March 5, 2020

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Super Tuesday coverage was must-see TV

It was just before midnight Tuesday — as I wore out my remote surfing from one news network to another — when it hit me. Complain all you want about the state of TV news, but man do they know how to do election coverage.

Whether you want voting results, fancy big boards with maps, smart commentary, hot takes, hindsight criticism or insightful predictions, TV news has figured out how to make election coverage entertaining television.

The coverage of Super Tuesday was must-see TV. If you’re a news junkie, you could even go as far as to call it outright fun.

Maybe it was the shocking comeback of Joe Biden. Maybe it was the back-and-forth races in such key places as Texas and Massachusetts. Maybe it was the realization that it was going to be the end of the road for at least one high-profile candidate. Maybe it was just moving a significant step closer to what could be the most electric presidential election in history.

Whatever it was, there wasn’t a dull moment in coverage no matter where you turned.

Network. Cable. Online. It was all superb, and a hopeful sign for what we might see on the first Tuesday night in November.

As far as networks, more eyes turned to NBC than anywhere else, but not by much. All of the big three had good numbers. According to Nielsen overnight ratings, NBC averaged 2.94 million viewers — ahead of ABC by 221,000 viewers and CBS by 298,000. All in all, it was a good night for all the networks, starting with NBC.

Their coverage — led by Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt and Chuck Todd — was smart and conversational. That conversational feel has always been the highlight of NBC’s coverage.

ABC unveiled a swanky 5,500-foot studio with glitzy lights and state-of-the-art monitors that truly made a difference. The set was fresh and inviting. Ultimately, of course, it comes down to content, which, led by David Muir and George Stephanopoulos, was solid. But the set also made for a pleasant viewing experience. (By the way, the set isn’t just for election coverage. It also will be used for “World News Tonight,” “Nightlight,” “This Week,” “America This Morning” and “GMA Weekend.”)

With its new toy, ABC carried its coverage well into Wednesday morning, even prompting contributor Rahm Emanuel at one point to say, “This is past my bedtime so I’m just going to go ahead and call Texas for Joe Biden so I can go.”

And CBS’s coverage — led by Norah O’Donnell and Margaret Brennan — maintained its typical serious tone, which isn’t a criticism. It’s not as light as NBC’s coverage can be, but it certainly is a favorite landing spot for many viewers.

PBS’s late-night wrap-up show featured always-entertaining commentary from David Brooks and Mark Shields.

Meanwhile, Fox News actually had the most viewers of any network during primetime, with 4.172 million viewers. MSNBC had 3.8 million viewers and CNN had 2.7 million. But all three networks acquitted themselves well.

MSNBC really shined late at night and was the most-watched cable news network from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Host Chris Hayes was especially strong leading panel discussions that helped put Tuesday night into perspective.

Best line of the night

NBC’s Super Tuesday election coverage. (NBC News)

As far as we know, no one has ever compared Mike Bloomberg to an actual rock star. Until Tuesday night’s Super Tuesday coverage when NBC/MSNBC contributor Claire McCaskill was asked about him.

She said, “Paul McCartney: ‘Money can’t buy you love, or a million delegates as it turns out.’”

Good news for the news

Former Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg leaves after speaking to supporters as he announces the suspension of his campaign Wednesday. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the presidential race Wednesday. That’s good news for Joe Biden, who now has Bloomberg’s endorsement and, one would assume, some of Bloomberg’s resources.

But Bloomberg dropping out also could be good news for Bloomberg News. As long as Bloomberg was in the race, Bloomberg News was under orders from the boss to not do any in-depth investigative pieces on him. And, in an effort to be fair, that meant Bloomberg News also would not dig deep into the other Democratic presidential candidates.

This also means Bloomberg will definitely not become president, another piece of good news for those inside Bloomberg News.

But I said it COULD be good news for Bloomberg News. The fact is, Bloomberg, the boss, will still be very much involved in this presidential election if he throws his support and money behind Biden. You would like to think that wouldn’t impact Bloomberg News’ coverage of the presidential race, but you have to at least wonder if it will.

Donna Brazile’s comments, part two

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

Not long after telling Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to “go to hell” during a segment Tuesday on Fox News, former interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile (now a Fox News contributor) was a little calmer during an appearance later that night with Bret Baier. Originally, Brazile was upset that McDaniel said the Democrats were rigging the primaries against Bernie Sanders.

“I must tell you the secret — I’m a forgiving kind of person,” Brazile told Baier. “I want to thank Chris Wallace and Brit Hume and Juan Williams. Yes, all three men. Juan gave me the fist bump. Chris gave me the talk. And Brit reminded me that, you know, sometimes you don’t, you shouldn’t call people outright.

“But let me just say this,” she continued. “As long as I’m alive, I’m going to speak truth to power. And I want to make sure that the chairwoman, I know what her job is like, but I want her to understand, to respect the process on the Democratic side. … Democracy is messy, but do not tell the world that the Democratic Party is trying to rig it for one candidate.”

The buzz in Sacramento

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a local politician who wants to save the local newspaper.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, California, is trying to form a local ownership group to buy The Sacramento Bee. The Bee is currently owned by McClatchy, which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to restructure debt and shed pension obligations.

Steinberg told the Bee’s Ryan Lillis that it’s his “responsibility as mayor to fight for any community asset that is vital to the future of Sacramento.”

McClatchy had no comment, but there’s no indication at the moment that the paper is even for sale.

Sports journalism’s highest award

Christine Brennan, left, speaking with actress Katie Holmes last month. (Ann-Sophie Fjello-Jensen/AP Images for Dick’s Sporting Goods)

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan is being honored with one of sports journalism’s most prestigious honors. She is the recipient of the 2020 Associated Press Sports Editors Red Smith Award, named for what many believe is the greatest sportswriter who ever lived. Officially, the award is for “major contributions to sports journalism.”

Brennan became the first female sportswriter at the Miami Herald in 1981 and later covered football for The Washington Post. She has been at USA Today since 1997. She writes about all sports, but has especially made her mark covering the Olympics — something she has done 18 times.

‘I’ve been so fortunate to know or work with quite a few of the Red Smith Award winners over the years,” Brennan said in a statement. “They have been my role models, my editors and my mentors, so to join them is very humbling.”

Smith was the first winner of the award named after him in 1981, the year before he died. Past winners include sports journalism legends such as Jim Murray, Shirley Povich, Dave Anderson, Bud Collins, Frank Deford, Dan Jenkins and Mitch Albom.

Media tidbits

  • The National Press Photographers Association announced the winners of its 2020 NPPA Best of Photojournalism Wednesday. It’s a long list, which you can check out here. Matt McLain of The Washington Post was named photojournalist of the year.
  • CNN will host a town hall about the coronavirus tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern. The special, called “Coronavirus: Facts and Fears” will be hosted by Anderson Cooper and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
  • Hmm, interesting slogan by The Wall Street Journal: “Read Yourself to Your Own Decision.” I think I like it, but I’m not positive.

The beginning of the end

Want more from the Chris Matthews’ firing from MSNBC? The Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison and Paul Farhi have some of the details with “The end of the Chris Matthews era: How the bombastic host got forced out at MSNBC.”

First off, yes, you could call it a firing — or, as Ellison and Farhi wrote, Matthews essentially jumped before being pushed. MSNBC president Phil Griffin delivered the news right before Matthews went on the air Monday that a change needed to be made. The conversation came after several recent controversies, capped off by an article in GQ in which freelance journalist and frequent “Hardball with Chris Matthews” guest Laura Bassett alleged Matthews had made inappropriate remarks to her.

Ellison and Farhi quoted a person familiar with the situation as saying, “Each time he went on the air, he was at risk for saying something that was not OK.”

In case you’ve forgotten Matthews’ problematic history of saying wrong things, Vox’s Laura McGann has a recap.

Hot type

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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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