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Should CNN cancel its Trump town hall?
And what baseball has to do with the death of an Iowa TV newsroom
CNN is turning over an hour of primetime next Wednesday to Donald Trump, who will appear at a town hall in New Hampshire. Critics are lambasting CNN, saying how can they devote an hour to the guy who tried to overthrow our democracy, to the guy under criminal indictment for supposed payments to keep a porn star quiet about their affair, to the guy who lies as naturally as the rest of us breathe. They’ve called on CNN to cancel the program.
The flip side of the argument is that he IS the Republican front-runner right now. He’s a former president. He might be the NEXT president. Why would a legitimate news organization ignore his candidacy?
In the wake of Trump’s 2016 win, the media did a lot of soul-searching and concluded they made many mistakes covering Trump’s campaign. They took him live at nearly every campaign event, visibility that other Republican candidates would have loved to have. Every Trump tweet was analyzed – the more outrageous the better. He spent way less on campaign advertising than other Republican candidates. He didn’t have to, because he received billions of dollars in “free media” from journalists who covered his every move. Ratings on cable news networks soared. Trump supporters loved all the coverage. Trump haters tuned in to peek between their fingers at the enfolding train wreck.
After 2016, many media managers decided they could not repeat those mistakes and vowed to do better. Is CNN’s town hall a step back onto the slippery slope?
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I could argue it either way, but I come down on the side of covering Trump but doing it in a more thoughtful way. If CNN lets him rampage around the town hall set next week with his usual bluster, half-truths, insults and outright lies, then they have not learned any lessons from 2016. The moderator will be Kaitlan Collins, who covered the Trump White House and strikes me as up to the task of challenging him when needed. She did many tough stories on Trump, as reporters should do to every president. Collins and Trump often clashed during news conferences.
CNN’s new boss Chris Licht is trying to drag the network back toward the middle. A legitimate news organization simply can’t ignore the GOP front runner, whether critics like it or not. CNN should not follow Fox “News” down into the gutter. Fox routinely downplays or completely ignores important stories that don’t fit into what we all now know is a fear of their own viewers abandoning them if they hear something they don’t like.
Bottom line – CNN should tread carefully here. Do the right thing by offering time to Trump like they will other top candidates. But have him on a short leash and be willing to yank it hard if he goes over the line. He’ll complain that they’re so mean to him. Let him. Just don’t fall into the same trip that he set for the media in 2016.
What do you think?
The death of an Iowa TV newsroom
Sinclair Broadcasting group, which owns hundreds of television stations around the country, flew into Sioux City last week and informed staff that it’s ending local news on its stations there later this month. Sinclair owns the Fox affiliate, and operates the CBS affiliate, KMEG-TV, under contract. Both stations will cease doing local news, with all newsroom employees let go. Sinclair will instead air its national news program “The National Desk” in those time slots. The Sioux City Journal reports staff members weren’t given a specific reason, only that it was for business reasons.
One former KMEG employee, Aaron Siders, posted on Facebook, “This move takes a local voice away from Siouxland. It is a scary look into the future of corporate news.” Siders gave me permission to quote from his post. “Sinclair Broadcasting has a bullcrap segment they send down to force their newsrooms to show to the public called “Sinclair Cares.” It is to make them look good, so the viewer thinks that the company is there for them. They do not care. They never have and they never will. Their terrible purchasing decisions and messed up managing styles killed the voice that many people in Siouxland trusted to get their news.”
One of those messed up decisions could be Sinclair’s Diamond Sports group, which provides live coverage of pro sports, largely Major League Baseball, through what are called Regional Sports Networks (RSN’s). For example, the Sinclair RSN carries my beloved St. Louis Cardinals games on cable and satellite. They also carry the Royals and the Twins. Diamond Sports filed for bankruptcy in March, as it missed payments on a massive debt of more than $8 billion. It also missed payments to the Twins and Cleveland Guardians for broadcast rights, which is a big problem for the teams’ finances.
Sinclair has a history of taking on huge debt loads to aggressively buy up more television stations. Its website says it owns 185 stations in 86 markets. One of the ways they fund that debt is to cut back on expenses, reduce staff, and now to kill some local newsrooms outright. It’s not good for journalism. But mostly it hurts the communities that Sinclair is federally licensed to serve. The Federal Communications Commission should take a long, hard look at massive TV groups like Sinclair next time their FCC licenses come up for renewal, to see if they really are using the public airwaves to serve viewers.
Read more commentary and story-telling from the wonderful writers in the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative. This week, I’d highlight Bob Leonard’s Deep Midwest column, which breaks significant news on water quality monitoring in Iowa. Read it here.