October 16, 2019

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Good Wednesday morning. Another Democratic presidential debate is in the books. The next one will be Nov. 20 in Georgia and co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post. Let’s look back at Tuesday’s debate, as well as the rest of today’s media news.

12 debaters is too many, and other thoughts

Here are the things that popped into my head while watching Tuesday’s debate.

  • Twelve candidates are just too many for one night. It was hard enough to get adequate speaking time for everyone when there were 10 on the stage at the same time. To have a dozen made it, at times, impossible for candidates to finish thoughts within the too-short time limits before being cut off by the moderators. And once the moderators started interrupting, everything that the candidates said was lost. You can’t blame the moderators, really. They are just trying to stick to the rules. But it severely limits important conversations that need to be had. There were moments when candidates were allowed to expand, but not enough.
  • Having said that, this debate seemed more substantive and focused than past debates. Credit the candidates for that. But credit the moderators —  Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett and Marc Lacey — for that, too. Their questions were specific, forcing the candidates to answer directly. As always, there was pivoting and dodging, but for the most part, thanks to solid questions, the candidates stayed on point. This debate had fewer viral moments, but it did seem to have more substance. All in all, a good effort by Cooper, Burnett and Lacey.
  • Cooper’s final question, riffing off Ellen DeGeneres hanging out with George Bush, asked candidates who people might be surprised they were friends with and how it impacted them. Look, there are a bunch of these debates. All legitimate candidates will get a chance to answer all the pertinent campaign questions, so it’s not as if some important topic was being ignored. And credit CNN for trying an outside-the-box question to close out the evening, which normally ends with a softball question anyway. Yet this question fell flat because it produced not one worthwhile answer.
  • Here’s a commercial no one saw coming: Ron Reagan, son of the former president, in an ad for Freedom from Religion Foundation. He said, “Ron Reagan. Lifelong atheist. Not afraid of burning in hell.” The ad, though it’s been around since 2014, was just kind of peculiar because it was so far out of left field.
  • Speaking of ads, both The New York Times and The Washington Post ran commercials during the debate.
  • Most uncomfortable moment was an attack. No, it wasn’t one candidate going after another — although there was plenty of that (just ask Elizabeth Warren). It actually was candidate Tulsi Gabbard going after debate hosts CNN and The New York Times. While answering a question about the conflict in Syria, she said the two have “smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war.” She added, “Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears. This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.”
  • Did the Times article actually call Gabbard a “Russian asset?” Poynter’s PolitiFact looks at Gabbard’s claims.
  • Phrase I’m going to hear in my sleep for days: “Please respond.”
  • Finally, who spoke the most? The least? FiveThirtyEight has the count.

Now on to other media news …

Ms. O’Donnell goes to Washington

Norah O’Donnell in 2017 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

The latest cover story for Variety is Brian Steinberg’s insightful piece on what’s up next for the “CBS Evening News.” The broadcast continues to lag behind the “NBC Nightly News” and ABC’s “World News Tonight” in viewership numbers and has even seen a bit of a ratings drop with new anchor Norah O’Donnell. Now the show gets ready to make a move — in location and, it hopes, in the ratings. The news show will move from New York City to Washington, D.C.

Susan Zirinsky, who took over as the head of a tumultuous CBS News division earlier this year and tapped O’Donnell to carry the evening news, told Steinberg, “There’s the opportunity of putting the anchor on the steps of Capitol Hill, or going out and about. Most important is the access to people for stories that might be breaking late, to have someone sitting at the desk with Norah that you would have on screen if you were sitting in New York.”

Since taking over in July, O’Donnell has tried to make a splash. She made headlines by being the first network anchor to refer to President Donald Trump’s “go back” tweet as “racist.” And she has left the anchor desk, reporting from the Bahamas immediately after Hurricane Dorian and in El Paso, Texas, after a mass shooting.

O’Donnell told Steinberg that finding an audience might take time, and the key will be scoops and details that the other networks don’t have.

Farrow’s kind words for NBC journalists

Ronan Farrow. (Photo by Brad Barket/Invision/AP)

Another day, another chapter in the NBC vs. Ronan Farrow story. Farrow continues making the rounds promoting his book “Catch and Kill,” which was released on Tuesday. In it, he alleges NBC sat on his Harvey Weinstein story because the network was afraid Weinstein would reveal Matt Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct. NBC has denied Farrow’s claims.

On Tuesday, Farrow went on BuzzFeed News’ AM to DM and was asked if NBC News chairman Andy Lack and/or president Noah Oppenheim should lose their jobs.

“It’s not my job to say that,” Farrow said. “I do think it’s extraordinarily admirable that journalists at NBC are calling for accountability and transparency. It’s a company that has declined repeated requests from both inside and outside that company for independent reviews. They want some kind of response and answers, and Chris Hayes got on air last night and really held their feet to the fire and said this is important journalism, and they shouldn’t be trying to squash it.”

Farrow also talked about the dangers of writing his book, what role the National Enquirer might have played in killing stories about Donald Trump, what it was like to interview Hillary Clinton and whether he supported his sister, Dylan Farrow, enough when she came forward with sexual assault allegations against her stepfather and Ronan’s father, Woody Allen.

Farrow’s media tour continues today at Fox News. He will go on live with Bret Baier at 6 p.m. Eastern.

ESPN’s first Cover Story features acid attack

ESPN The Magazine may have gone away, but ESPN is still interested in feature journalism. Axios’ Sara Fischer reports that ESPN is launching something today called “The Cover Story.” Once a month, usually on a Wednesday, ESPN will run a feature story across all of its platforms. Fischer reports that some of the names anchoring these cover stories will include Wright Thompson, Ramona Shelburne and Marc J. Spears.

Today’s debut “Cover Story” will be presented by Mina Kimes and will feature NFL star DeAndre Hopkins and his mother, who is blind.

On the payroll, out of the clubhouse

ESPN baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

The media is allowed into the clubhouses of Major League Baseball teams before games to interview players. But according to the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand, the Los Angeles Dodgers banned ESPN announcers David Ross and Jessica Mendoza from their clubhouse this season. Why? The two announcers also are paid advisers for other major league teams. Ross works for the Cubs and Mendoza for the Mets. If Ross or Mendoza wanted to talk to Dodger players, they had to set up interviews, which were monitored by the Dodgers’ public-relations staff.

The Dodgers were absolutely within their rights to ban Ross and Mendoza from their clubhouse. This is another example of why it’s a bad idea to have broadcasters who are being paid by teams.

Good broadcasters should be in the clubhouse getting information to pass along to the viewers, and it’s the viewers who are hurt when broadcasters like Ross and Mendoza cannot get into a clubhouse. Why should we trust that they are giving honest and full commentary about the teams who are paying them? It’s a clear conflict. If you’re ESPN, it seems pretty simple. You ask your talent: Do you want to be a broadcaster or do you want to work for major league front office? You shouldn’t be able to do both, especially when there are plenty of good broadcasters out there.

A challenger to Fox News?

The Hollywood Reporter reported Tuesday that media mogul Shari Redstone may be looking into creating a conservative-leaning news network and that she has already talked to former Fox News star Megyn Kelly. THR writes, “In the midst of closing a merger between CBS and Viacom, Shari Redstone is quietly exploring a plan to launch a conservative TV outlet meant to square off with the Fox News Channel.”

However, a Viacom spokesperson said, “Viacom has no intention of launching a TV news channel, conservative or otherwise.”

Help wanted: investigative reporters

CNN’s Brian Stelter with this scoop: ProPublica and the Texas Tribune are combining forces to launch a co-branded investigative reporting unit and are hiring 11 people to do it.

Hot type

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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