March 4, 2020

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Super Tuesday: To vote or not to vote?

Should journalists vote?

Here we are, in a presidential election year, and the question has come up again. Super Tuesday was a big day, when 14 states held primaries and American Samoa had caucuses.

So would it have been OK for journalists to swing by the ballot box before heading to their news outlets to report on Super Tuesday?

In a “Reader Center” column this week for The New York Times, Caryn A. Wilson and Lara Takenaga looked into the topic and took readers behind the scenes with this age-old, yet not-so-easy-to-answer question.

For starters, most of us can agree that journalists should not be political advocates — that is, they should not work for or donate to campaigns, put bumper stickers on their cars or signs in their yards, or buttons on their shirts. And that goes for everyone, not just those who cover politics. Why? Because it’s important that news outlets maintain the trust of their audiences and openly “rooting” for a candidate with dollars and/or support erodes that trust.

Many, however, defend voting as one of the most basic American rights and, therefore, OK for journalists.

However, New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker told Wilson and Takenaga, “As reporters, our job is to observe, not participate, and so to that end, I don’t belong to any political party, I don’t belong to any non-journalism organization, I don’t support any candidate, I don’t give money to interest groups and I don’t vote.”

But Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple writes, “The … drawback is that non-voting journalists lend credence to the idea …  that merely having political viewpoints is, at some level, a disqualifying or problematic thing. It isn’t. What matters is what’s in the article (or the segment, or the video, or the podcast).”

Wemple calls not voting “performative impartiality” and says that avoiding the polling station isn’t going to suppress one’s own critical thoughts.

Just a few weeks ago, Poynter’s senior vice president Kelly McBride, who is the chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership and has studied and written and talked about journalism ethics as much as anyone, wrote about this very topic.

Let’s start with the primaries. As McBride points out, anyone who votes in a primary is required to reveal their party. That could end up being public record, meaning a journalist’s party affiliation could become known to readers. Might that cause problems for news organizations trying to establish objective reporting?

No news outlet can stop its employees from voting. That’s illegal. But some outlets might discourage it, and McBride said that’s wrong on several levels, most notably, “A news leader who encourages her staff to avoid a primary is ignoring the difference between personal objectivity, which is impossible, and objectivity of the reporting process. This in turn accelerates the oversimplification of journalism values.”

McBride also wrote, “Finally, it’s a missed opportunity to be transparent. Instead of asking journalists to spurn their right to vote to hide their beliefs, wouldn’t it be better to invite the audience into a conversation about how the newsroom ensures fairness in political coverage?”

Wilson and Takenaga note that Bill Keller, the former editor of the Times, used to say that one of the most important things for reporters to do is report against their own preconceptions, to actively seek out perspectives that might be contrary to their own.

Or, as Times’ political reporter Maggie Astor told the Times, “I don’t think it’s possible to live in the world — much less be immersed in politics day in and day out — and not have opinions.” But, Astor said, when she is reporting on a story, she asks, “Would I pose this question this way, or would I write this article this way, if my own opinions were different? And if the answer is no, I stop and recalibrate.”

I would like to side with Baker and prefer that journalists, especially those who actively cover elections, not vote. But I can’t go that far.

Do I think it’s possible for journalists to vote and report objectively? I do. Is it possible to not have, deep down, an opinion about politics? It is not. We’re human.

In the end, a reporter’s worth shouldn’t be based on who they vote for, but the work they do.


‘Go to hell!’

Donna Brazile in 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

When Donna Brazile, the former interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman, was hired last year by Fox News to be a contributor, it was a head-scratcher. Why would she go to work for Fox News? And why would Fox News want her?

The answer to both was what happened Tuesday when Brazile told Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to “go to hell” during a segment on “America’s Newsroom.” McDaniel had claimed that the Democratic primary will be “rigged” so that Bernie Sanders cannot be the presidential nominee.

After telling McDaniel to “stay the hell out of our race” and that she was “sick and tired” of Republicans talking about the Democrats’ process, Brazile said, “First of all, they don’t have a process. They are canceling primaries. They have winner-take-all. They don’t have the kind of democracy that we see on the Democratic side. For people to use Russian talking points to sow division among Americans is stupid. So Ronna, go to hell! This is not about — go to hell! I’m tired of it.”

Hosts Sandra Smith and Ed Henry both reacted with “Whoa!” and Smith said that McDaniel was invited to talk about her perspective.

Was Brazile’s pushback over the line? Meh. We’ve heard worse. Social media blasted Brazile for what she said, but let’s be honest, Fox News loved this. It’s why she was hired. And it didn’t seem as if McDaniel was bothered. She tweeted: “It’s ok, @donnabrazile. I’d be having a bad day too if my party was still hopelessly divided. Talk of a brokered convention and the DNC trying to stop Bernie obviously hit a little close to home.”

These town halls are a hit

These Fox News town meetings with Democratic presidential hopefuls are a hit. Last week’s town hall with Amy Klobuchar was the most-watched cable news show in the 6:30-7:30 p.m. time slot that night with an average of 1.75 million viewers.

Meanwhile, Monday night’s town hall with Mike Bloomberg drew huge numbers. It averaged 2.412 million viewers, which was another victory among cable news outlets during the 6:30-7:30 p.m. time slot. Fox News, using numbers from Nielsen Media Research, said it was the second highest-rated town hall during the 2020 election season. A town hall with Bernie Sanders in April of 2019 drew 2.6 million viewers.


A no-pressure situation

Amy Klobuchar endorses Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday in Dallas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Good get by NBC’s “Today” show, scoring the first interview with Amy Klobuchar since she suspended her campaign for president and endorsed Joe Biden. She told Savannah Guthrie that she was not pressured to drop out.

“There literally was no push from anyone,” Klobuchar said. “It was a decision I made. … The hardest part was actually telling our staff, but I think everyone knew this was the right thing to do.”

Klobuchar also added that she was not promised a job in Biden’s administration.

“I’m just doing my work right now,” Klobuchar said. “I’m one day out of having left my own campaign.”


The ’60 Minutes’ star shines bright

“60 Minutes” continues to be a ratings star for CBS. Sunday’s episode — which featured a profile of Mike Bloomberg, an interview with the Navy SEAL acquitted of murder and supported by President Trump, and a report on climate change and the Bahamas — drew 9.2 million viewers, making it the second-most viewed TV show of the week. Only CBS’s coverage of the Democratic presidential debate, with 15.34 million, had more viewers.

It was the third straight top 10 program for “60 Minutes” and the sixth time this TV season that it has been among the top five shows. Over 17 telecasts this season, “60 Minutes” has made the top ten 14 times.

‘Get Up’ is moving up

“Get Up” host Mike Greenberg, left, and regular guest Jalen Rose. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

After a shaky start upon its launch nearly two years ago, ESPN’s morning show “Get Up” seems to have found solid footing. ESPN announced Tuesday that the show has had 12 consecutive months of ratings growth and viewership is up 5% from a year ago. It’s also is the top cable show from 8 to 10 a.m. among a couple of key demographics: men 18-34 and men 18-49. For the last quarter of 2019, the show averaged a little more than 400,000 viewers — not a huge number, but good for a cable network at that time of day.

I’m a regular viewer of the show, watching 20 to 30 minutes a day. Yes, it often stirs up controversy where there really isn’t any and I can do without some of the annoying faux outrage that certain regular guests — Pat McAfee, Kendrick Perkins, Richard Jefferson — seem to peddle.

But host Mike Greenberg is solid, as is regular co-host Laura Rutledge (a big improvement over the early days of a disinterested Michelle Beadle). Regular guests such as Jalen Rose, Dan Orlovsky and Jay Williams are smart and entertaining. It’s not for everybody. You need to be an avid sports fan to appreciate it. But as the show predicted, it has gotten better with time and become watchable for diehard sports fans.

The future of sportswriting?

Is The Athletic — the ad-free, subscription-based sports website — the future of sportswriting? We better hope so, based on where it is right now. In a superb piece for The Washington Post, sports media columnist Ben Strauss looks hard at some numbers. Most notably, this one: 430. That’s how many journalists now work for the site in the U.S. and United Kingdom.

Strauss writes, “The Athletic has raised $140 million, is approaching 1 million subscribers and is valued at about $500 million, according to the company. But it’s not yet profitable.”

Can you imagine what might happen if the site ultimately fails?

Strauss has this quote from B.J. Schecter, the former editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated who now runs the Seton Hall University sports media program: “I’m more optimistic than I have been, but you shudder to think about it. All this talent on the market — where are they going to go? It would be catastrophic.”

For now, there’s optimism, although there are always rumors that, like most venture-back companies, a sale is inevitable. There’s lots to digest in Strauss’ story, but it’s worth a read.

Media tidbits

  • Bobbie Battista, once the face of CNN’s Headline News, died Tuesday after a four-year battle against cervical cancer. She was 67. Battista was one of the original Headline News anchors in 1981 and went on to become the anchor of CNN’s “TalkBack Live,” which aired live before a studio audience at CNN headquarters in Atlanta and featured newsmakers.

  • A week after suing The New York Times, the Trump campaign has sued The Washington Post for libel. The campaign is suing over two op-ed pieces about Trump’s possible connection to Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Trump campaign accused The Post of making “false and defamatory” statements.

  • Winners of the Scripps Howard Awards, recognizing excellence in journalism in 2019, were announced Tuesday. The entries were judged at the Poynter Institute last month. The Washington Post won for breaking news for its coverage of the mass shootings 24 hours apart in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in which 29 people died. Click here for a complete list of winners.

  • One final thought on the Chris Matthews’ departure from MSNBC after allegations of inappropriate comments toward females. It’s not as if the allegations were new and isolated. Media writers (myself included) dropped the ball on this one. We should have been more diligent in pursuing this story long before Matthews stepped down on Monday night.

Hot type

People are reflected in a mirror of a building destroyed by storms across Tennessee early Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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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…
Tom Jones

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