ABC wins the Democratic debates, plus a sportswriter’s troubling Twitter rant and a media critic’s mea culpa

September 13, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good Friday morning. Another Democratic debate is in the books and it might have been the most productive of this year’s sessions. ABC had something to do with that. Plenty of interesting media news today, including a what-was-he-thinking tweet storm by a sportswriter and a mea culpa from a Washington Post columnist. But let’s start with Thursday’s debate.

Moderators were the big winners last night

In sports, they say if you don’t notice the referees that means the referees did a good job. You could say the same thing about moderators in political debates. More often than not, if you come out of a debate talking more about the moderators than the debaters, then the moderators did a lousy job.

We come out of Thursday night’s Democratic debate talking about the candidates. The debate looked a lot like, well, a debate. Credit the moderators for that. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Linsey Davis and Univision’s Jorge Ramos all had a good night.

They managed to do the four things good moderators do.

  • They asked smart questions to elicit revealing answers.

  • They asked tough questions, including to Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris about their records as prosecutors, to Joe Biden about deportations during the Obama administration when he was vice president, and to Bernie Sanders about socialism in Latin America.

  • They managed to control the candidates to keep it from turning into a free-for-all.

  • Then they got out of the way.

The fact that each of the candidates on stage qualified for the debate, as well as the fact that all the top contenders were there, made for a more focused evening. But the moderators had something to do with that, too. There was never a sense that the debate was about to spiral out of control or give way to tangents. Everyone stayed on point. There was a level of respect among the candidates — well, except for Julian Casto’s cheap shot about Biden’s age that went over like a burp in church. In fact, the debate was so measured it made Castro’s attack even more noticeable (and not in a good way). Give the candidates some credit for that. But give the moderators credit for maintaining decorum.

We can opine as to which candidates had a good night and which ones didn’t. But put the ABC moderators in the winners category.

Best lines of the night

Actually, the most powerful lines of the night might have been delivered by moderators. First, moderator Jorge Ramos opened the debate — and drew applause from the Houston audience — by telling fellow Latinos, “Despite the fact that we are facing difficult times, this is our country, too.”

Later, David Muir reminded the candidates (and us) how outraged the country was about the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and how the first-graders killed that day would be in eighth grade now. It put into perspective how little we’ve done in the wake of continuous mass shootings in this country.

When in doubt, don’t tweet it out


Football player Antonio Brown (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

The biggest story in the NFL this season so far has been the bizarre antics of wide receiver Antonio Brown. After forcing his way out of Pittsburgh, he then demanded a trade from his new team, the Raiders, before he even played a game. He got frostbite on his feet in a cryotherapy session gone wrong, threatened to retire because he couldn’t use an illegal helmet and nearly got into a fistfight with his general manager.

But the story shifted from bizarre to troubling when the now-New England Patriots receiver was sued in federal court Tuesday by his former personal trainer, who claims she was raped by Brown in May of 2018. She also claims two other assaults in 2017.

It’s that story that led to a disconcerting Twitter rant by sportswriter Omar Kelly, who covers the NFL for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. In a series of tweets Wednesday that he has since deleted (but were saved through screenshots), Kelly questioned the motives and alleged behavior of Brown’s accuser.

Among Kelly’s tweets:

“If someone raped me in May I would have called the police in May, not issue a civil suit September, when football season arrived. Also, if they ‘sexually assaulted’ me, I’m not going back to work with them after the allegedly apologize.”

Another tweet called the women’s suit “a money grab” and in response to someone who criticized his tweets, Kelly wrote about athletes being preyed upon by those looking for “money, fame and access.”

But the most disturbing tweet:

“If you’re raped the first thing you should do is call the police and have a rape kit done.”

After a Wednesday afternoon of severe backlash, Kelly deleted his tweets and issued an apology:

 “I believe in due process. I believe in innocent until proven guilty, which clearly doesn’t take place in the court of social media. However, this morning, while addressing the Antonio Brown rape allegations and civil lawsuit, I expressed concern about the timing of the lawsuit. I also shared what I now realize is an uninformed opinion about how rape surivors should conduct themselves after experiencing an assault. Since sharing that opinion I’ve received plenty of insight and heard a handful of moving stories that explain why rape survivors don’t immediately involve law enforcement. I now understand more about the same that comes from enduring such an incident, and I apologize.”

But that was not good enough for some, including longtime sportswriter Viv Bernstein, a former staffer at the Detroit Free-Press, Raleigh News & Observer and frequent contributor to The New York Times. She tweeted:

“Glad that you have a better understanding now. But it doesn’t change the reality that you are hopelessly compromised as a reporter. No victim would ever trust you with his or her story. The Sun-Sentinel will be handicapped in its coverage as long as you are on the beat.

(Editor’s note: We connected with Bernstein after that tweet, and she wrote for Poynter.org about why Kelly shouldn’t be allowed to cover the Dolphins anymore — and she should know.)

It’s a legitimate point. How could Kelly ever work on a story about sexual assault allegations — an all-too-frequent topic among athletes — and be considered neutral?

It doesn’t sound as if Kelly will lose his job or be taken off the beat. He has written football stories since the controversy. In a statement to Poynter, Sun Sentinel editor-in-chief Julie Anderson said, “I was appalled by Omar’s comments on Twitter Wednesday as were most of us who work with him. He displayed a total lack of understanding about why women might delay or not report rape at all. As ignorant as Omar’s comments were, I believe he has learned a valuable lesson. Omar deleted his comments, listened to some rape survivors’ personal stories, and gained a better perspective of how they felt. He deleted his original comments and posted an apology.”

So what happens next? Anderson said, “We are arranging sensitivity training. We are reiterating our social media policy. And we expect Omar to learn from this painful experience and do better.”

Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.

A media critic’s mea culpa

An update on an item from Wednesday’s newsletter:  I wrote that The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple’s column criticizing NBC for going to the home of an alleged Russian spy was hypocritical because he didn’t mention that The Post published a similar story about the spy.

Give Wemple credit. He wrote a mea culpa to NBC in a column Thursday. He didn’t back off of criticizing NBC because, after all, his opinion about NBC’s story not being newsworthy was fair. But he did acknowledge that The Post (and other outlets) went further than NBC did by using the spy’s name and town of residence. Wemple said he would have “ditched the poke-the-bear talk,” which included calling NBC “really stupid.”

Wemple wrote, “…  our judgment was excessive, ill-considered and awful. We apologize.”

New EP for ‘CBS Evening News’


“CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

As the “CBS Evening News” tries to play catchup to NBC and ABC in the evening news ratings, it has made a significant hire. Jay Shaylor was named executive producer on Thursday as the broadcast gets ready to move from New York City to Washington, D.C., sometime this fall.

Shaylor, who comes over to CBS from being the executive producer of CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” takes over for Kim Godwin, CBS’s executive VP of news who was filling in as EP on an interim basis. Shaylor also once worked at ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

He is now tasked with trying to get the “CBS Evening News” back on track. Norah O’Donnell took over as anchor July 15, but the network hasn’t received the ratings bump it was hoping for despite O’Donnell taking the broadcast on the road for big stories (The El Paso shootings, Hurricane Dorian).

Virginia official sues CBS over coverage


Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax addresses the media during a news conference in his office at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, in April.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

CBS News and CBS Broadcasting are being sued by the lieutenant governor of Virginia. Justin Fairfax, who was accused by two women of sexual assault they claim happened more than a decade ago, has filed a defamation suit, claiming false claims made by his accusers in interviews with Gayle King were published, promoted and publicized without CBS checking to if the accusations were accurate. The suit is seeking $400 million.

In a statement, CBS said, “We stand by our reporting and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

Al Roker’s travels help launch climate series


Al Roker in June. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

Many media outlets are gearing up their climate coverage ahead of the upcoming UN Climate Action Summit (Sept. 21-23 in New York).

And Greenland is now on Al Roker’s radar. The “Today” show star travelled to Kulusuk, Greenland, where he flew with NASA on a first-of-its kind Oceans Melting Greenland mission, which examines the role oceans are playing in melting glaciers.

Roker’s report will help launch a week of programming on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo called “Climate in Crisis.” The programming debuts Sunday, as this topic has become Roker’s passion project.

He told People magazine, “We’re seeing a shift in our very way of life because of climate change. We’re not trying to frighten people. We’re trying to show people how this affects your everyday life and in ways big and small.”

Another true crime podcast? Yes, please


“Dateline NBC” reporter and new podcast narrator Keith Morrison. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Who doesn’t like a true crime podcast? Now “Dateline NBC” — the master of telling true crime stories on TV — is getting into the podcast game. Starting on Sept. 18, it will host a six-part true-crime pod called “The Thing About Pam” hosted by Keith Morrison. “Dateline” says it will  look at “how the murder of one woman set off a chain of events that left one man dead, another man implicated and diabolical scheme exposed.”

Morrison told Vulture that this might just be the start of “Dateline” doing more podcasts: “I have a feeling we’ll be doing more, but this one is a good one to start out with because it’s a remarkable, jaw-dropping tale perfectly suited for that kind of storytelling.”

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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