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[WEBINAR] Behind the Decision Desk: Fox News, the AP, CNN, and What To Expect on Election Night


Join PEN America and decision desk editors at the Associated Press, Fox News, and CNN to discuss election calls, projections, and how news organizations plan to navigate the challenges of election night 2020. Broadcast journalist Ray Suarez probes how news organizations will or won’t make calls, what responsibility networks and news outlets have in preventing the spread of misinformation, and how election night may stretch into election week. If you plan to tweet about the event, follow us on Twitter at @penamerica and use the hashtag #WhatToExpect2020.

The conversation is part of PEN America’s What To Expect When You’re Electing initiative, designed to inoculate Americans against the threat disinformation poses to this year’s election and to democracy.

Please confirm your registration at the Zoom link below. For more information, contact Hannah Waltz at medialiteracy@pen.org.

Panelists include:

  • Sally Buzbee, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor, The Associated Press
  • David Scott, Deputy Managing Editor, The Associated Press
  • Arnon Mishkin, Decision Desk Director, Fox News
  • Dana Blanton, Head of Public Opinion Research, Fox News
  • Sam Feist, Washington Bureau Chief and Senior Vice President, CNN
  • Jennifer Agiesta, Politics Polling Director, CNN

Sally Buzbee headshotSally Buzbee is the senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press. She oversees global news operations and news content in text, photos, and video from journalists based in more than 260 locations worldwide.

Previously, Buzbee served as Washington bureau chief for six years, where she led AP’s coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump and the 2012 election, including oversight of polling and investigative units, as well as coverage of institutions such as the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon.

Buzbee joined AP in 1988 as a reporter in Kansas and also worked as a reporter in Los Angeles and Washington. In 1996, she became assistant bureau chief for news in Washington, where she ran spot news coverage and oversaw in-depth foreign affairs and national security coverage. For five years beginning in November 2004, Buzbee served as AP’s Middle East regional editor based in Cairo. In that position, she led AP’s news coverage across media formats during the Iraq war and managed personnel, logistics, budgets, and security for AP’s Middle East region.

Buzbee holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas and a master’s of business administration from Georgetown University. She has two daughters, Emma, 20, and Margaret, 18.

David Scott headshotDavid Scott is a deputy managing editor at The Associated Press, where he is responsible for the operations of the news agency’s global newsroom. Scott also oversees AP’s public opinion research team and election decision desk, and coordinates AP’s overall coverage of U.S. elections—from the vote count that tells the world who won, to the AP VoteCast election survey that explains the reasons why.

Scott joined AP as a reporter in St. Louis in 1999, where he covered the downfall of Trans World Airlines and the rise of Monsanto. Later, in North Carolina as news editor, Scott led the AP’s coverage of the Duke lacrosse rape case and the political career of John Edwards. He also set up and directed the AP’s Blacksburg, VA newsroom following the Virginia Tech shootings, and served as an on-site editor during several hurricanes, including Katrina, Ike, and Gustav.

In 2009, he was named the AP’s first regional editor for the Central U.S. In that role, he led the cooperative’s journalism in 14 middle American states and oversaw its Chicago-based publishing center. During his five-year tenure, the region’s journalists won three APME Deadline Reporting Awards and an honorable mention in a fourth year.

Scott served as AP’s political editor for the 2014 and 2016 U.S. elections, directing coverage of campaigns and American politics from Washington. In that role, he joined the AP-NORC Center team and began his work with AP’s polling unit. In 2018, he was part of the team that created AP VoteCast, the news cooperative’s replacement for the legacy exit poll, and shepherded its introduction into the market and AP’s own newsroom as the indispensable Election Day storytelling tool.

Scott is a native of Philadelphia who grew up in Milwaukee and is a graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. He lives in Portland, ME.

Arnon Mishkin headshotArnon Mishkin has been consulting for Fox News about election coverage for over 20 years and has been leading the election night decision team since 2008.

Prior to working on election coverage, he was a political consultant, working for the late David Garth, one of the founders of the modern political consulting industry.

In addition to his election roles, Mishkin is a management consultant focused on helping media companies navigate the challenges of the digital era.

After the 2016 election, Mishkin worked with Dana Blanton to lead the team at Fox News that sought to build the first alternative to the traditional exit poll, which has been a mainstay for election coverage since 1968. Partnering with The Associated Press, they launched their system in 2018, and this November will be the first time it’s used in a presidential election.

Dana Blanton headshotDana Blanton is the vice president of public opinion research for Fox News Channel (FNC). Since joining FNC in September 1996, prior to the channel launching, she has been responsible for producing the channel’s polling and managing all aspects of the channel’s opinion research, including the monthly national Fox News Poll. In that role, Blanton and her team generate original news content for the channel’s television programming, including digital, affiliate stations, and radio newscasts.

In addition, she leads the channel’s Fox News Voter Analysis election night survey team.

A Colorado native, Blanton holds an undergraduate degree from Colorado State University and earned an MBA from George Washington University.

Sam Feist headshot

Sam Feist is CNN’s Washington bureau chief and senior vice president. Named to this role in May 2011, he oversees daily operations of the bureau and leads all newsgathering and Washington-based programming, including: The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, The Lead with Jake Tapper, State of the Union, and Inside Politics. Feist also leads the production of CNN’s campaign and election coverage, including debates, convention coverage, and election night. During the 2016 campaign cycle, CNN’s primary debates were nominated for a 2016 Emmy award and included the highest rated programs in CNN’s history.

Previously, Feist was CNN’s political director and vice president of Washington programming. In that role, he coordinated all facets of CNN’s daily political coverage and oversaw CNN’s production of the 2006 midterm and 2008 presidential elections. In the 2008 election cycle, Feist coordinated and produced the primary and convention coverage that earned CNN a Peabody Award.

Feist helped to conceptualize and was the founding executive producer of The Situation Room, the daily newscast now in its 12th year. He formerly produced and managed the production of other CNN political programs including: Crossfire, State of the Union, The Capital Gang, Evans & Novak, Late Edition, and Wolf Blitzer Reports. He has produced interviews with such world leaders as Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Yitzhak Rabin.

Feist is the recipient of three Emmy Awards: as executive producer of CNN’s Election Night 2012 coverage; as executive producer of CNN’s coverage of the 2006 midterm elections, and as an executive producer of breaking news coverage of the 2011 Arab Spring.

Jennifer Agiesta headshot

Jennifer Agiesta is director of polling and election analytics at CNN. Named to the position in January 2015, Agiesta produces all the network’s polling and leads its election night decision team, while guiding CNN’s reporting on the use of polls. She works out of CNN’s Washington, D.C. bureau.

Prior to joining CNN, Agiesta served as director of polling at The Associated Press. There, she ran a two-person polling unit, conducting domestic and international survey research for the news cooperative and leading its election night exit poll coverage. She has also covered polling at The Washington Post, launching the site’s polling blog Behind the Numbers, and helped build the National Election Pool exit poll operation at Edison Research. Prior to her media work, Agiesta worked on messaging research with D.C. firms Belden, Russonello and Stewart, and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.

Agiesta holds a bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University, and is a native of Long Island.


Ray Suarez headshotRay Suarez is a host of the radio and podcast series “World Affairs,” heard on KQED San Francisco and public radio stations around the country, and a Washington reporter for Euronews. He recently completed an appointment as the McCloy Visiting Professor of American Studies at Amherst College. Suarez hosted Inside Story, a daily news program on Al Jazeera America, until the network ceased operation in 2016.

Suarez joined PBS NewsHour in 1999 and was a senior correspondent for the evening news program until 2013. He hosted NPR’s Talk of the Nation from 1993 to 1999. In more than 40 years in the news business, he has worked as a reporter in London and Rome, as a Los Angeles correspondent for CNN, and for the NBC-owned station WMAQ-TV in Chicago.

Suarez is the author of three books: Latino Americans: The 500 Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation (Penguin, 2013); The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration: 1966-1999, reporting on the causes of the destitution found in the inner city; and The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America, examining how organized religion and politics intersect in America. His next work, on immigration, political, demographic, and cultural change, will appear in 2022.

He is a contributor to the Oxford Companion to American Politics (June 2012) and many other books, including How I Learned English, Brooklyn: A State of Mind, Saving America’s Treasures and About Men. He’s been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune.

This event is part of PEN America’s #WhatToExpect2020 initiative, which we launched this fall to empower voters to understand the uniqueness of the 2020 election, inoculate the public from the threats of disinformation, and build awareness of the electoral process.

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