February 19, 2020

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Will tonight’s debate treat Bernie unfairly?

There are many intriguing storylines to follow in tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas.

How will Mike Bloomberg’s debate debut go? Can Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren rebound from disappointing performances in the New Hampshire primary? Can Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar keep the momentum from New Hampshire going?

But here’s something more subtle to watch: How will NBC’s moderators deal with Bernie Sanders?

Why is this even a question?

Because Sanders and his camp are convinced that the media isn’t treating him fairly, particularly with MSNBC. In a thought-provoking, behind-the-scenes story for Vanity Fair, Tom Kludt reports that both Sanders and Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, have met with MSNBC to discuss their concerns over how Sanders has been treated.

Shakir said it’s so bad that he believes Fox News has treated Sanders more fairly than MSNBC.

Shakir told Vanity Fair, “It’s been a struggle to change the tone and the tenor of the coverage that we receive. They’ve been among the last to acknowledge that Bernie Sanders’s path to the nomination is real, and even when it’s become real, they frequently discount it.”

Kludt writes, “The ongoing tension between the titular liberal cable news network and the current Democratic front-runner has only intensified, and appears symptomatic of generational and ideological rifts within the party.”

Sanders has complained about more media outlets than just MSNBC. The Washington Post, The New York Times and others have been on the receiving end of complaints from Sanders and his supporters. But it has been MSNBC in particular that has Sanders upset. (Kludt’s story gives several specific examples.)

Shakir said, “Fox is often yelling about Bernie Sanders’s socialism, but they’re still giving our campaign the opportunity to make our case in a fair manner, unlike MSNBC, which has credibility with the left and is constantly undermining the Bernie Sanders campaign.”

Tonight’s debate will be moderated by NBC’s Lester Holt, Chuck Todd and Hallie Jackson, Noticias Telemundo Senior Correspondent Vanessa Hauc and The Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston. As you watch tonight, it might be worth remembering that Todd and Jackson regularly appear on MSNBC. Sanders and his people surely will.


It’s opening night for Mike Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

It’s official. Mike Bloomberg has qualified for tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. But Bloomberg’s participation comes with a risk, according to a story in Politico by Christopher Cadelago and Sally Goldenberg. They write, “Mike Bloomberg’s free-spending campaign rollout has rocketed him into contention for the Democratic nomination — but he now faces a challenge immune to his fortune.”

That challenge? Losing his cool. Politico points to Bloomberg’s “irritability with questions he deems unwarranted and controversies he feels he has already put to bed” as a reason for concern. Politico reports that the other presidential candidates “will try to rattle him by attacking his record” and “his own team worries that an unsteady showing alongside practiced candidates could stall his momentum and swallow his gains.”

Something to watch closely tonight is how up to speed the debate moderators will be on Bloomberg’s record and how specific their questions are, given that Bloomberg just qualified Tuesday. With Bloomberg’s momentum of late, you would think the moderators had already begun digging into Bloomberg’s record in preparation for tonight, but it will be interesting to see how much a new face on the debate stage will be the focus — not just for the other candidates, but for the moderators.


The Wild West, endorsements version

It’s only February, the Democrats aren’t even close to selecting a candidate and, already, it has been one of the more strange presidential elections for endorsements. The New York Times endorsed two Democratic candidates, even though only one, obviously, can run. The Las Vegas Weekly endorsed two, as well, in an editorial that really endorsed everyone except for Bernie Sanders. The Tampa Bay Times announced it will postpone its Democratic recommendation for a later date.

And now the Dallas Morning News announced it will not make a presidential recommendation at all in 2020. In a rather lengthy editorial, the Morning News wrote, “Rather than making a presidential recommendation, we will endorse ideas; rather than recommending one candidate, we will offer a vision for the country. That vision will be guided by fundamental principles that can inform voters as they ascertain what’s at stake in the election and the political battles ahead.”

One could argue that in this age of Trump, when politics are so divisive, that recommending a candidate is a sure-fire way to alienate half your readership. The Morning News found that out when it endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016 — a recommendation that didn’t go over well for a paper in a right-leaning state such as Texas.

However, the Morning News this time around writes, “What’s at stake in this election is larger than Trump voters or voters who are intent on changing the occupant of the Oval Office. It’s actually larger than any voting bloc on the political scene. What’s at stake in 2020 is the basic art of democracy.”

We’ll see how this plays out, but my bet is the Morning News won’t be the only paper to not recommend a candidate in the 2020 election. And that’s too bad. A newspaper’s editorial board is usually well-versed on presidential politics, more so than many of its readers who are looking for guidance. Readers don’t have to agree with recommendations, but newspapers should at least lay out a case for one candidate, back it up with reasons why and then let the audience decide.

No comments — Michigan’s largest local news website — is getting rid of the comments section underneath its stories. In a story for the website, John Hiner, the vice president of content for MLive Media Group, wrote that the site did not make the decision lightly. He listed a number of reasons why, but this section seems to be the heart of the argument:

“Conversations routinely go off-topic, the tone can get uncivil or even nasty, and our moderators (and a vendor our company hires) stay busy around the clock policing the conversations, addressing flagged comments and even going so far as to ban some users. Those resources are better put to use by our staff in creating more news content — something you often tell me you’d value more on our site.”

MLive is no different than many sites, where it often feels like every story (regardless of its topic) needs only a few reader comments before it devolves into a bitter argument about Trump’s tweets, Hillary’s emails, Obama’s birth certificate or R-rated suggestions about how someone should spend the next 15 minutes. Hiner also points out that many of the comment sections are dominated by the same voices and really don’t represent a good cross section of the readership. To his point, Hiner said gets about 10 million unique visitors a month, but only about 5,000 participate in the comments section.

Readers can still comment on social media, such as Twitter, or they can simply email reporters — which Hiner suggests leads to more civil conversations.

“In a nutshell, that’s a big reason MLive is moving on from comments: So we can slow down, tone it down, and have more meaningful conversations with everyone — not just the loudest and most frequent voices.”

Hiner made an exception to the new policy: he left the comments up on the story announcing the closing of the comment section. Within the first six hours, there already were nearly 2,500 comments — and a pretty good representation of why was closing down its comments.

Lead of the day

Chris Buescher (17) goes low to avoid Ryan Newman (6) in a crash at the Daytona 500 on Monday. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

My Poynter colleague Roy Peter Clark, who knows as much about the craft of writing as anyone, often checks out the leads of writers after notable sporting events. After the wild finish of Monday’s Daytona 500 when driver Ryan Newman was in a gruesome crash that has him in serious condition, Clark found this excellent lead from Associated Press auto racing writer Jenna Fryer. Here’s what she wrote:

“Ryan Newman flipped across the finish line, his Ford planted upside down and on fire, a grim reminder of a sport steeped in danger that has stretched nearly two decades without a fatality.”

This wasn’t a lightning-in-a-bottle moment for Fryer. She’s a consistently good sportswriter.

Speaking of the Daytona 500 …

The end of Monday’s Daytona 500 put Fox Sports in a tricky spot. On one hand, Denny Hamlin won the race, and the network wanted to acknowledge that. On the other hand, Newman’s crash was so disturbing that Fox Sports had to acknowledge that, too.

It briefly showed Hamlin in the winner’s circle, ran only a couple of replays of the frightening accident and did not show a closeup of Newman’s car. It provided an official update that Newman was removed from his car and transported by ambulance to a local hospital. Then it went off the air, to the dismay of viewers who took to Twitter to express their anger that Fox wasn’t providing more of an update.

But what was Fox Sports to do? It couldn’t report what it didn’t know and it would have been irresponsible to even begin to speculate. Later it was learned that Newman is in serious condition with non-life threatening injuries. On Tuesday, his racing team said Newman was “awake and speaking with family and doctors.”

Fox Sports deserves credit for showing restraint, respect and taste on what has been and is a fluid and serious situation.

Correction: This item has been updated to correct a name transposition. We regret the error.

Throwing a curve ball at radio

Baseball on the radio — it’s one of the great traditions of the game. But fans of the Oakland A’s won’t hear their games on the radio this season. Instead, it’s believed that the A’s will become the first of the major professional North American sports teams to have their local radio broadcast entirely on a streaming service. Their games will be on something called A’s Cast, which is streamed via TuneIn.

This switch is a result of contract breakdown a year ago between the A’s and their radio partner, and then a quickly arranged stopgap with another station. But now, the idea of a full-time streaming service might be the wave of the future.

“We’ve been looking to fans last year and the response to A’s Cast has been so positive,” A’s president Dave Kaval told the San Jose Mercury News’ Shayna Rubin. “Everything is to podcasts and ability to consume content in a more tailored way. And a lot of people are younger, we’re seeing more new fans. We felt it was really important this year that we continued to amplify the partnership with TuneIn.”

Hot type

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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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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