Are the Issues Getting Lost?
“Now let’s clear the smoke,” said CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley.
What he really meant was, let’s take a break from the attacks bouncing between campaigns, and let’s talk issues.
Pelley used this line to lead into a section of CBS’s newscast that stood out in style and approach.
The segment presented two issues: battling ISIS and protecting veterans. There was no reporter track. Instead the broadcast presented side-by-side sound bites from the Commander in Chief Forum from both major party candidates about the topics.
Face the Nation’s John Dickerson followed the segment with brief commentary.
The criticisms bouncing between the two major campaigns have been making headlines all election season.
In fact, all three networks led that evening’s broadcast with stories largely about this back and forth following NBC’s forum.
But no other broadcast had a segment like CBS’s.
Is coverage of issues being lost because of the amount of airtime devoted to the exchange of attacks between candidates? To coin Scott Pelley’s phrase, should journalists be clearing the smoke?
According to Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, the answer is yes.
“I do think that the networks need to do a better job of serving the public by focusing on issues,” she said.
Sullivan added, “these things don’t need to be mutually exclusive.” Networks can provide so-called “horse-race coverage,” while still informing viewers about candidates’ policy positions.
Viewers want to know about the issues, said Sullivan.
“They are hungry for that.”
Former LA Times international correspondent Maggie Farley had a similar reaction.
“It’s a welcome move that CBS and Scott Pelley chose to focus on the candidates’ positions on the issues,” she said. Farley referenced Donald Trump’s recent press conference regarding President Obama’s citizenship. At the event Trump spoke mostly about his new hotel, rather than about the issues, according to Farley. She said this may be a turning point for media coverage.
“Disenchanted reporters will likely rethink the reflexive coverage of the campaign.”
More from Sullivan.
- “This is a ratings conscious way to cover politics.” Sullivan said increased issue coverage “may be a way for one broadcast to differentiate itself from the others.”
- She said she would support more time given to issue coverage: “I think it would go over fine and be appreciated.”
More from Farley.
- “For decades, critics have been lamenting ‘horse race’ campaign coverage, in which the focus is not on issues, but on the daily drama of how one candidate is doing relative to another, or on their gaffes and rhetorical zingers.”
“Donald Trump’s antics in the presidential race of 2016 have taken the coverage to a new level and left journalists befuddled about how to cover the campaign effectively.”