The award for Best Impeachment Coverage goes to The New York Times — here’s why.

November 14, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Welcome to the first intermission. The open impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump started Wednesday and continues Friday. Today, let’s start by looking back at Wednesday’s coverage.

The best TV coverage goes to a newspaper

Like many, I spent Wednesday surfing TV to watch the House’s open impeachment inquiry. The best place to watch? A newspaper.

Well, a newspaper’s website.

The New York Times’ website was must-see for one reason: running commentary from some of the sharpest reporters in the world. Next to testimony broadcast on the screen, White House and Washington correspondents from the Times such as Maggie Haberman, Emily Cochrane, Michael S. Schmidt, Nicholas Fandos, Annie Karni, Peter Baker and Charlie Savage (and others) offered quick-take commentary and perspective in real time.

Some of that was details that viewers wouldn’t know by just watching, such as when Cochrane wrote, “This is now Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, and just two Democrats will be left. Many of the members in the audience have left, but Mark Meadows, a key Trump ally, and Carolyn Maloney, who hopes to take permanent control of the Oversight committee, are among those still here.”

Another example is when Schmidt wrote, “Just a reminder: John Ratcliffe, the Republican who raised objections to (Rep. Adam) Schiff, was Trump’s pick to be the director of national intelligence – the same position that played a pivotal role in the whistle-blower’s complaint being held up before it was sent to Congress.”

But the commentary was at its very best when it was describing a detail or fact, or offering some context that perhaps readers weren’t familiar with, such as when Haberman wrote, “Mulvaney’s press conference in which he conceded there was a quid pro quo continues to be problematic for the president. It’s been raised a few times during this hearing, and was just now with (Rep. Eric) Swalwell to (George) Kent.”

These are just a few examples of the Times making the audience smarter and why it might be the best place to watch these hearings.

For you impeachment junkies out there


(Graphic courtesy of The New York Times)

Speaking of the The New York Times, it launched a new podcast Wednesday called “The Latest,” which will cover the impeachment inquiry against Trump. The podcast will be released on the evenings after public hearings and news developments have unfolded.

The podcast will feature Times congressional editor Julie Hirschfeld Davis, who has covered the White House and Congress, as well as the Times’ team of political reporters.

Sometimes, it’s the little things

It’s hard to imagine that anyone interested in these impeachment hearings goes in with a completely open-minded, unbiased and impartial perspective. Even those who are willing to let the testimony play out, on some deep level, must lean one way or the other, even if it’s ever so slightly.

That doesn’t allow any network that is playing to an audience off the hook. Yes, every network — and I do mean every network except for, perhaps, C-SPAN — employs analysts with some leanings. And most networks practice both-sides journalism even if it’s nothing more than an attempt to con the audience into thinking it’s neutral.

But some networks can’t help but let their biases show, and it was easy to point a finger at Fox News for this on Wednesday.

I know what many readers of this newsletter are thinking: Oh, here’s another anti-Trump outlet picking on Fox News. Really, that’s not it.

To be clear, this is not about primetime shows hosted by Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham. Anyone who watches those shows signs up for bias, just as anyone who watches MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and CNN’s Don Lemon. All of these examples are more about punditry than news.

Also to be clear, Fox News does have those who play it fair, like when journalist Chris Wallace said on the air Wednesday, “I think that William Taylor was a very impressive witness and was very damaging to the president.”

(Wallace added later, “I don’t think that during the course of the cross-examination by various Republicans that they really shook the basic facts of the case that Taylor laid out.”)

But here are two examples of how Fox News’ bias comes into play in subtle ways that dent their argument that they are a down-the-middle news source. First, check out the graphics on the right while Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, was testifying:

  Then check out the graphics next to Rep. Adam Schiff.


Those who watch Fox News are fine with this, but it’s a strong argument against a network that often acts incredulous when its bias is pointed out.

Here is PunditFact’s coverage of Fox News’ graphics.

Other notable players on Impeachment TV


Norah O’Donnell, center, anchored CBS’s impeachment coverage. (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

The Lester Holt-led post-hearing coverage on NBC was solid, featuring analysis and commentary from Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, legal analyst Andrew Weissmann and chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Todd and Mitchell graded how effective the Democrats and Republicans were and broke down the day’s key moments, while Weissmann looked at the legal aspects and Engel gave the Ukraine perspective. Engel offered a forgotten part of this story when he said Ukraine is embarrassed by the developments and its possible role in all this.

Also worthwhile TV: ABC’s post-debate analysis from Dan Abrams, who looked at the hearing from a legal standpoint.

Norah O’Donnell and “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan led CBS’s coverage. Interesting that O’Donnell seemed to take a shot at the Trump camp, which keeps repeating the word “boring” when describing the impeachment inquiry.

O’Donnell said, “If you were bored you weren’t paying close attention enough because there were lots of little nuggets here to follow.”

Closing remarks

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt closed Wednesday night’s broadcast with these remarks:

“Some final thoughts before we go. Americans tonight again find themselves in the same arena, watching the same contest, and is as often the case, from very different seats. But of course impeachment, the potential removal of an elected president, is no game—a constitutional process that is about as serious as it gets. By its nature it is also political, a political process.  And that, as we saw today, brings its own unique dynamics. But the stakes are too high to not give it our undivided attention. It certainly has ours. And we will continue to report and follow this important story.”

Fact or fiction?

Still sifting through Wednesday’s hearing? Poynter’s PolitiFact fact-checked the day.

Next up

Friday’s impeachment inquiry will feature former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Again, if you’re looking for just straight coverage without commentary or analysis, Friday’s hearing will be on C-SPAN2, C-SPAN Radio and C-SPAN.org.

More bleak newspaper news

A couple of depressing journalism stories on Wednesday from Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

First up, big-time financial worries with McClatchy. Edmonds writes, “McClatchy reported a series of financial reverses on Wednesday so severe that it may not be able to meet its obligations in 2020. Specifically it has a $120 million pension funding payment due in the spring.”

Edmonds reports McClatchy might be taking steps to explore a sale. But he also writes, “The publicly traded McClatchy newspaper chain, with 30 outlets including the Miami Herald and Kansas City Star, still gives the McClatchy family voting control. Those directors, to date, have fiercely resisted seeking bankruptcy protection or selling.”

Edmonds also wrote Wednesday that the merger of Gannett and GateHouse’s chain parent, New Media Investment Group, could happen later this week with New Media taking charge. If that happens, expect job cuts as soon as next week.

Edmonds writes, “A cost reduction number has not yet been specified, and in some places the target will be by state or region rather than individually at the chain’s 156 outlets. But the advisory to editors is that 65% of the savings come from compensation to staff or stringers. A similar directive has gone to Gannett’s 110 newsrooms with reductions of as much as 10% expected. A Gannett source tells me that editors have been told only 5-10% of cost-saving synergies will come from the newsroom.”

Hot type

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

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