We’re set for the presidential debates. Now what?

We’re set for the presidential debates. Now what?
We’re set for the presidential debates. Now what?

A day after it was announced that CNN and ABC News would host presidential debates, ABC announced who the moderators for its debate would be:

“ABC World News Tonight” anchor David Muir and “ABC News Live Prime” anchor Linsey Davis will moderate the ABC News debate set for Sept. 10.

Details of the format still need to be worked out, but the selection of Muir and Davis makes sense. They’re two of the most distinguished journalists at ABC News.

Meanwhile, attention now turns to the first debate, which is scheduled for CNN on June 27. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will moderate that debate.

As I mentioned in Thursday’s newsletter, the June 27 debate is way earlier than we are accustomed to seeing a presidential debate. For one thing, neither President Joe Biden nor Donald Trump will even officially be their party’s nominee at that date, although there’s nothing to suggest they won’t be.

The early date likely benefits Biden. As Politico’s Eli Okun wrote this week, “The accelerated time frame could offer an opportunity for Biden, who’s losing in the polls and eager to put Trump front and center in voters’ minds ASAP.”

Biden also likely will benefit from there being no audience for the CNN debate (and likely not for the second debate either), and therefore no way for Trump to play to and play off of the crowd — something he has done well in the past.

However, Chris Wallace, who has moderated two presidential debates, said on CNN, “I think it’ll make it a cleaner, purer experience. But in terms of the candidates, I don’t think it makes much difference because you are so focused on what you’re saying and what the other guy is about to say and what the moderator is going to ask, that you’re not sitting there playing to the crowd like it’s a rally.”

The debates, reportedly, were the result of back-channel negotiations between the Biden and Trump camps. Some are wondering if Trump was a little too quick to agree to the parameters laid out by Biden’s team.

Okun wrote, “Did Trump get out over his skis? He’s been prodding Biden to debate him for months, but we wonder if his lightning-speed agreement to Biden’s terms will exasperate some Trump allies. It might not help that, just as in 2020, Trump is setting expectations for Biden’s performance below the floor (and below reality): If Biden can ‘put two sentences together,’ he’ll have overperformed Trump’s threshold.”

The “put two sentences together” line was something Trump said Biden couldn’t do in a post on his Truth Social after the debates were announced.

Then again, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake writes, “The debates certainly risk confirming people’s concerns about Biden’s age if he can’t volley with an opponent who loves to interrupt and goad. But it’s a test that Biden, in particular, needed to take and pass.”

Could this all be for naught? Former Biden press secretary Jen Psaki, now a host of her own show on MSNBC, isn’t 100% convinced the debates will actually take place. She said on the podcast “Pod Save America” that, “I’m still a skeptic.”

Psaki thinks it could fall apart if Trump ultimately decides he doesn’t like the terms set forth by Biden.

That would be bad, according to CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, who writes, “As ugly as the contest is likely to be, it is better for the nation that we have debates. For the moment, at least, it will give crucial information about the candidates to the voters, who won’t only have to rely on the world of surrogates, influencers and social media commentators to make sense of what’s going on.”

There will also be a vice presidential debate in this election cycle. Well, I should say there could be a debate. The Biden campaign agreed to VP Kamala Harris debating whoever will end up being Trump’s pick for a running mate. CBS News extended the invitation and the Biden camp said yes. Although: one snag. The Trump people have not agreed just yet. No date has been set, but Harris reportedly agreed to an in-studio debate on either July 23 or Aug. 13.

Trump has said that he is likely to announce his VP pick at the Republican National Convention, which begins on July 15.

For this item, I turn it over to Annie Aguiar, Poynter’s audience engagement producer.

In Poynter’s LinkedIn Live event, “Shut out: Strategies for good journalism when sources dismiss the press,” Poynter faculty spoke with a Tampa Bay Times reporter about how journalists should approach their work when met with a stonewall from central sources.

Fernanda Camarena, faculty at the Poynter Institute and co-author of a recent Poynter report on this topic, and Kelly McBride, Poynter vice president and chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership, were joined by Tampa Bay Times state and local accountability reporter Justin Garcia for the talk.

“This is a classic problem in newsrooms. If you think about any political race, your mission as a journalist is to explain the candidates and the issues to voters in a way that voters can participate in the election and make informed decisions,” McBride said. “Candidates don’t really want to drive voters to fair journalism all the time. They would rather control the message and get their information specifically to the constituencies that they think are most likely to vote for them.”

One safeguard against the media becoming irrelevant as public figures increasingly deny access, Garcia said, is to be so well-sourced in your community that your reporting is undeniable.

“That makes it to where you can’t be seen as irrelevant by people in these positions of power,” he said. “Because if they’re ignoring you, they have this idea that you’re going to find the story one way or another.”

You can watch a replay of the full LinkedIn Live discussion here and you can read the full report, “Shut Out,” here.

And now for media news, tidbits and interesting links for your weekend review…

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at [email protected].

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

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