February 24, 2020

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Why ‘Think before speaking’ is a broadcasting golden rule

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews in the spin room during the 2020 Democratic Party presidential debates in June. (Photo: mpi04/MediaPunch)

Another political commentator said something that was, at most, really tasteless and completely inappropriate or, at the very least, just flat-out dumb.

This time, it was MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. The veteran commentator is getting widely criticized for comparing Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucuses to the 1940 Nazi invasion of France. While giving his take on Sanders’ victory Saturday night, Matthews said on air, “I was reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940. And the general, (Paul) Reynaud, calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over.’ And Churchill says, ‘How can that be? You’ve got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It’s over.’”

Sanders’ campaign manager Mike Casca tweeted, “never thought part of my job would be pleading with a national news network to stop likening the campaign of a jewish presidential candidate whose family was wiped out by the nazis to the third reich. but here we are.”

There were other calls for Matthews to be fired or resign.

Perhaps Matthews was merely trying to convey the inevitability of Sanders winning the nomination, and was not actually comparing Sanders to Nazis. But using an analogy about Nazis when you’re talking about anything other than Nazis is always a bad idea. Matthews has been around long enough to know that.

This isn’t a fireable offense, but it’s worth a good talking to and an apology.

And it’s a cautionary tale, for sure.

These are dangerous times for commentators after debates and primaries and caucuses. Commentators are trying to stand out. The networks are trying to draw eyeballs. The country is wickedly divided. It’s Republicans vs. Democrats and even Democrats vs. Democrats. As networks try to draw audiences, commentators are pushing the envelope with their coverage.

But there’s a fine line between provocative, thoughtful and intelligent commentary and completely irresponsible remarks that often come out in an attempt to either be funny or interesting. Heck, there’s a fine line between a hot take and stupid one. In trying to sound educated, Matthews came off not only as haughty, but as tone deaf. Clearly, he didn’t think far enough ahead to realize how his comments might be interpreted, thus breaking one of broadcasting’s golden rules by speaking before thinking.


Sanders meets AC on ’60 Minutes’

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders appearing on Sunday night’s “60 Minutes.” (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Bernie Sanders is on a roll. He won the Nevada caucuses over the weekend and, for the moment, is the frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination for president. So it worked out well for “60 Minutes” to air a profile of him Sunday evening. Kudos to Anderson Cooper for his strong interview with Sanders.

Cooper covered the major issues — whether Sanders is too radical to beat President Donald Trump, his age, his Democratic competition (including Mike Bloomberg) and his healthcare plans, including how much it is going to cost. And there were a couple of controversial moments, such as:

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?” Sanders said. “ When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?

Cooper: “A lot of … dissidents imprisoned in — Cuba.”

Sanders: “That’s right. And we condemn that. Unlike Donald Trump, let’s be clear, you want to — I do not think that Kim Jong-un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine.”

In another exchange, Cooper asked Sanders if he would be open to meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

“Yeah,” Sanders said. “I mean I’ve criticized Trump for everything under the sun. But meeting with people who are antagonistic is, to me, not a bad thing to do. I think, unfortunately, Trump went into that meeting unprepared. I think it was a photo opportunity — and did not have the — kind of the diplomatic work necessary to make it a success. But I do not have a problem with sitting down with adversaries all over the world.”

In case you missed it …

Check out Anderson Cooper’s scathing interview with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich after Blagojevich’s sentence for corruption was commuted by President Trump. It was a masterclass in interview preparation.

If you watched that interview, as well as Cooper’s interview with Sanders on “60 Minutes,” you are reminded just how talented Cooper is.

CBS News poll shows Steyer moving up

Another big week for the Democrats with a debate Tuesday night in South Carolina and then a primary there on Saturday.

Billionaire Tom Steyer has qualified for the debate after a CBS News poll Sunday found him to have 18% support among Democratic voters who are likely to vote in the primary. He qualifies because that’s the second poll to find him with at least 12% support.

This could be bad news for Joe Biden according to, well, Joe Biden. Appearing on Sunday’s “Face the Nation,” Biden told moderator Margaret Brennan that Steyer might be the reason he has seen his one-time numbers of 54% among black voters thinned down to 35%.

“What’s happening is you have Steyer spending hundreds of millions, tens of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, out campaigning there,” Biden said. “And so I think a lot is happening in terms of the amount of money being spent by the billionaires to try to cut into the African-American vote. I think that has a lot to do with it.”

In a new CBS poll, Steyer trails only Biden (28%) and Sanders (23%) in South Carolina.

CBS will host Tuesday’s debate. The moderators will be Brennan, “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell, “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King, CBS chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett and “60 Minutes” correspondent Bill Whitaker.

Besides the return of Steyer to the debate stage, the other interesting storyline will be Mike Bloomberg’s second debate after a shaky first debate when he was attacked by seemingly every other candidate. Will he still be the target of his opponents or will they turn their attention to Sanders after his victory in Nevada?

Will the moderators help the other candidates go after one another the way NBC’s moderators did last week? Or will there be a more civil tone in South Carolina?

Town halls offer odd split schedule

 Mike Bloomberg. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Mike Bloomberg was supposed to do a town hall with CNN tonight, but has postponed it to prepare for Tuesday’s debate, his campaign said. Instead, Bloomberg will join CNN on Wednesday.

The schedule for the town halls seems odd because of this week’s Tuesday debate. Half the field — Sanders, Steyer and Pete Buttigieg — will appear tonight, a day before the debate. The others — Bloomberg, Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar — will appear Wednesday, a day after the debate.

I’m not sure if it’s an advantage to go before or after (my gut tells me you’d rather go after than before), but it seems as if all should be on the same level playing field and all either go before or after the debate.

The 700 Club

The Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin became just the eighth player ever to score 700 NHL goals. So check out this really cool sports page by The Washington Post.

Hot type

  • Employees at Google spoke out against what they felt were unethical practices. But it didn’t go as planned. The New York Times Magazine’s Noam Scheiber and Kate Conger with “The Great Google Revolt.”
  • On his “Black on the Air” podcast for The Ringer, Larry Wilmore talks to NBC News’ Lester Holt. The two discuss the news business, how Holt got into journalism, criminal justice reporting and how to moderate a debate.
  • BuzzFeed News’ Alex Kantrowitz with “How Saudi Arabia Infiltrated Twitter.”


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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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  • At least Matthews didn’t flat out lie like Brian Williams, and keep his job.