How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting the 2020 Democratic primaries? – Screen Shot
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How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting the 2020 Democratic primaries?

COVID-19 is throwing a wrench in the already-dramatic 2020 Democratic presidential race in the US. With a slew of states postponing their election dates and the candidates unable to maintain their presence on the campaign trail, the road ahead becomes all the more challenging and unclear—not simply in terms of who will clinch the nomination, but also regarding the implications this turmoil will have on the election system as a whole, the morale and trust of the American people and the looming battle against President Trump in November’s general election. How exactly is the coronavirus outbreak affecting the 2020 Democratic primary election?

Postponed primary dates

As the spread of the COVID-19 became an imminent health threat to people across the US, 10 states and territories have announced that they will postpone their primary dates—Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island—and more are expected to do the same. Six of these states will join the five already scheduled for 2 June, making this date a second Super Tuesday of sorts, with an expected 822 delegates up for grabs on that day.

These changes in scheduling and the transition of the nation into a state of emergency seem to be having significant implications on the race. While former Vice President Joe Biden secured a seemingly insurmountable lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (having won 1,214 out of the 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination compared with 910 won by Sanders), Biden’s momentum seems to be declining.

Joe Biden disappeared

It began with Biden recklessly urging Americans not exhibiting symptoms to go out and vote on the last date of primaries back on 17 March (a move for which he received significant backlash). Then, as the US started morphing into one of the world’s epicentres of the pandemic and shelter-in orders or recommendations were issued across the country, Biden all but vanished from the public eye for days. With Trump making frequent (if obnoxious and bafoonish) addresses to the nation on television, Biden’s silence became all the more deafening.

How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting the 2020 Democratic primaries?

Over the last couple of days, Biden has tried to resuscitate his position; he addressed voters from his basement in Delaware and then gave a televised interview on CNN. Both appearances, however, were underwhelming and largely uncovered by mainstream news outlets. The former VP is facing pressure to step up his game by both voters on the ground and Democratic donors and party leaders who still view him as the only viable nominee at this point.

Bernie Sanders made a point

All the while, Senator Sanders has been galvanising his base of supporters, making the case that universal healthcare and social safety nets for low and middle-income people are absolutely crucial in order to avoid an utter collapse of the nation. Sanders has been holding frequent video conference calls with various leaders and experts, which are live-streamed on social media and have so far garnered millions of views. And although a great many voices in Democratic circles argue that the responsible thing to do would be for Sanders to drop out and endorse Biden, it seems that Sanders’ presence on the scene injects much-needed optimism and energy into young Americans at the darkest of times and crucially centres the conversation around the benefit of the people as opposed to the welfare of corporations.

It seems that the significant upheavals in the primaries have their pros and cons. On the positive side (if one can use the term positive under the circumstances), postponing the primaries and clustering many of them in one day gives residents of more states an opportunity to have a real voice in determining who the nominee will be. Delaying the voting dates also means that polling stations wouldn’t have to be randomly and promptly shut down as a result of the virus, which was the case in Arizona on 17 March and proved to be an absolute disaster.

Yet, the blunt manner in which the race was brought to a halt and the uncertainty prevailing ever since arguably hampered the sense of urgency and dedication that characterised the primaries so far. Voters are in survival mode right now, and may, understandably, pay less attention to the Democratic race, despite the fact that four more years of Trump could exacerbate an already dire situation for most Americans. Furthermore, Biden’s wobbly appearance and his failure to position himself as a source of hope and leadership in contrast to Trump severely injure his candidacy and lower his already slim chances of being able to unseat the President in November.

Finally, this unexpected turn of events shines a spotlight on the serious flaws in our election system, such as the absurdity of spreading out the primaries over months through a process that all but deprives millions of voters of voting their conscience or even participating in the race at all. It also highlights the urgent need to modernise the system and make voting by mail (an option currently offered in a handful of states) a viable possibility for all Americans.

As we battle the grave difficulties brought on by this pandemic, let’s remain engaged in this fateful race and not lose sight of what’s at risk. Now more than ever we must hold our leaders accountable to the task they’ve been entrusted with—caring for the public they represent.

How the news comparison platform Ground News tackles fake news and political bias

In today’s media landscape, people are bound to be trapped in virtually inescapable echo chambers. As social media is now our primary source of news and information, we find ourselves at the mercy of algorithms that are designed to feed us with content we’d find ‘agreeable’. This problem transcends social media, though, as each news source now has its own political agenda and coverage, be it Fox News or CNN.

Even those of us who are painfully aware of this issue are struggling to do something to resolve it. Fact-checking every single news item on our own is a laborious task that would pretty much count as a full-time job, and finding information sources that are both credible and challenging is hard seeing as our virtual surroundings become increasingly homogeneous. That’s where Ground News comes in.

Ground News, the world’s first news comparison platform, helps readers compare how the same news item was covered in various sources across the political spectrum and around the globe, and encourages them to reach our own conclusions. Ground News currently features over 50,000 news sources, all of which were vetted for credibility.

Take the issue of the ongoing Democratic primaries, for instance, or even Megxit—Ground News will map out the various sources that covered these stories and categorise them based on the publication’s political bias, which are labelled as ‘lean left’, ‘left’, ‘centre’, ‘lean right’ and ‘right’. Through such coverage analysis, a reader could easily get a balanced and diverse picture of each event and get access to points of view they would have not been exposed to otherwise. Readers can consult sources as left-leaning as Mother Jones and right-leaning as Breitbart, and get a glimpse into rare coverage from places like Iran and North Korea (all of which had been vetted using tech).

Harleen Kaur, Ground News’ CEO and co-founder, comes from an engineering background. She used to work for NASA, and later on at a satellite startup where her team used earth-observation satellite technology to help, among other things, insurance companies identify fraud and municipalities spot leaking pipes.

Following the 2016 elections, when fraudulent reports flooded the internet and hindered the democratic process, Kaur felt compelled to help rectifying our media ecosystem. “I [couldn’t] believe, as an engineer, that there’s so much tech around us and yet we don’t know what to believe anymore,” Kaur told Screen Shot. “I wanted to present a solution where somebody who was not trained as a journalist, somebody who doesn’t spend their day understanding what really happens in the news, will have a simple tool to be able to do that, and read news from various sources.”

Once a week, Ground News publishes a Blindspot Report, which lists the news that were excluded from certain news sources. A left-leaning American, for instance, could have easily missed the news about Mike Bloomberg considering Hillary Clinton as his potential Vice President, whereas readers leaning right were most likely oblivious to the fact that the Chinese authorities were aware of the coronavirus threat before reports about it became public. “Whenever there are climate catastrophes, the right-wing media is mostly quiet on it, or if something adverse happens with the immigration situation—the right-wing media is quiet on it,” Kaur said, “The left does the same as well on certain topics. And we want to show the consumers that it doesn’t mean that if their news source isn’t reporting something, then it’s necessarily not true.”

Other advantages unique to Ground News are the time and location features, which allow readers to see how the coverage of a certain topic changes over time and depending on the geographic location of the publication. Reading about the downing of the Ukrainian passenger aircraft by the Iranian authorities, for instance, readers were presented with a timeline of the events as they unfolded, and how they were covered differently by Canadian and Iranian news.

Currently, the majority of Ground News’ readers are located in the US, and Kaur says that their intention is to focus primarily on the American market for now, considering it is a tumultuous election year. That said, the news comparison platform is seeing a steadily growing readership in the UK—a country which Kaur believes “is another place where biases are a bit more obvious in terms of media landscape,” as well as several other countries across the world.

There is no quick fix to our contaminated media environment, and it is up to each of us to broaden our lenses and diversify our intake of information and views. A platform like Ground News can certainly support us on this quest. Are you ready to burst your bubble?