By:
August 12, 2020

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No surprise: Joe Biden has picked Kamala Harris to be his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Sadly, what also won’t be a surprise is what the reaction likely will be to Harris’ selection. That’s something I predicted in Monday’s Poynter Report when I wrote, “Whoever it is, assuming it is a woman, the candidate is going to face attacks that a man would not.”

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin made the same prediction following Tuesday’s news:

“The media will engage in a mad rush to define, dissect, inspect and criticize Harris — likely not for her views or her record, but for her likability, her ‘team player’ quotient, her compatibility with Biden, her physical appearance, her seriousness or lack thereof, and on and on. They will comment on her clothes, her smile and her hair. The intense vetting process is normal and expected, especially regarding her votes on positions; however, we can expect a whole different level and type of personal character assassination. Even at a climactic moment for the political inclusion of African American women, we will likely find it difficult to quash the tired double standards and just plain dumb commentary that women have put up with for years.”

Like what?

Like her “likeability” or how she dresses or how she speaks. Like whether you would want to have her over to the house for dinner or hang out with her at a party as if that’s a reason why she would or would not make a good vice president.

That doesn’t mean Harris shouldn’t be scrutinized and even criticized. Her record as a senator should be examined. Her record as a prosecutor should be examined. Her past comments about Biden are completely fair game. Even whether she would make a competent president is open for conversation.

But there will be moments when Harris will face attacks that only women face. They might come from Donald Trump and his campaign. They might come from places like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. They might come from conservative columnists who are looking to damage her and the Democratic ticket.

What happens when that happens?

As Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote, “Reporters, news executives and others in the news media should be on red alert. It’s going to be a perilous tightrope walk to cover this inevitable ugliness without making it much, much worse. How do you examine without amplifying?”

As I wrote, you do your best to stick to just the topics that matter. But there will be times when the media will have no choice but to address misogynistic and sexist comments, and they need to do so by putting them in context and pointing out why such attacks should not be a factor.

That didn’t happen when Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016 and it didn’t happen when Sarah Palin was John McCain’s VP pick in 2008. Palin’s role as a mother was a major point of discussion, even though parenthood is rarely discussed when talking about men.

And there’s another element. Harris is not just a woman, she’s a person of color. As Sullivan wrote, “Now add racial prejudice, and things get even worse, especially given President Trump’s well-documented history of attacking women of color. Like, the congresswomen of ‘The Squad,’ whom last summer he told to ‘go back’ to their countries of origin (though three of the four were born in the United States). His particular antipathy for Black female reporters, such as PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, is another tell.”

This is a critical time for the media. The attacks on Harris will come. Some will be fair. Some will not. How the media handles the ones that are not will determine just how far we’ve all come.

Harris reaction

What were some of the reactions to Biden’s pick of Harris?

Here’s more from the Post’s Rubin. She wrote, “The irony is that the woman considered ‘too risky’ for the presidency is actually the safe choice for VP. She comes with no surprises. She is versed in foreign policy. She is not running for office for the first time. Perhaps now, Democrats and Republicans alike will understand that raw political talent, brains and, yes, ambition are what you look for in national leaders.”

Writing for Fox News, contributor and former acting chair of the Democratic party Donna Brazile said, “Former Vice President Joe Biden’s selection Tuesday of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as his vice presidential running mate leads me to say to my sisters and brothers: Let’s shout to the heavens! Hurrah and Praise the Lord!  Our time has finally come — as Democrats, as women, and as African Americans.”

But also writing for Fox News, media columnist Howard Kurtz wrote, “In cold political terms, what does she bring to the ticket beyond being a telegenic presence? Biden was already going to win California. Certainly, there will be more excitement in the black community. She will be more tightly scripted than she was as a White House contender. Perhaps, since Biden is leading in the polls, he was looking for someone who was steady enough that she simply wouldn’t hurt his chances.”

And, finally, who else had advice for Harris? Someone who has been there: Sarah Palin.

Conventionally speaking

Chuck Todd, Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie during NBC’s coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention. (Courtesy: NBC News)

The 2020 political conventions will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. So, what actually will we see?

Each of the major networks has laid out convention coverage plans, and yet they admit they are wading into uncharted waters with conventions that won’t look like the typical convention because of the coronavirus.

The Republican convention — moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, and then back to Charlotte — has been so scaled back that it has been relocated from an arena to a convention center. More notably, President Trump announced earlier this week that his acceptance speech will come from either the White House or Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The Democratic convention, too, will look different. While anchored in Milwaukee, most of it will be held virtually.

That means we aren’t going to see the normal scenes of network anchors hunkered down inside arenas with reporters spread out all over the host city. We’re also not going to see wall-to-wall coverage on the main networks, although the networks’ streaming services will have complete convention coverage.

Here’s what the major network coverage will look like:

ABC

ABC will have programming each night of the conventions from 10 to 11 p.m. Eastern. George Stephanopoulos will lead the coverage and will be joined by “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir and “ABC News Live Prime” anchor Linsey Davis.

The coverage will be rounded out by “Nightline” anchor Byron Pitts, Martha Raddatz, correspondents Jonathan Karl, Pierre Thomas, Tom Llamas, Cecilia Vega, Terry Moran, as well as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver and a host of correspondents.

Senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce, White House correspondent Rachel Scott, and correspondent Alex Perez will report live from the actual conventions.

CBS

CBS News will air special convention coverage on the main network from 10 to 11 p.m. Eastern each night of the conventions. “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell will lead the coverage from the CBS studio in Washington, D.C. She will be joined there by John Dickerson, Maria Elena Salinas, Jamal Simmons and Leslie Sanchez.

Convention programming also will include “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan, political correspondent Ed O’Keefe and other correspondents Major Garrett, Weijia Jiang and Nikole Killion, as well as contributors: former Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus, former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, Democratic strategist Joel Payne and former Marco Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan.

NBC

NBC News will air a special report each night of the conventions from 10 to 11 p.m. Eastern. Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie will anchor from the NBC News headquarters in New York, while Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell will be stationed at the network’s Washington bureau.

For more extensive coverage, MSNBC will be live each night from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Eastern. That includes special editions of Joy Reid’s 7 p.m. show and Chris Hayes’ 8 p.m. show. Then Reid will join Rachel Maddow and Nicolle Wallace at 9 p.m. from the New York studios. Brian Williams will take over at 11 p.m. and Ari Melber at 1 a.m. Reporters Hallie Jackson, Peter Alexander, Kristen Welker, Mike Memoli, Ali Vitali, Shaquille Brewster, Geoff Bennett, Vaughn Hillyard and Monica Alba will be stationed at various locations.

Fox News

Fox News will kick off its convention coverage on Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern with a special “Democracy 2020: Convention Kickoff.” Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will host.

Baier and MacCallum also will co-anchor convention coverage, which, like the networks, will air nightly at 10 p.m. They will be joined by political analyst Brit Hume, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, “The Daily Briefing’s” Dana Perino, “The Five’s” Juan Williams and contributors Donna Brazile, Karl Rove and Katie Pavlich.

For the convention weeks, Laura Ingraham’s show will move to 11 p.m. and Shannon Bream’s show will air at midnight.

CNN

CNN is expected to announce its convention plans today. I’ll include them in Thursday’s newsletter.

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More thoughts on the “Trump Bump”

President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In Tuesday’s Poynter Report, I wrote about whether or not Trump losing the election would be bad for the national media — especially cable news networks and, in particular, cable news primetime shows, which specialize in opinion and punditry. Without daily conversations about Trump’s latest actions or comments or tweets, would viewers stop tuning in?

I had a few leftover thoughts after discussing this topic more as a guest on Dan Abrams’ SiriusXM show on Tuesday. Abrams, by the way, said he would expect ratings for cable news, especially MSNBC and CNN, to “fall off the cliff” if Joe Biden was to win the election. In addition, he thinks newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post would see less traffic and fewer subscribers.

While talking with Abrams, I had a couple other thoughts — or questions — to ponder:

There’s some school of thought that a Biden victory might mean viewers will tune out of the news if the president is no longer constantly in the news. But, has Trump changed the media landscape forever? Will primetime cable TV forever be committed to embracing debate and controversial chaos? Is what we’ve seen the past three and a half years the new normal?

Then again, if Trump does win, might viewers start to tune out with no election or potential change on the horizon? Viewers could simply be so fatigued of Trump news that they stop watching, especially knowing there could be another four years of that kind of coverage.

Dramatic coverage

Fox News’ Trey Yingst reports from Beirut on Tuesday. (Courtesy: Fox News)

No, not everything on cable news is Trump, Trump, Trump.

For example, look at Fox News’ foreign correspondent Trey Yingst, a consistently good reporter, who had a live report Tuesday from Beirut as Lebanese protesters clashed with police after the prime minister announced his resignation amid reports that leaders there were warned in July about explosives at the port.

Check out the dramatic video of Yingst’s report.

Media tidbits

  • Fox News Media is launching something called Fox News International, a live digital streaming service of linear networks Fox News and Fox Business for international users. It’s $6.99 a month and will debut in Mexico on Aug. 20 and reach 20 countries by the end of the year. Fox News International will be available through mobile and OTT devices, launching on iPhone, Android, Apple TV and Android TV, with Amazon Fire TV and Roku expected shortly after that.
  • I mentioned in Tuesday’s newsletter that the Detroit Free Press is instituting a paywall on some stories starting today. So too is The Detroit News, which has a joint operating agreement with the Free Press. In a note to readers, Detroit News publisher and editor Gary Miles wrote, “This is driven by the long-term need to replace declining advertising revenue in print newspapers, a decline hastened by businesses reeling from the global pandemic.”

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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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