I logged onto Twitter this morning (I know, always my first mistake of the day) and saw two media stories trending: NBC News hosting a town hall with President Trump and the New York Post running a story about a presidential candidate’s emails. Welcome to October 2016. Again.
In 2016, I was on the business side of NBC News in the content studio when it was announced that Matt Lauer would be holding a town hall forum with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the U.S.S Intrepid, a hulking aircraft carrier-slash-museum that is docked on the west side of Manhattan.
It was an event dubbed “the Commander-in-Chief forum” and designed to take “questions on national security, military affairs and veterans issues from NBC News and an audience comprised mainly of military veterans and active service members.”
I remember sitting in my Brooklyn apartment watching when the camera pans behind Lauer and Clinton and I see, in the front row, right over Clinton’s right shoulder, several NBC News ad sales execs. Including my boss’s boss.
It’s not uncommon, or particularly inappropriate for employees of a news network to attend an event like this. But I did wonder why those execs were there (and in the front row!) and if they had clients with them. It was a good reminder of how much power the ad sales side has at media companies.
Anyhow. I was thinking about that event because today, NBC News announced that it would be holding a town hall with President Trump on Thursday, which also happens to be the same day that ABC News is hosting a town hall with Joe Biden.
Mr. Biden’s town hall has been on the books since last week, after Mr. Trump, who had recently contracted the coronavirus, rejected plans to convert the second formal presidential debate into a virtual matchup; the debate was eventually canceled.
In an interview with Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, Trump said "I'm not going to waste my time doing a virtual debate.”
Neither of these town halls are affiliated with the Commission on Presidential Debates, which means, from a business perspective, each network will pocket all of the ads and sponsorships associated with the town hall.
NBC News is receiving lots of blowback, as people are not pleased with the network a) cowing to Trump; b) airing a Trump town hall in direct opposition to Biden’s, meaning that the whole point of having a news network help society be informed so they can make better decisions gets thrown out the window. Internally, it seems folks are upset, too.
And I keep thinking about that 2016 event and wonder with this town hall, how much of it is predicated on informing the electorate (which, again, seems to not be the case since they’re doing it at the exact same time as ABC’s) versus squeezing a few more bucks out of clients. Or, even more cynically, perhaps there are some big make-goods that need to be done.
This isn’t the only stupid media story of the day. Because then there’s the New York Post.
An interesting aside from Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall:
The incendiary story got more oxygen when Bloomberg, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Politico’s Jake Sherman uncritically shared the story to their followers. Bill Weir from CNN puts it best:
Bloomberg Politics @bpoliticsVice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, introduced him to a senior official from a Ukrainian energy firm that became the focus of controversy over the dismissal of a prosecutor who was investigating the company, the New York Post reports https://t.co/rjVeJu3Qb2
But I think the exemplar of Washington political journalism today is this Axios piece today about how “Joe Biden is the luckiest, least scrutinized front-runner.”
For starters, it’s a piece handed to Axios by the Trump campaign. It would be like running a story from your dog about why your cat gets treated so well. (Emphasis mine.)
Why it matters: The media's obsession with Trump — and Trump's compulsion to dominate the news — allowed Biden to purposely and persistently minimize public appearances and tough questions.
Since Aug. 31, Biden has answered less than half as many questions from the press as Trump — 365 compared with 753 — according to a tally by the Trump campaign, which the Biden campaign didn't dispute.
Second, when you’ve been a Senator for 37 years, Vice President for eight, and running for president on and off during four decades, how can someone with a straight face say you haven’t been scrutinized?
As we are only 20 days out from the election, it will be up to readers to be more discerning in what they digest and share (of course, it would help for editors to also be more discerning in what they publish). It’s one of the reasons the head of security at Facebook posted this this morning:
Nathaniel Gleicher @ngleicher3/ This is a good reminder that threat actors — including from Russia — will continue to try to manipulate public debate globally and in the US, including by trying to trick journalists into doing their amplification for them.
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Huey Lewis & The News, “Back in Time”
Some interesting links:
Business Insider parent nears deal to buy controlling stake in Morning Brew (WSJ)
You can read my interview with MB CEO from July (Media Nut)
Discourse Blog leaves Substack for its own site (Discourse Blog)
For the good old days:
Nostalgia marketing has reached a fever pitch in the pandemic. Here's how brands like Chips Ahoy, Kraft, and AT&T are reviving old mascots and campaigns to appeal to consumers in jittery times. (Business Insider)
Pizza by Paul, flowers by Prue: how Great British Bake Off built its Covid bubble (The Guardian)
For media criticism:
How the 1619 Project took over 2020 (Washington Post)
Havas Launches Industry's First Dedicated 'Customer Experience' Network, Leverages 'Meaningful Brands' Insights (MediaPost)
Vizio sues MediaMath over an alleged $900,000 in unpaid bills (Digiday)