By:
August 27, 2020

The vice president of the United States officially accepted the nomination to continue being the vice president. He did so in a controversial and scathing speech toward the Democrats. Under normal circumstances, this would have been, easily, the biggest story of the night.

On Wednesday, it barely cracked the top five.

In what was an incredibly jam-packed day, news organizations were scrambling to cover four other huge stories.

Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 hurricane, was about to slam into the Gulf Coast near the Texas-Louisiana border as Mike Pence was delivering his remarks at the Republican convention. At the same time, protests were continuing in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and other cities following a police officer shooting a Black man in the back seven times.

By that point in the day, the NBA was on hold when several teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks, decided to boycott their playoff games in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.

And this all came on a day when the coronavirus death toll in the United States passed the 180,000 mark.

So how did the networks handle all this?

Well, for all the major news channels — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — the convention was front and center, particularly during the main 10 to 11 p.m. Eastern hour. But they didn’t ignore the other stories.

Many of the networks did acknowledge the hurricane during their convention coverage. Fox News and MSNBC had a radar on their screens for much of the evening. ABC’s David Muir and George Stephanopoulos took time out of their coverage to talk about both the hurricane and the protests, including boycotts by sports teams. CBS, during its convention coverage, briefly went to correspondent Omar Villafranca live in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Meanwhile, if you only watched the convention with no awareness of what else was going on in the country, you would have not learned anything by watching. Except for a few brief comments by Mike Pence, there was barely any mention of the other events, especially the protests and what was going on in sports. Was that surprising?

“No,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele on MSNBC, “because that’s not their audience.”

It also drove home the fact that many of the speeches were taped.

It wasn’t until after the convention that the cable news networks turned their attention to the other news events, particularly the hurricane, on what was an incredibly eventful day.

Pushback of the night

During CBS News’ coverage of the convention, former Trump White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was talking about the protests in Kenosha and said, “The whole thing is just horrific. The parts that you’re watching on TV, these aren’t protesters, these are maniacs.” He went on to talk about how law and order will work in November for Republicans.

But, in a strong rebuke, Joel Payne, who is Black and a Democratic strategist, said, “It’s really hard to capture the overwhelming and all-encompassing grief and anger that is permeating the Black community and that’s why I would actually be careful with terms like ‘maniacs.’ There are a lot of people in those crowds who are just tired of not being heard.”

Priebus tried to backtrack a bit, but clearly Payne’s point made Priebus look tone-deaf.

A final speech?

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway tapes her speech for Republican National Convention on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

One of the major speakers at Wednesday night’s convention was Kellyanne Conway, the Trump senior adviser who recently announced she is stepping away at the end of the month to spend more time with her family. This could be the last we see of her for a while, at least until she shows up on cable TV (i.e. Fox News) as a commentator. In a column, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan slammed Conway’s tenure in the White House, writing:

“Leaking and lying. Lying and leaking. It’s been the Kellyanne way, and the news media has largely gone along for the ride: Giving her airtime on news shows, failing to forcefully call her out for her continued violations of the Hatch Act, and offering kid-glove treatment in exchange for her inside information. Perhaps more than any other Trump official, she has undermined the entire notion that truthful information should be expected from the White House and that public officials at the highest level should be held accountable for their words and deeds.”

Things that popped into my head watching Wednesday night’s Republican National Convention

  • Thought-provoking comments from NBC News’ Chuck Todd about the speeches we’ve heard this week, seemingly attempting to remake the image of Donald Trump: “One of the things that has not happened during this convention is not a single speaker comes up and says, ‘You know, look Donald Trump thought this and he did this, but he’s evolved, he’s changing.’ Or you don’t hear, ‘He has become more compassionate on this or he’s more empathetic on that.’ It really is a message of: Take it or leave it. This is who Donald Trump is, take it or leave it. And I just wonder if not showing just some willingness to change is not going to sit well with the swing vote.”
  • Waking up this morning, we’ll start to see the damage from Hurricane Laura that surely will impact that area for a long time to come. Will it be mentioned in Donald Trump’s big speech tonight? CBS News’ John Dickerson said, “You would expect it would. The expectation of the presidency is that — and it’s not just an expectation —  that you handle these kinds of issues, that you’re on the case, you know what’s coming, you’ve got assets in place, but it’s an opportunity.”
  • Mike Pence’s speech Wednesday night, as you would expect, praised Donald Trump and slammed Joe Biden. Depending on your politics, you either thought the speech was dynamic or boring. I thought it dragged on a little too long. And others pointed out the many outrageous claims and lies in it.  (Fox News’ Chris Wallace said Pence “took liberties in the way he described the president’s response to the coronavirus.”) Will it have an impact? FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver wrote, “I think this was not the most successful convention night, with a lot of fairly dull, flat speeches that felt largely disconnected from a rather newsworthy day in the country! Pence’s speech was better than most of the others, and I think the setting and the live crowd helped, though it was a long speech. Again, though, journalists are not the target audience for conventions, so the correlation between my assessment and how much this might help Trump electorally should be presumed to be approximately zero.”
  • Great point made by ABC News’ Linsey Davis: “Some irony, I would say, playing out here tonight as Mike Pence has chosen the backdrop of Fort McHenry to give his speech. As you mentioned, this is the location that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and the vice president showcasing the national anthem tonight. This, of course, was front and center in the controversy with the NFL, Colin Kaepernick, and the protests of police brutality in this country.”

Tune in for one thing, watch another

In Tuesday’s Poynter Report, I pointed out the irony of Monday night when Fox News’ Sean Hannity bragged about how his network was going to show the Republican National Convention more than the other networks — even though he was talking over the convention while the other two main cable news networks (CNN and MSNBC) were actually showing the convention. In fact, on Monday, CNN and MSNBC aired much more of the convention than Fox News did during Hannity’s 9 to 10 p.m. Eastern time slot.

President Trump even took to Twitter to thank CNN for its Monday coverage and Fox News took some grief on social media for not airing the convention in its entirety.

Well, on Tuesday night, Hannity’s show gave way almost entirely to the convention, and the result? Hannity had his most-watched show ever — even though people were really watching the convention. The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum reported 7.7 million tuned into Hannity on Tuesday.

And in the main 10 to 11 p.m Eastern hour on Tuesday, more people watched the Republican National Convention on Fox News than ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC combined. That certainly shows the convention is reaching the Trump and Republican base, but does it also suggest that it is not reaching most of the rest of the country?

Overall, according to Nielsen, about 19.4 million watched Tuesday night’s RNC on television. That’s about the same as the 19.2 million that watched night two of the DNC. Those numbers do not include those who watched on streaming services.

The sports world reacts

An empty court and bench are shown following the boycott of NBA games near Orlando on Wednesday. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

Both ESPN and CNN offered strong and timely coverage of the Milwaukee Bucks boycotting their playoff game Wednesday following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (Two other NBA games also were postponed because of player boycotts.) ESPN immediately broke into the regularly scheduled “NFL Live” on Wednesday afternoon to cover the story. The breaking news was skillfully moderated by Rachel Nichols, who interviewed analysts Kendrick Perkins and Jay Williams and reporters Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears.

“I have no idea when we’re going to see basketball again,” Spears said.

“The backlash within the Black community if players play (Thursday) will be insane,” Williams said. “It will be insane. I do not think you will see basketball (today) as well. … I think we have to prepare for a couple of days here.”

And Nichols delivered the most sobering line of all when she said why it’s up to NBA players to make a stand: “They are fathers, they are husbands, they are sons, they are leaders in their community. My only point with that was, wow, where are some of our political and community and spiritual leaders if it’s up to these young men to lead the way? But they are leading so impressively.”

Michael Wilbon, co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” also had powerful comments. You can watch them here. In part, Wilbon said, “The short term is to get people to stop killing folks. That’s the short term goal: stop shooting me. Stop! Make it so that I am not afraid to see a police car.”

Over on CNN, Jake Tapper pulled away from three major stories — the Republican National Convention, Hurricane Laura and protests over the shooting of Blake — to jump on the NBA story. Bob Costas, recently hired by CNN to comment on sports issues, joined Tapper by phone and lent astute commentary. Tapper asked Costas if the NBA was going to take a hit from those critical of mixing politics with sports. Costas said yes, “but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

Later, Wolf Blitzer interviewed TNT “Inside the NBA”  host Ernie Johnson, who eloquently explained the anger and frustration and intent of the NBA players. “Inside the NBA’s” Charles Barkley told Blitzer he has never seen anything like this, adding, “We can’t just play basketball and live normal lives.”

On the actual show “Inside the NBA” on Wednesday, analyst Kenny Smith said, “As a Black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight.”

And with that, Smith unhooked his microphone and walked off the set.

Criticizing the NHL

The NBA postponed their playoff games, as did the WNBA. Two baseball games were postponed, including the Milwaukee Brewers game after the Brewers chose to boycott their game.

But the NHL carried on, even though one prominent hockey analyst disagreed with that decision. Kelly Hrudey of Canada’s SportsNet said, “I don’t think we should be here. I think the NHL should postpone the games. I really feel that we should be more supportive of Black Lives Matter.”

Hrudey said that instead of watching hockey, families could have had discussions about race.

“The NHL is missing out,” Hrudey said. “I’m disappointed that we’re talking about hockey tonight.”

Another big story in Washington — this one about football

Washington NFL owner Daniel Snyder in 2018. (Jeff Haynes/AP Photo, File)

Two months ago, The Washington Post broke an explosive story that revealed sexual harassment, verbal abuse and a toxic work environment with the Washington NFL football team. Now the Post’s Will Hobson, Beth Reinhard, Liz Clarke and Dalton Bennett have more in a story published Wednesday: “Lewd Cheerleader Videos, Sexist Rules: Ex-Employees Decry Washington’s NFL Team Workplace.”

The latest story includes 25 more women coming forward to describe being harassed, as well as disturbing allegations that a former team executive instructed those shooting a cheerleaders’ calendar video to compile outtakes described as “the good bits” — or, moments of inadvertent nudity.

The Post’s Les Carpenter has a companion piece titled, “Five Takeaways from Washington Post Story on Latest Allegations Involving Washington’s NFL Team.”

And that led to Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins to write a column that absolutely crushes Washington football owner Dan Snyder. I mean, check out the first sentence: “This is what the NFL gets for not scraping Daniel Snyder off its shoe before now.”

Jenkins also writes, “Snyder has always been a classless punk who tried to cover for himself with expensive cigar waving. But the conduct toward women detailed by scores of former franchise employees is something else entirely and can’t be read without an immediate urge to scrub with a grease-cutting detergent.”

You should read it. This is more outstanding work from the Post.

Snyder, by the way, did put out a statement saying such allegations have “no play in our franchise, or in our society.” He took full responsibility for the organization and said that he is going to be more involved. But then he goes to say that the Post story reads like a “hit job” and repeatedly slams the story. It’s a mess of a statement.

The replacements

Variety’s Brian Steinberg reports MSNBC is moving closer to finding a permanent replacement for the weekend slot left open by Joy Reid when she was named to the weeknight slot replacing Chris Matthews and “Hardball.” The leading, but not only, contenders are Zerlina Maxwell, Jonathan Capehart and Tiffany Cross, according to Steinberg.

Hot type

Correction: This newsletter was changed to reflect that ESPN NBA reporter Marc Spears, and not New York Times NBA reporter Marc Stein, said on ESPN’s “The Jump” that didn’t know when basketball would return again.

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

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