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Greetings from stormy St. Petersburg, Florida. Tropical Storm Eta rolled through the Tampa Bay area as I was writing this newsletter, so hopefully the words aren’t blowing off the screen. A tropical storm and Christmas music on the radio at the same time? Yep, it’s 2020.
What will TV news do?
There’s no question that President Donald Trump has been a ratings booster for cable TV news. Fox News, CNN and MSNBC are enjoying some of their best ratings ever.
To be clear, there are other factors for why folks are interested in the news these days, including a once-in-a-hundred year pandemic. It also should be noted that on a good night, the big three cable news networks draw fewer than 15 million viewers in primetime — decent for TV, but a pretty low number compared to the overall population.
Still, the Trump presidency has been good for business.
He tweets. He rants. He raves.
And the cable news outlets eat it up.
But, Variety’s Brian Steinberg writes, “There’s palpable concern the spotlight may fade with the departure of President Donald Trump and the arrival of President-elect Joe Biden.”
So what will happen when Trump is no longer president?
There are different theories.
One is that interest in the news will remain high, so even with a Biden presidency, ratings will continue to thrive. Plus, the major news story — coronavirus — will remain a story that Americans must follow, perhaps for another year, if not longer.
But as far as politics and the White House, the cable news outlets might see a drop in viewership. In a recent earnings call, Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch said, “I would expect as we enter a more normal news cycle, which has to happen eventually, that appetite for news will shift back to appetite for the great American pastimes of watching football, and watching baseball, and watching ‘The Masked Singer’ or ‘I Can See Your Voice,’ and we look forward to that shift.”
A “more normal news cycle” would mean no coronavirus and a president who isn’t constantly elbowing his way into the news cycle.
Lachlan, however, thinks Fox News will continue to lead in cable news viewership.
“What we aim to control is share,” Murdoch said on the earnings call. “And I strongly believe and we’ve seen this through, I think, now 18 years, off the top of my head, of different administrations and different political cycles, we’ve maintained our No. 1 position through all of that. … So the news cycle will moderate. We fully expect to be No. 1 and maintain share through that.”
That, perhaps, is true.
There is plenty of speculation about what will happen to Fox News, a favorite among conservatives and right-leaning viewers.
On one hand, maybe a Biden presidency isn’t the worst thing ever. Primetime pundits such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham can rail on Biden and his policies for the next four years. Complaining about Biden might be better programming than had Trump remained president with no election on the horizon.
On the other hand, Trump supporters might quickly grow tired of being reminded every night that their favorite president did not win the election — and complaining about the other guy will soon grow old.
Think of it like fans of a sports team. They can complain about a loss on sports-talk radio right after the game, but they don’t want to keep harping on it for weeks and months on end. After a while, it just becomes depressing.
There are other wrinkles to consider. Might Trump start his own network or throw his support behind a place such as OAN? Is CNN boss Jeff Zucker going to leave CNN and what might that mean?
But let’s also give credit to the cable news networks. They are run by smart people and have charismatic primetime personalities. We can assume they adjust what they have to attract viewers.
And, hey, 2024 isn’t that far away.
Sign of the Times
There are many reasons why The New York Times is such an outstanding news organization. But here’s a perfect example of what makes them so good. With all this talk about election fraud coming from the White House, The New York Times rolled up its sleeves, picked up the phone and went to work.
The headline says it all: “The Times Called Officials in Every State: No Evidence of Voter Fraud.”
The Times’ Nick Corasaniti, Reid J. Epstein and Jim Rutenberg wrote, “… top election officials across the country said in interviews and statements that the process had been a remarkable success despite record turnout and the complications of a dangerous pandemic.”
They also wrote, “The New York Times contacted the offices of the top election officials in every state on Monday and Tuesday to ask whether they suspected or had evidence of illegal voting. Officials in 45 states responded directly to The Times. For four of the remaining states, The Times spoke to other statewide officials or found public comments from secretaries of state; none reported any major voting issues.”
Jeffrey Toobin has been fired from The New Yorker. During a video call last month with staffers of The New Yorker and WNYC radio, Toobin reportedly exposed himself. Following an investigation, Conde Nast, which owns The New Yorker, announced Wednesday that he has been let go.
In a memo to staff reviewed by The New York Times, Conde Nast’s chief people officer, Stan Duncan, said, “I want to assure everyone that we take workplace matters seriously. We are committed to fostering an environment where everyone feels respected and upholds our standards of conduct.”
Toobin announced his firing on Twitter, writing, “I was fired today by @NewYorker after 27 years as a Staff Writer. I will always love the magazine, will miss my colleagues, and will look forward to reading their work.”
Toobin also has been suspended from his job and is on leave as a legal analyst for CNN.
Looking for an expert source? Find and connect with academics from top universities on the Coursera | Expert Network, a new, free tool for journalists. Discover a diverse set of subject matter experts who can speak to this week’s trending news stories at experts.coursera.org today.
Above the banner
Earlier this week, Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia called on the state’s secretary of state to resign, citing “failures” in the election process. However, they did not offer any specific evidence to support their claims.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution pushed back hard, doing something pretty much unheard of. It put an editorial above the front-page banner. You can see what it looked like by clicking here.
The AJC editorial read, “Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have assaulted Georgia’s election system. That is dangerous behavior, both for this state and for the nation. Speaking on the record, Purdue and Loeffler offered no specifics. And that is what makes their campaign-speak attack message so unacceptable. Georgians are wise enough to recognize these antics. And Purdue, Loeffler and others should know better.”
Why is it so important that President Donald Trump concede the election and that a transition to President-elect Joe Biden gets underway? Here’s a helpful quick explainer from MSNBC’s Katy Tur, who said this on her show Wednesday:
“They do have the benefit of Biden previously being in the White House and knowing some of the lay of the land. But I was talking to a senior administration official who was telling me that part of the big problem is not that Biden knows what he’s doing, it’s that they can’t look at the various agencies, see how they are staffed and who needs to be plugged in. They also can’t start the process of the national security background checks, which can take a long time. So that should be unnerving for any American who wants to see a seamless transition of power.”
Tur asked Associated Press White House reporter Jonathan Lemire how much longer senior White House officials will continue “soothing the president” before pushing Trump to concede and begin a transition.
“This is important,” Lemire said. “This shouldn’t just be about soothing the hurt feelings of a president who lost. … National security is at stake here. There is a surging, out-of-control pandemic in many states right now. And (Trump’s refusal to concede) is slowing everything down, not handing over the keys, so to speak.”
Lemire said sources he talked to said this can’t go on forever, but they don’t see it ending anytime soon. It could end after Thanksgiving or maybe not even until the electoral college meets in mid-December.
Meanwhile, on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” former Defense Secretary William Cohen called Trump’s refusal to concede “completely inappropriate … reckless and it’s consistent with how Donald Trump has conducted the presidency.”
He added, “When you don’t help the incoming administration protect the country then you have failed in your duty. You have failed royally, if I can use the word royal, because the president wants to act like a royal, that everyone else is in his court and they must pay obeisance and pay tribute to him.”
King of the election coverage
One of the stars of election week TV coverage was CNN’s John King, who spent most of the week on his feet and wearing out CNN’s Magic Wall. My Poynter colleague Amaris Castillo caught up with King for a good Q&A that you should check out.
King told Castillo, “I am a mix of exhausted and excited. The election results are clear, but there is so much news and uncertainty — from the Trump refusal to concede to the continued counting of ballots to the Biden transition launch and the horrific COVID surge. So sleep has to wait a bit longer. That’s OK. It is a dramatic news story and at a very consequential moment, so this is why we do this — and sleep and rest can wait.”
John King wasn’t the only big board star during election week. How about MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki?
NBC News’ Savannah Sellers went to the big board to get the lowdown from Kornacki, including questions for Kornacki from Chrissy Teigen.
The most pressing questions?
- Did he get his pants from GAP? Yep.
- Did he sleep during the election? No. Well, maybe a half hour here or there at his desk.
- Did he drink coffee? Nope. Just Diet Coke.
- When the election ended, did he sleep? Yep. For 15+ hours straight.
A new boss in Philly
Gabriel Escobar has been named top editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Escobar had been editor and vice president — second in charge in the newsroom — since 2017. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Anna Orso and Jesenia De Moya Correa wrote about Escobar: “A former foreign correspondent, he is respected inside and outside The Inquirer as a skilled journalist and an even-keeled manager, as well as a deep listener always armed with a notepad.”
Escobar replaces executive editor Stan Wischnowski, who resigned in June after a controversial headline — “Buildings Matter, Too” — in the wake of protests about race. That headline led to the Inquirer doing some soul-searching about the culture in its newsroom and how it covers issues involving race.
After Wischnowski resigned, Inquirer Publisher and CEO Lisa Hughes said the company would conduct a national search to replace him, according to the Inquirer. But she stayed in-house by naming Escobar. She told The Inquirer that Escobar is “a seasoned leader who embodies our values, embraces our shared strategy, and understands the diversity of the communities we serve.”
The Inquirer wrote, “Escobar, who was born in Colombia, will be one of the highest-ranking Latinos at a U.S. news organization.”
Check it out
Here’s something political and election junkies might enjoy. The Tampa Bay Times is hosting a video chat with journalists today at noon Eastern called “Election 2020: Where do we go from here?” The Times describes it as a “discussion about the election and what it means for our region, state and country.”
If you want to listen in, click here.
Writing for The Undefeated, William C. Rhoden with “Tony Dungy’s Life Lesson About the Tuskegee Airmen and the Meaning of Humility.”
In The New York Times, Amanda Rosa with “What Happens to Some L.G.B.T.Q. Teens When Their Parents Reject Them.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at email@example.com.
More resources for journalists
- Covering COVID-19 with Al Tompkins (daily briefing) — Poynter
- It’s time to apply for Poynter’s 2021 Leadership Academy for Women in Media — Apply by Nov. 30, 2020
- Open Records Success: Strategies for Writing Requests and Overcoming Denials — Self-directed course: Start anytime