration is a problem? Do you think border security is a problem? Because depending on how you frame those things probably determines which of these candidates or which of these parties you think is doing a better job.

But the interesting thing is this is also a problem in South America. This is also a problem for AMLO in Mexico. This is also a problem for—you know, you go down to Guatemala. I mean, there is massive, massive issues with the dangers associated with hundreds of thousands of people trying to get north at the same time, and the United States’ inability to sort of functionally process these people or, heaven forbid, take responsibility for the instability in South America that we caused—we won’t talk about that because no one in our country talks about that. So that’s a big foreign policy issue that has domestic consequences.

Here's what’s key. Ultimately what has usually been a bane to Democrats is border security and immigration, but the problem is, after Trump and sort of the failure of the wall and, you know, Trump—he had Republicans who were running everything and still couldn’t get anything done—the public doesn’t really believe that either party is going to solve this anymore. And so it doesn’t hurt either candidate the way that it used to.

There was a time where the average American voter thought, look, regardless if I’m a Democrat or Republican, Republicans at least seem serious about doing something about the border. Well, Trump ran on that and didn’t really do anything about it, right? He didn’t solve the problem. He talked a lot about it, but he didn’t solve the problem.

Joe Biden has done a lot of things that have angered people on the left, but he hasn’t really solved the problem because the problem can’t be solved by the amount of lawyers that you have down there or whether or not you have cages, or have trailer, or anything else like that. So that’s a major foreign policy issue.

Two other parts of that that are key sort of domestically for the states—you have places like Georgia, you have places like Arizona, Colorado where the migration issue has some real sort of local consequences. People are running, you know, in favor of that. People are running against it. They have concerns if they go to Home Depot, and it’s like, oh, who are these people? Are they migrants? Blah, blah, blah. Again, no one wants to pay attention to it. Sometimes that’s just Americans, too, looking for jobs, but the presumption is that it’s always people who are here—it’s always people who are here illegally.

In Arizona, the lack of sort of border control plays heavily, but not as heavily as abortion, right? In Georgia, the presumption that you are being flooded with people who are undocumented from South America—it plays heavily, but they’ve got other sort of domestic issues where it matters more. So I’d say that’s the biggest international issue that’s also viewed as domestic, but I don’t see it changing things because I don’t know that it’s a top-five priority across the board for most voters.

TALEV: Chris, do you agree with that point of view—that immigration has basically been neutralized because neither president did what they said they were going to accomplish, or do you see it in a different way politically?

TUTTLE: With respect, I don’t—(laughter)—and there was a poll that came out—what was it—ABC News poll earlier I think this week—or maybe it was last week—that showed Trump with a seventeen-point advantage—I think it was seventeen—on the immigration issue. And the immigration issue I think has gone beyond sort of the Arizona and Texas question, and now you see a lot of people thinking—or, you know, politicians are saying, I’m a border state, I’m a border state, because of all the—and I’m not making up the numbers here. The numbers have been very substantial. And these aren’t necessarily—and the people who—and for a while, it peaked as, I think, the number one issue; now it’s back down to four or five.


TUTTLE: But, you know, a lot of people are not necessarily anti-immigration, but the costs that go into this—all of this, you know. My wife is from Minnesota, and there has been a big influx of illegal migration into Minnesota for work in meat processing plants, and that kind of thing. And these are generally sort of middle-of-the-road to sort of center-left Democrats in Minnesota who don’t have—who are all really closely tied to their immigrant heritage—Norwegians and this kind of thing. So they have a sense that immigration is not a bad thing. But when the tax levy goes up in their school district, and they have to hire two or three English as a second language teachers, they are like, we have to get this regularized. We have to get this under control. That, combined with the fact that—you say what you want about the Abbott effort to ship illegal immigrants off to various places, but it has really changed some of the politics of this.

When you’ve got Eric Adams out there talking about I think $12 billion to support, you know, all of the services that need to go into housing and everything else for these folks, it really does move numbers—not to say that New York’s going to, but this is happening all over. I heard one Republican say that Trump had—or Republicans had a “Remain in Mexico” policy, and Democrats have a “Remain in Texas” policy. And I think that’s actually some getting some purchase out. But I do think it has declined a bit.

The big question I think is whether or not Joe Biden is going to be able to make the argument that we had this border security deal, Republicans tanked it, so blame them. I just don’t know if it’s—I think it’s probably too little too late for people who vote on the immigration issue. I think that they are likely not to buy into that argument. So I have a little bit of a different take, with respect.

TALEV: Can I see a show of hands real quick? How many people in the room are political reporters, are covering the 2024 race in some capacity, or editing coverage of the 2024 race? And of those folks—or actually of anyone in the room, for how many people is immigration, or the border, or immigration and crime, or whatever construct—immigration and schools, immigration and health care, taxpayer service—for how many folks is immigration in your local community an issue that is driving debate? Thank you, hands down.

How many people would put their hands up to say, no, it is not? OK, so maybe two-to-one, three-to-one—(laughs)—maybe four-to-one; my eyes aren’t that good. (Laughter.) By a pretty wide majority, immigration is playing out in your local races even if you are not at the border, it sounds like, yeah.

JOHNSON: So here’s what I’m going to add to that. There is an ad being run—I think it’s North Carolina, too—there’s an ad that the Trump campaign is running in Detroit with probably some AI-generated, generically African-American voice—(laughter)—where some guy is talking about how immigrants are coming to Detroit—I thought this was also Milwaukee—coming to Detroit, and they’re getting these free debit cards, and they’re able to do all this stuff, and they’re taking jobs from Black folks—blah, blah, blah—because Trump knows so much about how African Americans vote.

Here's the thing—and you will hear people rending cloth, and crying, and complaining, saying, oh, my gosh, Black voters are going to go—which is a whole thing I hope we don’t get into because it’s a waste of time—but this whole idea that Black people are moving towards Trump or something else like that. Here’s what I always say about this immigration issue and why, like I said, it’s fairly neutralized for both people. People aren’t happy with it, but it ain’t necessarily the thing that’s going to make them pull the lever one way or another.

TALEV: What’s going to make them pull the lever?

JOHNSON: The economy.

TALEV: The economy.

JOHNSON: And that’s—and that’s—and that’s related to that. If you feel—if you feel that there is some direct consequence in your local community—and there’s a difference between I feel a direct consequence versus I don’t like it—if I go to Home Depot, and I go to Target, and there’s a bunch of brown people standing outside saying, brazos fuertes, and they’re coming in to work, right? If I don’t like that, I’m going to go home, I’m going to talk about it, I’m going to complain about it, and I’ll probably say it in a poll. If I feel that person is a direct threat to me economically because there’s no other opportunities for me, that’s different. And overall, even though no one is happy about the economy, the overall improvements that we’ve seen in unemployment tend to sort of soften the edges of those concerns.

So I don’t think that it doesn’t matter. I just don’t think it’s going to be the number one thing that drives somebody’s vote. How much my gas costs, health care expenses—those things are going to be way more important to me.

Now if you are driven by some particular strong foreign policy concerns or racial animus that masquerades itself as economic concerns, of course you don’t like immigration, right? That’s the difference between immigration issues when you are talking about people, you know, coming from Western Europe, or coming from Ireland, or coming from Scotland, or something else like that, and brown people. Nobody likes brown people. Those are scary, those are dangerous, right? But that’s why we can’t talk about immigration the way we used to.

But if you are not being driven by racial animus, and you are legitimately just being drawn by a real economic competition concern, right, which is some people, the overall improvements of the economy tend to lower that as the thing that you are most concerned about.

TALEV: OK, there are a bunch of other issues that I think are big foreign policy issues that are illuminating races, and I’m just hoping to get each of you to weigh in a little bit on how you see these in terms of a priority tree, or how you think they are playing out domestically even though they have international applications: microchips, China, TikTok, foreign investment.

TUTTLE: (Laughs.) All of those? Or any of them?

TALEV: Yeah, I mean—(laughter)—they kind of go with—we haven’t talked about Israel-Gaza yet, college protests, high school protests—yadda, yadda. We haven’t talked about Ukraine yet, but I think drawing sort of a broad circle around China-related things—whether it’s investment, foreign policy, national security, tech.

TUTTLE: Yeah, I mean, I think if you look at the numbers among the American people, the Chinese are—it’s understandable why we’re doing what we’re doing because the number of Americans—I think it was a Pew poll—who have a not just chilly, but cold opinion that you’ve probably seen—on China is, you know, at an all-time high.

TALEV: It’s bipartisan.

TUTTLE: It’s an all-time high.

TALEV: It is bipartisan. It has become a bipartisan issue.

TUTTLE: It’s bipartisan, and a lot of it is based on, frankly, economic questions. I don’t think most Americans are concerned necessarily about the national security side of things, but they—you know, you can tell them all you want about the macroeconomic benefits of permanent and normal trade relations that we inked back in 2000, but they remember when their brother-in-law got laid off from the ball bearing factory. And that—everybody knows somebody in their communities who has had this sort of suffering.

Now he may have gotten laid off from the ball bearing factory because of automation. There have been enormous changes—structural changes in the economy and the way we do things, but China is an effective foil to point at.

So I think that, like most years, I don’t think foreign policy is going to be, you know, issue two or issue one. If we’re not in a war, usually it’s like issue number eight or nine. I think it’s probably going to stay that way.

There was a recent poll the University of Chicago did in January saying that more Americans were concerned about foreign policy, and I think that derives itself from three factors. First, there’s the Ukraine stuff, and they’re aware that there is something going on in Ukraine. Maybe there’s a Ukrainian-American community, or maybe there are Ukrainian-Americans who are, you know, concerned about that.

You’ve got the Gaza stuff, which I think is problematic, but not lethal, on the Democratic side. You’ve got 75 percent of Democrats these days saying that they disapprove of the way Israel is pursuing the war.

And then I think that the broader sense that the world is in turmoil, that the world is chaotic, that it’s getting more dangerous—that kind of thing—and so Americans are saying, yeah, foreign policy is maybe moving up on my list, but I don’t think it necessarily really effects things.

TALEV: TikTok feels like a different issue, though, because it started—in Congress it’s a China national security issue. In your community—anyone here have a kid who is like—you are paying for their cell phone service currently? It’s a huge domestic political issue, isn’t it?

How does TikTok break for Biden or Trump?

JOHNSON: I think it’s different, and one thing also I think is always important to understand about Americans’ perceptions of the importance of foreign policy—and I’m in agreement; yes, it tends to be eight, nine, it goes up and down the list. It’s really just a reflection of how strong they think the leader of the country is. If they don’t think the leader is strong, then we tend to be more concerned about foreign policy.

Regardless of if you like what foreign policy decisions are being made, it tends to be a reflection of, I mean—same thing is when we have these conversations about being old, right? It’s because people think Biden is weak. They’re both old, right? He just happens to be the weak old one, and people think that Trump appears strong because he’s animated, like a chicken that you attach to a cattle prod or something. (Laughter.) You know, it doesn’t mean he’s more vital; he just seems to be more active. (Laughter.)

I completely agree with you about TikTok. The thing about TikTok is that it is—it is—it’s not just a cultural force, but it’s an economic force, and it’s tied to foreign policy because we’re going to get to it, but it’s where a lot of my students and a lot of young people get their information about what’s happening around the world—through TikTok. So the idea of a bunch of old fogies in Congress trying to shut TikTok down, to them it’s like, Aha! I know I’m on the right path with this thing that I’m following about Palestine, or Israel, or the Congo, or Haiti, that no one talks about because the old people are trying to stop me from seeing it, right? So that plays into a lot of issues where younger voters—meaning people under thirty—feel disconnected from both parties heading into this election.

But then—I mean, the numbers range from hundreds of millions to billions—depends on who you ask because it’s not like TikTok is always that reliable—but a lot people who make money off of TikTok, and like a lot of people make money off of TikTok, and so the idea of shutting it down under the guise of stopping the Chinese is an economic issue for a lot of young people, and they are bothered by that because they think you are taking money out of their mouths. And especially given that Twitter doesn’t work as well as it used to, for various reasons, you have a lot of people migrating not just from Twitter to Instagram, or from Twitter to Threads, but also you had a lot of people say, oh, my gosh, I have to expand my business from just being in this place or that place, and so I’ve got to leave Twitter. I’m on TikTok, I’m growing there, I’m making money, and now Congress is stepping in to try and take food out of my mouth. So that’s a major issue.

TALEV: So my institute does a monthly focus group with a group called Engagious and with NBC News. And we’re in different battleground states talking to different niche groups, key blocs of voters. We were—earlier this month or late April, early May—in Wisconsin talking to politically independent college students, and TikTok was one of the things that we talked about with them. And two takeaways that were really, really interesting was that almost none of them saw it as a national security issue. They were like, we don’t think China is trying to, like, get in and machinate, you know, stuff to win against the U.S. We just think it’s a tech thing, the same reason that, like, you know, Mark Zuckerberg wants our data—to make money. We just think TikTok is trying to make money. And they didn’t buy the national security threat.

The other takeaway that I thought was really interesting was they did not apply their blame or their concern in a bipartisan fashion, even though these are younger voters. They are politically independent, but they are younger, so many of them lean left. They blame Biden—not Trump—for this. They think Biden is trying to take away their TikTok, and they said that if Donald Trump saved TikTok for them, it might even make some of them consider supporting Donald Trump.

I thought those were both—


TALEV: It was, you know, a couple dozen people, so you—it’s not a survey, it’s not a poll, but that feedback I thought was very provocative. And I’m wondering about how you are thinking about TikTok as a political issue.

TUTTLE: So I think if you ask most parents—you raised parents and kids with TikTok—I think most parents would like to ban a lot of different social media—(laughter)—platforms. China is, you know, just a—I mean, it’s a real question, but it—you know, I think that it’s convenient that that’s one that they are able to go after.

You know, I don’t—I have a lot more trust sort of in people not to get—you know, and especially young people by what they see online, so I think that, you know, does it—does TikTok really move the needle on issues? You know, I don’t know that it does. And so I don’t necessarily—you know, Ted Cruz was citing a statistic in the hearings about how anti-China or stuff that could be perceived as critical to China—stuff was being tamped down by TikTok, and it was getting much more play on other social media platforms, that kind of thing.

I guess I’m less concerned about the propaganda effects and I’m not as—

TALEV: So you are talking about the impact as a news site that TikTok is having on the way people understand issues.

TUTTLE: Yeah, I think—I think—I think that most of the people on TikTok are younger, and most of those people have grown up with an internet that they knew they couldn’t trust. So I have a little bit more faith in people to be able to sort out facts from non-facts. And I think—

TALEV: (Naked ?) cynicism at least.

TUTTLE: Right. And I also—I also think that the more we get into sort of, oh, we have to suppress this disinformation, or misinformation, or that kind of thing, the effects that Jason talks about start to take place. That information—they’re going to—people are going to find that, and it actually gives more credibility. If the government is trying to shut something down, it gives—it gives a greater perception of credibility for the kind of people who might buy into that. So that’s my take on it.

TALEV: So we’re going to move to questions in just maybe three or four minutes. Can I do one more show of hands? How many reporters—how many journalists in this room have your own TikTok—like, create things on TikTok? And then how many have TikTok but don’t ever put anything on TikTok—you just use it to look at stuff? And then how many of you, like, do not have TikTok because you are totally creeped out about who might be getting into your phone—(laughter)—or are there newsroom policies against it?


TALEV: Oh, they—yeah, OK. And then, how about who sees TikTok journalists as a competitor to your publications? And who sees TikTok as a path that, if you could set it all up on burner phones or something that everyone would feel good about, where you could actually be reaching audiences who would one day pay to continue your employment? OK. Cool. Very interesting.

OK, I do want to do—I want to do one speed topic, and then we can get back to questions, and then one mini quasi-speed topic.

Ukraine—who is in a place where there are actually a lot of Ukrainian-Americans, Ukrainian immigrants, or where Ukraine is a localized issue? Keep your hands up so I can see better—actually quite a few. And who is in a place where there are military bases inside your circulation area? OK, awesome.

Is Ukraine going to be an issue? And is Afghanistan? Let’s put them both in the same basket. Are these going to impact who gets elected president—either issue?

TUTTLE: I don’t—Jason, you want to make—

JOHNSON: I don’t think—unless or until U.S. boots are on the ground, that’s when it tends to become an important issue. As long as U.S. boots are not on the ground in Ukraine, I don’t think it necessarily has much of an impact one way or another.

It plays into preexisting concerns that people have about both parties, so for example—

TALEV: Yeah.

JOHNSON: —I have spoken to people who say, wait a minute. The Biden administration can give free debit cards to undocumented people who are coming into Detroit, and they have all this money for the Ukraine, but they can’t do this—like, I hear that.

TALEV: But what about the flip side, the democracy argument that—you know, that Ukraine is not just about Ukraine; it’s a proxy for Russia, NATO, and Western Europe, and the last seventy-five years of the post-war architecture. Does anyone care?

TUTTLE: That’s awfully abstract. I’m sure there are a handful of voters who are concerned about that. I don’t see Ukraine being a major issue—as a major standalone issue that’s going to determine election outcomes. It’s pretty far away. We just passed a supplemental, so the funding fight is over. I do think that if the supplemental were still hanging out there—national security supplemental were hanging out there, there would be this argument—these economic arguments about giving money away. And that gets us to a broader question—and we can talk about this—of, you know, sort of a more isolationist stance that more and more Americans are taking. But I don’t see Ukraine as playing a major role in the election.

TALEV: So I hope we’re going to do like the democracy thing—which I obviously—I care a lot about, everyone cares about democracy—in the Q&A in a way that’s useful for you.

Last question before we go to questions. Israel-Gaza, it’s obviously a massive issue if you live in the region. It’s a massive international and American foreign policy issue. It’s also a massive domestic political issue, both for—in terms of all adults, whether you are Jewish, whether you are Arab-American, whether you are Muslim, and whether you are under the age of thirty, and especially whether you are on a college campus.

I want to ask you, Jason—President Biden has decided to go to Morehouse College and do a commencement address, I think in about a week. Is this a good idea in the context—

JOHNSON: It’s a horrible idea. (Laughter.)


JOHNSON: It’s a horrible idea.

TALEV: Anyone from the greater Morehouse area here? OK, great. All right.

JOHNSON: Yes, Greg knows this. He is probably going to be there. (Laughs.)


JOHNSON: Look, it’s a bad idea, and it’s—and we’ll have a chance to get to it when we get to the Q&A. It’s bad optics. He is going there to a school, and HBCU where you’re going to have a lot of people—people who have already released statements—you shouldn’t be here, blah, blah, blah. You’re going to have students protesting and arguing.

If Joe Biden really feels the need to give a speech at an HBCU this year, which is fine—hey, it’s a campaign season—find a school that’s going to be slightly less activist and/or slightly more southern and conservative where—and I’m going to be anecdotal about this, but everyone knows what I’m talking about—where you have a large number of Black parents who are, like, what you are not about to do is embarrass me in front of the president, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. (Laughter.) Your whole family is here. This is real.

TUTTLE: Did you see the Saturday Night Live sketch?

JOHNSON: It was a Saturday Night Live sketch at Columbia. (Laughter.) That was very real. Keenan talked to all of us, right? (Laughter.) Like that’s what it’s like.

You are less likely to have that problem at Morehouse and in the AUC than if he went to, say, Albany State. Now Albany State is an HBCU. It’s in Georgia. Albany, Georgia, also had one of the highest rates of COVID infection for African-Americans in the country in 2021. If Joe Biden wants to speak to an HBCU, go to Albany State. Talk about what free testing and free vaccines did for the community there, and it’s also a much more conservative, smaller school where you are less likely to have those kinds of issues.

So it’s not smart of him, but he makes a whole lot of unforced errors. I don’t care how many—I don’t care how many Instagram posts you do with Kamala Harris and Kendrick Lamar’s music, it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of young Black people don’t like him, and this is not going to provide the kind of imagery that Joe Biden needs to galvanize young Black voters to help him in the fall. So is it going to be a mistake? Yes, but he makes tons of mistakes—death by a thousand cuts—he’s going to lose Georgia anyway. (Laughter.)

TALEV: OK, I hope you are all taking notes.

Chris, Israel-Gaza as a domestic political issue versus as a global foreign policy issue—how are you thinking about it?

TUTTLE: Yeah, so as a domestic political issue—I mean, as a global foreign policy issue, but I’ll do the domestic political side first. (Laughter.)

This is—you know, this is really—as Republicans say, it doesn’t really affect, you know, within my party. I think there are significant fault lines, not just among Arab-Americans but among sort of the harder left edge of the Democratic Party, which is significant and growing.

TALEV: Progressives, yeah.

TUTTLE: Yeah, so I think Joe Biden is trying to thread a needle, and I think he is making probably everybody angry. So you’ve got a sizeable Jewish-American population—traditionally Democratic voters—who are really—many who I talk to anecdotally speak very unhappy with how Biden has, you know, said earlier this week, I’m not going to send any more Mark 82 or Mark 84 bombs over until, you know, the Israelis—

TALEV: If he does, yeah.

TUTTLE: Yeah, so there’s that. And then the harder-left folks aren’t going to be happy, period. You know, they weren’t out saying, OK, we’re going to take down our tents because the president talked to Erin Burnett and said this. So—

TALEV: Do you think it will be pivotal to the result, or just another—

TUTTLE: I don’t, and that goes back to the premise I mention earlier, which is I don’t—I have a really hard time swallowing the idea that, sure, there are—some of these people are still going to be camped out in November at the GW campus or whatever—I guess they got cleared out—but in any case, who are not going to go out and vote. They’re going to stay home.

But when faced with the prospect of Trump and what Trump might do as far as the issues that matter to them, they eventually will turn out, as displeased as they are with Joe Biden.

JOHNSON: I want to add something very quickly to this. I say this to my students all the time. There is a huge difference between being twenty-one years old in and college and twenty-one years old and just working. Lots of young people don’t care. They are working. They may have a feeling about it, but it’s not going to be a driving force in their lives one way or another.

And also—and a lot of this polling sort of bears out when you look at, say, people who support Jill Stein, people who support Cornel West. A lot of these young people who are very driven by this and speak online in very loud ways as if this is a single issue, they weren’t going to vote for him anyway—like, they weren’t; like, he didn’t lose a lot of people on this.

There are people who are unhappy, but I would say that there is a not insignificant number of the people who are singularly driven by the issue who probably weren’t going to vote for him anyway. Doesn’t mean he’s handling it well; he’s not. He’s doing a terrible job, but I don’t think it ends up making that much of a difference outside of the state of Michigan, and in Michigan, the Democrats seems to be putting a lot of time and money into it, and they’ll probably pull it out by a small percent.

TALEV: Hmm. OK, another prediction that you heard here first.

All right, I want to start to move to questions. Is there a microphone floating around somewhere? Awesome. OK, there’s a couple of microphones.

So I think I have some reminders to give you. Let me just do the old person thing and read my stuff. (Laughter.) So, OK, let’s do it this way—a reminder that this is being recorded, so don’t drop any secrets about a story you haven’t written yet.

When the microphone—put your hand up, we’ll call on you, and it would be great if you could share your name and who you are with before you ask your question. And if your question is for one of these gentlemen specifically, just let them know.

OK, can we start over here in the back? Hi.

Q: Hi, how are you? I’m Jacqueline Charles. I work at the Miami Herald, and nobody—well, there was one mention of Haiti, but in passing.

So even though we’ve heard that the Democrats have kind of given up on Florida, what we are seeing, though, is that there are efforts to not have Haiti become an issue in the elections. And I think you sort of hit on the “boots on the ground.” We have a gang crisis, an insurgency. The U.S. has basically been looking for proxies. They are waiting for the Kenyans to go in, but the Republicans are basically blocking $40 million of the hundred million (dollars) that the State Department has pledged and that the world is waiting on to see how much they are going to put in.

We saw with—you know, when Secretary of State Clinton, when she ran, Haiti did become an issue. So I’m just wondering where do you put Haiti in this election year in terms of crises and the effects that it could have on the elections.

JOHNSON: Absolutely—

TALEV: Thank you for your great coverage, too, Jackie.

JOHNSON: Absolutely negligible. It’s unfortunate, and I blame—I blame a lot of our national news coverage for not talking enough about it, but I don’t think it—I don’t think it drives Democratic behavior. I don’t think it drives Democratic strategy. I don’t really think it drives Republican behavior and strategy, and I think the national Democratic Party has sort of given up on Florida and Ohio as places that they are shooting for. They are way more concerned and interested in Colorado, Nevada, Arizona. They think they can make up the points at the back end. And so unfortunately, I just don’t think there’s going to be a lot of attention paid to it.

TALEV: Yes? Utah.

Q: It’s me again.

TALEV: Tell us your name for the video recorders.

Q: OK. I’m Brigham Tomco. I’m from Utah. I work at the Deseret News, which is based in Salt Lake City.

As local reporters—well, everyone in this room I think is interested in the horse race. We’re interested in the politics and the punditry, but I think it’s our responsibility to inform our audience or speak with them about the issues that matter most to them. What is a way that we can cover the 2024 election in a way that we may have not done so in 2020 or 2016? What are mistakes that you think newsrooms made in those years that we can learn from and have more substantive coverage?

TALEV: I love this question, and after we do the panel, could we do two, or three, or however many hands from the room because I’m really interested in the civic engagement or different approaches that different people are experimenting with this time around.

But from the panel—observations?

TUTTLE: Yeah, I would say that covering—I’m going to take this from sort of a helping folks to understand the totality of issues standpoint, and this speaks directly to the sort of isolationism question versus internationalism question.

So when you’ve got a local story, say the infrastructure bill, right? And you’ve got a great local story about a $20 million port that’s going to be going in—obviously in Utah you don’t have that—but as an example—(laughter)—you know, it is not just about the port. It’s not about the $20 million, and the jobs created, and that kind of thing. That bill was passed—one of the primary reasons was so we could compete against China.

So I think that as a—not just in the election, but in all things when you are covering things, if you can localize international issues and internationalize local issues. The port being built is not just a local issue, and so you—there’s a way to put it in a broader context to make people better understand the world in which we live. And then also, what’s going on internationally, you can find local effects of that kind of thing. You can find those Ukrainian-Americans and localize the question—they have relatives who are under fire. You know, there are any number of ways to do this.

But I think the election, just like everything else, should be put into this broader international context, and make people understand how these international questions affect them where it really matters because, otherwise, it’s too abstract—and understandably abstract. It’s not because these people aren’t educated. They know what they need to know to live the lives they live. You know, people in situations like the Council on Foreign Relations are fortunate to be able to sit and, you know, talk about Indo-Pacific security. These people are, you know, concerned about fixing the combine that just threw a tread or just, you know, had a flat tire. So—

JOHNSON: So I want to make sure I’m getting the question. You asked how to relate international things, or how to make sure that you don’t make mistakes from the past. Was it kind of the former or the latter? OK.

Q: (Off mic.)

JOHNSON: So relevant to the communities is always key, right? You find what people care about, and you report on the thing that they care about in a way that actually matters. You don’t always have to follow, say, military people. I think a lot of times local news, it’s like, you know, such and such Jenkins just came back from a deployment, and that’s the only reason you end up talking about Afghanistan when, you know, there could be local immigrant communities there, there could be all sorts of other things. It could be teachers, schools, all sorts of different ways that you can talk about international issues that matter. You find out what people care about, which is what excellent reporters do. I mean, I don’t think I’m telling you guys anything you don’t know.

I do think this, though, about mistakes that have been made in the past. I actually think most local reporting is pretty good at this because it’s not as driven by sort of influence and access as national news can sometimes be. I think the most important thing—there was a recent interview with the new head of the New York Times. I vehemently disagreed with everything he said. But he does this interview, and he basically says, hey, you know, a free and open press is the Fourth Estate and essential to democracy. And then he goes on and gives, like, several paragraphs of gobbledygook about how they how they’ve got to both sides this thing. No.

If a free press is a critical part of democracy, then you can’t report on both of these guys like they’re equal because one of them doesn’t believe in democracy. That’s not an opinion. That’s not theory. It’s the truth. One of them is old. One of them led people to try to murder his vice president. That’s not theory. That’s not speculation, and it wasn’t a bunch of Black Lives Matter people who dressed up in MAGA hats, OK?

So I think local reporting should be very clear about the fact that whatever issues that you may have with how this government is being run, fine. You can talk about those, and you can talk about Republicans, and Democrats, and what policies are, aren’t, and there’s corruption at every level in all parties. But you cannot report on Donald Trump or the people who ally themselves with him as regular candidates to be viewed in the context of an equal competition because that’s not what’s going on. You have one person who has made it very clear, I will arrest journalists that I don’t like, I will imprison journalists that I don’t like. I will use the powers of this government to take revenge on people who I don’t like. This isn’t like—this isn’t some far-left TikTok. This is what the man actually says. So—

TALEV: OK, so you’re getting two competing sets of advice—

JOHNSON: Yeah, that’s it.

TALEV: But you can embrace both of them. One is find ways that international issues connect to your local community, and find how issues in your local community impact the world. And the other piece of advice is cover all of your election coverage through—at its core a basic lens of—

JOHNSON: Democracy.

TALEV: —how the candidates view democracy.


TALEV: And what I want to—

TUTTLE: I just want to add one thing. I say the whole internationalizing your coverage not as an advocacy thing. It’s not, you know, because I think that it’s your job to promote international. It’s not. I think, though, that it is essential for making people better understand—helping people to better understand the world in which they live. They may read that coverage where you’ve internationalized a local issue, and they may say, you know, I’m more isolationist now than I was. (Laughter).

TALEV: Right, I never thought about it that way before.

TUTTLE: And that’s fine. So I just want to make clear I’m not—I’m not saying that as an advocacy. That’s not what you are in the business of doing.

TALEV: You’re talking about informing and contextualizing.

TUTTLE: Yes, but it’s—part of the reason you are so trusted is because you’re not doing that kind of thing.

TALEV: So, as everyone in this room knows, I think, one of the most interesting parts of research in recent years, and part of the reason why the Knight Foundation has put so much money in—and MacArthur into local news investment is the finding that local news helps against the deleterious effects of polarization, and that when news does or its increase—polarization increases, when there is investment in local news, it can counteract—and by polarization I don’t mean differences of opinion. I mean the fact that those differences of opinion create walls that can’t be breached, right?

So I’m really curious, Brigham, and other folks here, about how your newsroom is trying to talk to your community in a different way than in the last two election cycles; like, are there some initiatives that you are testing this time around?

Q: So, for most people it’s still early in the election cycle, so we have plans to—there are towns in rural Utah that have been greatly affected by the fentanyl crisis, and so we are creating plans right now actually to visit that town and do maybe a profile of the town as a way into this national issue. And so those are the kinds of stories, I think, that give more—make it less abstract, like was mentioned on the stage earlier.

TALEV: If you are doing a fentanyl project, obviously you’ll start with people impacted themselves—loss of a loved one, or maybe their own addiction struggles, or what it has done to a town. But obviously fentanyl is an international story. It’s a transnational story.

You know, if you were doing in-depth reporting, have you already thought—or would you be thinking about how to connect what’s happening in those towns with graphics, with data, with international reporting about where the fentanyl came from, or just a way to connect it to that larger story?

Q: Certainly, and I think that would tie in the question of China, too, so—

TALEV: Yeah, OK. Awesome, so you’ve got them on speed dial.

TUTTLE: Yeah, it’s some sort of flow chart explaining, OK, here are the precursor chemicals in this factory in China, and tracing it to how it got into this—

TALEV: These towns in Utah.

TUTTLE: —you know, this guy’s lungs.


Q: Pamela McCall from NPR Utah—way to represent. (Laughter.)

Should France put ground troops into Ukraine and they were unfortunately attacked by Russia, would Article 5 be invoked in terms of NATO, and would the United States be at war? And if so, how would that impact the election? Local connection: Hill Air Force Base in Utah and defense contractors. Thank you.

TALEV: Thank you.

TUTTLE: I would need to go back and read the Washington Treaty. I don’t know the answer to that, and I probably should. But I don’t know the answer. My guess is no, but I’m not certain about the specific parameters of Article 5, so I apologize.

TALEV: Are there a lot of conversations in your community about Article 5 and what would trigger it?

Q: No, it just made me consider it because I’m working on a defense story. Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, stay away, please. (Laughter.)

But it just made me consider the ramifications of what we were discussing—or what your guests were discussing earlier about should the United States be at war—or I think you said “boots on the ground.” But I’m just wondering if those events were to happen, how that would impact the election. And obviously, Hill Air Force Base—F-35s, F-16s, lots of Northrop Grumman, lots of defense contractors within Utah. So there would be—and many thousands of people employed by them. So there is just that connection in my own brain as I work on this connection with the defense sector.

TALEV: Are there a lot of Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans in your community also?

Q: Yes.

TALEV: And is—that plays into some of the thinking about how involved to get in other theaters, including Ukraine?

Q: I think it’s more along the lines of the people that are employed in the defense sector and Hill Air Force Base, and how that might sway people’s opinions. And say, for example, that this does happen, what would be the impact—I know it’s just hypothetical at this point—what would be the impact on the election if that were to—the situation were to ramp up in Ukraine based on France potentially putting boots on the ground?

TUTTLE: Yeah, assuming that Article 5 would be triggered—let’s just assume that—and I’ve got a—we’ve got a great guy here at CFR who is the former chief legal advisor to the National Security Council and the State Department named John Bellinger, so if you need comment—today or next week—we can get him on the phone.

I think you would see—right now we are poised for, I think, an isolationist spike, and I think that would exacerbate it, would accelerate it, and would present probably very difficult problems for Joe Biden because Joe Biden and his people, certainly, I think would say, we’re going to abide by the Washington Treaty. We’re going to, you know, do what we need to do. And then, instead of just $60 billion in the most recent supplemental, you’ve got, you know, 19-year-old Marine corporals heading over there.

And Trump—it’s difficult to know how he would play that, but I can imagine he would play that to his political advantage, given the sort of—his broader argument—and it’s not a crazy one—that Europe has not paid their fair share. I mean, I think Barack Obama first coined the—first used the term “free rider,” which actually gets a lot of purchase with a lot of Americans.

And then I also think—so that’s on the right. On the left I think there would be significant trouble just with sort of potentially new anti-war sort of movement and now people being concerned about, you know, the traditional sort of anti-war left. That would be my take.

Q: Thank you.

TALEV: Can we go back to that corner? You’re not from Utah, are you? (Laughter.) No, you. Yes.

Q: Oh, thank you—almost. I’m from Oregon.

TALEV: OK, that’s OK. (Laughter.)

Q: OK. My name is Emily Cureton Cook. I’m with Oregon Public Broadcasting. My coverage area includes influential people, precinct party people who still believe that the 2020 election was rigged.

To maybe build on your prognostications here, what do you think will happen if President Trump is not—if you are correct and he is not reelected, what kinds of stories are—or sorry, if he is not elected, what kinds of stories can we do to address false claims of election fraud as they unfolding, or do you think another January 6 is likely?

JOHNSON: I’ll start with this. How many of you guys—just show of hands—how many of you guys watched the last season of Succession? Good people. OK, good. All right.

So there’s an episode—it’s like the next to last episode of the series finale—

TUTTLE: Well, actually, many scenes in that are shot right here in this building.

JOHNSON: I didn’t know that.

TUTTLE: Yeah, if you go look at some of—

JOHNSON: (Inaudible.) (Laughs.)

TUTTLE: —the wood paneled rooms, you’ll recognize it.

TALEV: Maybe we can do a tour when we—(laughter)—

JOHNSON: I know, you should do a Succession tour.

TALEV: (Inaudible.) OK.

TUTTLE: I’m sorry to interrupt.

JOHNSON: No, no, that’s—I didn’t know that.

So anyway—(laughter)—so long story short, there’s a—near the end—it’s all about—it’s sort of this Murdoch-esque family, and they’re sort of Fox News—

TALEV: No. What? (Laughter.)

JOHNSON: And they are doing election coverage, and the whole election you do some funny math where the entire election comes down to Wisconsin, and there is an act of terrorism that blows up like a vote-counting station in Milwaukee, and so the whole thing is thrown out. Nobody knows what to do. And the series actually ends, and it’s still not clear who the president of the United States is.

The reason I mention that is because I am way more concerned about pre-election terrorism than I am about what could happen if Donald Trump loses again, right? Like I am concerned about mass shooters shooting up a voting line—

TALEV: What?

JOHNSON: —because they don’t care. I’m concerned about somebody blowing up a polling station. Those are real concerns that I have, not just because it was on TV, right? So if Donald Trump wins, assuming he doesn’t arrest everybody in the room, we could just write stories about him being president, right? If Donald Trump loses, he will—and if it looks like he’s going to lose—he’s been prepping the water for four years, right? This is rigged, it’s rigged, it’s rigged—you’re going to see acts of violence.

Now how those acts of violence are handled, I don’t know, but I don’t think you can change anyone’s mind—anyone who believes that the 2020 election was rigged, right, is not going to change their mind by any coverage. They are getting their information from Joe Rogan, or Aaron Rodgers, or other people. So they are not going to believe what you have to say.

I think the responsibility of any journalist is—when I’ve been asked that question—when people have asked me, in good faith, do you think it’s rigged, do you think—I always say, well, yeah, all the elections are rigged. Do you know why? Because we don’t have free and fair elections, right? Because that’s why I have to teach my students why is it easier for you to vote in Maryland than it is for you to vote in Georgia—or vote in Florida. You flip it into an overall conversation about how our voting system should be more equitable and open, and then you can usually tamp down some of the crazy. But you can’t change people’s opinion who fundamentally believe that there is some global, intergalactic scheme to hand the election to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

TALEV: Jason.

JOHNSON: Those people can’t be changed.

TALEV: I just wanted to interject for a second. I think you predicted that there would be violence—not caveated.


TALEV: Do you feel that sort of certainty? You may be concerned about it. Do you think that’s a foregone conclusion?

TUTTLE: I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion.


TUTTLE: I think a lot of it will depend on the numbers and how close it actually is. But I don’t—I don’t—I do—the sense I have is that there are, you know, radicals still out there, but I don’t know that you have—you’ve got a lot of people, I think, who are the type of people who maybe went to that rally, maybe went into the Capitol and carried Nancy Pelosi’s podium—her lectern.

But I think there is a sense among many of those folks that they sort of touched the hot stove, right? So I think that that—and the vigorous prosecutions on that side, I think that some of that has tamped some of that down. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion. But—oh, go ahead.

TALEV: I want to ask the question in the other way because I think this—the entire question is premised on the idea that President Biden would win another term, and that people who supported former President Trump wouldn’t believe the validity of it, and then something could happen. And how do you cover that, and how do you pre-cover it.

Oh, there’s another scenario where the opposite scenario happens where President Biden is defeated, and supporters of President Biden have the potential to react, to say we don’t believe it, or to believe it and be angry about it. Which do you think it has a bigger potential for civil unrest?

TUTTLE: Well, I think that there—I think there will be civil unrest on either side. I think that’s going to happen. It happened in—

TALEV: So you think no matter what happens—

TUTTLE: It happened in 2016 where there were, you know, some—there was property violence, you know, around the Trump inauguration, and some other protests and that kind of thing. I think the likelihood—I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion on either side, but I do think that the likelihood on the right is more than it is on the left by a fairly significant margin.

TALEV: So it’s—the role of journalism is to help people understand the truth as best as you can, right? It’s not from mainstream news reporting, it’s not to be advocates. But I think there is a legit question—I didn’t mean to cut you off—

TUTTLE: No, that’s OK.

TALEV: —and I want you to finish. I think there is a legit question about the role of journalism as a public service and helping think ahead, in advance about what some questions are that people might have—you know, how there can be a public service in that. I’m wondering—is that sort of what you are thinking about? Are you thinking about how to cover the election before the election, or are you asking about how to cover the implications of the election after the fact?

Q: Well, yeah—I mean, the initial answer was somewhat bleak. I was, like, you can’t change people’s minds. But I often—I often encounter people who—yes, there are extremists, and people who are actively involved in groups, or militias, and things like that, but there’s also people who are like, well, maybe it’s rigged; they sure have talked a lot about it. And my local clerk lost some ballots last—you know, it’s like—it has created the shadows. So what kind of stories can we do to re-instill faith in democratic processes without, like, doing a foregone conclusion that, of course, the election is free and fair. When you—I mean, you’re saying—I like your answer that, you know, they’re not, and that—anyway.


TUTTLE: Oh, go ahead.

Q: That—did that clarify—

JOHNSON: I’ll say this just very quickly about that. So you can try to frame very concrete policy decisions being made by our government in a way to sort of counterbalance extremists. I tend not to believe that that necessarily works. I also don’t believe in undecided voters, so that’s just me and my perspective on these sort of things.

I’ll give you sort of an example of this about sort of extremists. So I had a conversation with somebody once who was telling me, look, the reason that Democrats don’t care about border security is because they want to bring all these people in because all those people are going to be Democratic voters, right? This person was absolutely convinced that that was the case. So I hit them with some very scary numbers, and I said, look, the sort of replacement number, right, to keep your country healthy, was like 2.2, 2.3 children per women. That’s how you replace the number of people who die in the country and the number who get sick, everything else like that.

We are at one of the lowest birth rates we’ve had in America in over forty years, and when you add in the fentanyl crisis, which is serious, and you add in the million or so people who died because of COVID, we are at like 1.7; like we are not having enough people of any kind in this country to keep our economy healthy for the next twenty-something years. And I explained to this person—I said, the immigration that we have now is to do what we were doing sixty or seventy years ago. We need more people. We need more people who want to come here, and be Americans, and be a part of this process. And they thought about it for, like, three-and-a-half minutes. They’re, like, ah, nah. (Laughter.) Nah, it’s just a conspiracy, right?

So you can give people honest to goodness reasons. I told them immigration is up from a lot of different places. It’s to save this country. But, you know—so we don’t end up in a Children of Men situation, but it didn’t matter, right?

So I am appreciative of your optimism. (Laughter.) I just don’t tend to share it.

TALEV: Can I see a show of hands on how many—

TUTTLE: I think—

TALEV: Oh, go ahead, Chris.

TUTTLE: No, I just wanted to address a couple of your points—three things. One, we just put out a new contingency planning memorandum specifically on this issue, and dealing with the potential for election-related violence. It’s on our website—by a guy named Jacob Ware, and he works with a fellow of ours named Bruce Hoffman. But check that out.

TALEV: That’s yeah. Yeah.

TUTTLE: That’s at

Two, I think that localizing elections is super important, and I’ll explain what I mean by that. If you can walk people through what’s the—here’s your ballot. You just put it into the ballot box, or you just scanned it through the electronic reader. Here’s what happens to it. Interviews with some of the people who are dealing with it, who are neighbors from the community—just a, you know, retired machinist who loves, you know, running a polling place. And you can sort of pre-bunk some of that by localizing it and making people realize that there are responsible people running every step of the process—people you might know, and people who are not necessarily very partisan. I think that can be an enormous help.

And then other thing I would say—for those of you who are editorial writers rather than sort of straight reporters, the red mirage is a significant contributing factor to all that. And what I mean by red mirage is people now are able to cast ballots early, they’re able to vote absentee, but they don’t get counted until later. So what you have is, on election night, Republicans are doing very well. People go to bed. A day later, two days later, all of a sudden, the Democrats suddenly pulled ahead. I wonder if they tracked down some ballots in somebody’s trunk.

So to the extent that states can be encouraged to count all the ballots all at once, I think would be—that’s a significant factor and would actually help to remedy some of the issues that we see when it comes to disbelief in election results.

TALEV: How many folks—before we wrap—are working on just what you are talking about, or are working on plans maybe that ramp up in the summer around Labor Day to educate people about resources, how ballots are counted, where you can vote in your area, special election guides? How many folks are working on special events—maybe community gatherings, convenings—put your hands up—special events around the election to engage members of the community?

I actually think these things are really, really important, and I think it would be awesome—and I don’t know if CFR would volunteer to organize it, or maybe we would just get like one mondo email chain going—if we could all kind of share—like, stay in touch and share with each other best practices and ideas about those kind of convenings and those kind of forums. I think a place—a dedicated place on your website is really, really important, that you can keep up with the—on the banner or near the masthead, so like a place people can click and go to the place where all this is collected.

But I also do think, like, we’ve all seen that—post-COVID—events are really important, and it doesn’t have to be a big, lavish thing. It can be like donuts and coffee. It can be like a taco truck pulls up at your neighborhood park—but a place to bring different people together—usually around food—and to talk about things where the answer is knowable—not what your opinion is on something, but who the supervisor of elections is, where the balloting takes place, how absentee ballots work, like, I think doing programming about that, and having pieces about things like the red wave written in advance, from a truly non-partisan perspective, just to educate people, I think it does make a difference. I think the in-person contact makes a difference. And I think anything that—anything that people can get to on one of these makes a big difference, you know.

OK, so the bad news is that we’re out of time, but the good news—for anyone who wants to get out here—is that we’re out of time—(laughter)—so I want to thank all of you for being here for all of this for the last two days. I want to thank Jason and Chris for their time this afternoon, CFR for putting this on, as well as all of you and your bosses for letting you come—and encourage everyone to join the closing reception. It is where breakfast was served earlier—here at Pratt House—Harold Pratt House inside this house, so down the hall in this house. Thank you all. (Applause.)


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