By:
October 22, 2020

NBC News’ Kristen Welker will moderate tonight’s debate. Her name has been in the news a lot the past few days, mostly because President Donald Trump keeps running her down, calling her “terrible” and “totally partisan.” But she’s a well-respected journalist, even earning praise from Trump adviser Jason Miller, who called her “very fair.”

She is especially well respected inside NBC News. When she was named a moderator, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim told his staff, “The selection of Kristen as a moderator is a testament to her talent, skill, work ethic and tenacity. As she demonstrated during the November presidential debate, Kristen will ask the tough and necessary questions on behalf of American voters. Anyone who knows Kristen knows this  — there is preparing, and then there is the way Kristen prepares. As Andrea (Mitchell) noted on air today, ‘No one works harder … she does more homework than anyone I have ever known.’”

Her colleagues also hold her in high regard. “Today” show co-host Savannah Guthrie called her “the best of the best” and, when Welker was named moderator, NBC News’ Peter Alexander said, “Nobody is better deserving. She’s going to be terrific.” NBC News’ Kasie Hunt tweeted on Wednesday, “If there was ever a journalist who could handle this, it’s (Welker).”

What else do we know about Welker?

She was born and raised in Philadelphia and graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in American history. Before joining NBC News, she worked at local stations in Philadelphia; Providence, Rhode Island; and Redding, California. She began covering the White House in 2011 and began co-anchoring “Weekend Today” in January 2020.

Welker does have some debate experience, co-moderating the fifth Democratic presidential debate last November. She will be the first Black woman to moderate a presidential debate since ABC News’ Carole Simpson in 1992.

As has become customary with debate moderators, Welker hasn’t done any interviews leading up to tonight’s debate. Trump has made a big deal out of reports that Welker’s parents have donated to the Democratic Party. But, as we all know, we shouldn’t assume anything about anyone based on their parents’ politics.

PolitiFact’s Bill McCarthy wrote that, despite accusations, Welker has not donated money to the Democratic Party, is not a registered Democrat and did not spend Christmas with the Obamas.

Andrea Mitchell, Welker’s NBC News colleague who has been helping her with debate prep, told the Associated Press’ David Bauder, “She’s got her eye on the prize.”

Although, Mitchell admits tonight will be a challenge and that Welker will have to have the best night of her career.

“It’s a hard challenge,” Mitchell said.

Debate coverage

(Courtesy: NBC News)

Here’s what the major networks have planned for tonight:

ABC: Coverage will begin with a one-hour special at 8 p.m. to preview the debate. Coverage will be led by George Stephanopoulos. He will be joined by “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir and “ABC News Live Prime” anchor Linsey Davis. ABC’s coverage also will include White House correspondent Jonathan Karl and congressional correspondent Mary Bruce — both reporting from Nashville. ABC correspondents Martha Raddatz, Cecilia Vega and Tom Llamas will report on their beats. And, offering up analysis will be correspondent Terry Moran, FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver, special correspondent Matthew Dowd, and legal analyst Dan Abrams, as well as contributors Chris Christie, Yvette Simpson, Rahm Emanuel, Kate Shaw and Sara Fagen.

CBS: Coverage will be anchored by “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell. “CBS This Morning” co-host and “60 Minutes” correspondent John Dickerson will join O’Donnell, and CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett will handle fact-checking in the post-debate coverage. Nikole Killion will report live from Nashville and Paula Reid will be at the White House.

NBC: Coverage begins at 8 p.m. Eastern and will be led by “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt and “Today” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie from New York. “Meet the Press” moderator and political director Chuck Todd and senior Washington correspondent Andrea Mitchell will anchor from the nation’s capital. MSNBC’s coverage starts at 8 p.m. and there will be plenty of post-debate coverage, led by Rachel Maddow, Nicolle Wallace, Joy Reid and Brian Williams.

PBS: “PBS NewsHour” will broadcast live coverage starting at 9 p.m. Judy Woodruff will anchor with contributions from “PBS NewsHour” senior national correspondent Amna Nawaz, White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, among others. 

Fox News will have coverage on its various programs all day. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will co-anchor debate coverage. Sean Hannity’s program will air immediately after the debate at 11 p.m. Eastern, followed by Laura Ingraham at midnight.

The topics

Topics for tonight’s debate are scheduled to be fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

A few thoughts about the topics:

All are worthwhile topics, including climate change, which hasn’t received as much attention as it should have because it has been swallowed up by other stories. Hopefully, Welker can keep the candidates on point, especially because Trump is expected to bring up Hunter Biden as often as possible. Save for the “leadership” topic (and maybe “national security”), there really isn’t another topic that Trump can use to bring up Hunter Biden without really stretching it off topic.

In addition, there really doesn’t seem to be a spot among those topics to delve into the Supreme Court opening.

Then again, just because topics are set and certain questions are asked does not mean the candidates can’t take the debate in the direction they want to go. For instance, Trump’s camp is upset that foreign policy isn’t a main topic in the debate. So Trump also is expected to hit that hard, especially because he views that as a Biden weakness.

Meanwhile, The Trump-Biden conversation about COVID-19 will include something that wasn’t a factor in the last debate. This time, Trump is likely to bring up his own personal experience with the coronavirus.

Mapping it out

FiveThirtyEight has a cool new interactive map. It allows users to pick a candidate to win a state (or a combination of states) and then see how it impacts the electoral college.

So, for example, what would happen if President Trump wins swing states such as North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania? What happens if Biden wins one of those states, but wins Wisconsin and Michigan?

Type in any combination you like and you’ll see how it improves or decreases a candidate’s chances of winning the election. The map already takes into account polling where the candidates are favored to win, allowing users to concentrate on states where both candidates have a chance to win.

The end of Quibi

Quibi founders Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg. (AP Photo)

This news seems to have been coming for a while now. Quibi, the short-form mobile video company, is shutting down after not being able to find a buyer. In a story first reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Benjamin Mullin and Joe Flint, the startup founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman apparently had no other choice. A restructuring firm told Quibi it had several options, but the only one that made sense was to cut its losses and shut down. Quibi employs about 200. All will be laid off and given a severance package.

There were high hopes when Quibi launched in just April of this year after raising $1.75 billion. The service had two subscriptions: $4.99 a month with ads and $7.99 a month without.

It had big stars on board. It originally had short-form original titles with such big names as Jennifer Lopez, Chance the Rapper and Sophie Turner. In addition, it had projects lined up with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Antoine Fuqua, Anna Kendrick and others. The snack-sized approach to video was supposed to attract a younger audience.

But, clearly, launching such an ambitious project during a global pandemic that slammed the economy was awful luck, and the customers just weren’t there. CNBC’s Steve Kovach wrote, “Quibi originally projected it would have more than 7 million subscribers after its first year, but it only had about 500,000 subscribers as of a few weeks ago.”

Kovach also added this notable tidbit: “According to people familiar with the matter, Quibi had difficulty selling itself to a larger company because it only owned its content for two years, meaning any potential buyer would just be purchasing Quibi’s technology.”

In an open letter, Katzenberg and Whitman wrote, “Quibi was a big idea and there was no one who wanted to make a success of it more than we did. Our failure was not for lack of trying; we’ve considered and exhausted every option available to us.”

They added, “And yet, Quibi is not succeeding. Likely for one of two reasons: because the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service or because of our timing. Unfortunately, we will never know but we suspect it’s been a combination of the two. The circumstances of launching during a pandemic is something we could have never imagined but other businesses have faced these unprecedented challenges and have found their way through it. We were not able to do so.”

Wait, what?

Can the news get any weirder?

Apparently, yes. Now comes the bizarro story involving Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and a scene from Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest movie starring his character Borat.

It’s a story almost too weird to pay attention to, and yet it’s a story that could very well blow up and therefore shouldn’t be ignored.

To save time and space, check out the details from The Daily Beast’s Matt Wilstein and Asawin Suebsaeng. But there’s this tweet from veteran journalist Maureen Dowd: “I’ve seen the Giuliani moment in Borat 2. It’s even wilder than it sounds. Beyond cringe.”

Whatever ends up happening, we can all agree that the election and the end of 2020 can’t get here soon enough.

State-of-the-art stuff

A preview of Fox News’ new state-of-the-art technology that will be used on election night. (Courtesy: Fox News)

Fox News will unveil state-of-the-art technology for its election night coverage. According to Fox News, it will include “new immersive 3D graphics and enhanced studio technology for live updates, providing viewers unprecedented access to the election process and comprehensive insight into the evening’s developments.”

The technology being used is from the company that created Fortnite and includes “real-time 3D graphics and visual effects of a digitally-constructed White House (that) will serve as an immersive backdrop to showcase the status of various races and guide viewers through the most critical developments across both FNC’s and FOX Business Network’s live coverage.” The graphics will illustrate turnovers of Democrat and Republican-held seats as results are reported, as well as special features for the presidential race.

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

Note: This story has been updated to include PBS’s debate coverage plans.

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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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