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NBC’s Savannah Guthrie Grills Trump Opposite ABC’s Sober Biden Talk

George Stephanopoulos of ABC had it easy, steering an old-school Washington veteran through policy plans against a patriotic backdrop, while Savannah Guthrie of NBC had to navigate the stormy waters of QAnon, white supremacy and whether the virus-stricken president had pneumonia. (Despite repeated inquiries, he would not say.)

Viewers of Thursday’s dueling network town halls with President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. — which aired simultaneously in prime time, much to civic-minded critics’ chagrin — were treated to a pair of telecasts as starkly different as the candidates they featured.

On a night when Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump had been scheduled to meet on a single debate stage, television instead cleaved in two. Mr. Biden’s ABC town hall had all the fireworks of a vintage episode of “This Week With David Brinkley.” Mr. Trump’s NBC forum had all the subtlety of a professional wrestling match.

The election may hinge on which type of programming Americans want to spend the next four years watching.

Ms. Guthrie, an anchor on “Today,” welcomed viewers with a friendly greeting — “We want to say, right off the top, this is not how things were supposed to go tonight” — that only hinted at the stakes for her and her network.

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There was no debate on Thursday because Mr. Trump withdrew, refusing to commit to a virtual matchup. Mr. Biden agreed to an ABC town hall, and NBC booked Mr. Trump for the same night — and the same time, prompting a furious backlash. NBC stars like Mandy Moore denounced the network, and the MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow chastised her bosses on the air.

But if Mr. Trump expected an easy night on NBC, former home to his show “The Apprentice,” he did not anticipate Ms. Guthrie, whose background as a former litigator quickly came in handy.

In an out-of-the-gate barrage, Ms. Guthrie pressed Mr. Trump repeatedly on his medical condition, if he had taken a coronavirus test before the first presidential debate, if he would denounce white supremacy and if he opposed QAnon — questions that Mr. Trump, who typically sits down with friendly interviewers, had avoided facing.

The president is a skilled dodger who has outmaneuvered his interlocutors for four years. But Ms. Guthrie repeatedly interrupted his filibuster attempts, throwing Mr. Trump off kilter.

“I just don’t know about QAnon,” the president protested at one point, declining to criticize the fringe conspiracy group. “You do know!” Ms. Guthrie shot back, respectful but relentless.

At another moment, when Mr. Trump brandished a sheaf of papers to rebut a point — “I have things right here that will show you exactly the opposite!” — Ms. Guthrie revealed her own set of documents. “Me, too!” she retorted.

The tone tensed up when Mr. Biden declined, as he has several times, to fully explain his view on expanding the Supreme Court. “Don’t voters have a right to know where you stand?” Mr. Stephanopoulos asked.

That did not keep the Republican strategist Ari Fleischer from complaining about what he deemed an overly easy night for Mr. Biden. “NBC is an interrogation,” he wrote on Twitter. “ABC is a picnic.” Sean Hannity, on Fox News, was more explicit in accusing Ms. Guthrie of bias, saying she interrupted Mr. Trump too often.

Critics of NBC are likely to argue that Mr. Trump, despite the grilling, still enjoyed a full hour of prime-time across NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, the networks that simulcast his town hall. And all after he refused to attend the scheduled debate with Mr. Biden.

Moments after the Trump event wrapped up, Ms. Maddow greeted her MSNBC viewers with brow firmly arched. “Well,” she declared, “that happened.”

Tiffany Hsu contributed reporting.

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TV Ratings for Biden and Trump Signal an Increasingly Polarized Nation

Americans who watched the political conventions on television opted for news networks with partisan fan bases to a degree unseen in recent years, another sign of an increasingly divided electorate as the nation hurtles toward the November election.

Fox News, whose prime time is a destination for conservatives, accounted for close to half — 45 percent — of the viewership of the Republican National Convention this week across the six major news networks, Nielsen said on Friday. In 2016, that figure was about 30 percent; in 2012, 36 percent.

MSNBC, whose prime time is popular with liberals, accounted for about 30 percent of Democratic National Convention viewership last week across the six networks — which also include ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC — up from roughly 18 percent in 2016 and 2012.

During the Republican convention, MSNBC lost about 70 percent of its average viewership from the Democratic conclave. Fox News’s average viewership more than tripled.

Television viewers’ turn to perceived safe spaces raises questions about the ability of political conventions — which reached a broader TV audience in the pre-internet era — to persuade undecided voters. And it underscores fears about a polarized information environment where Americans can receive little exposure to political ideas that run counter to their own.

“It speaks to the larger point that we are siloed in our media choices,” David Axelrod, the Democratic strategist and CNN political analyst, said in an interview. “We’re a polarized country, and that is reflected in the media choices we make. We have the opportunity to create virtual reality worlds that affirm our points of view.”

A nightly average of 21.6 million people watched the Democratic convention on live TV, compared with 19.4 million for the Republicans. The total television audience for both conventions fell roughly 25 percent from 2016, a sign of Americans’ increasing reliance on online outlets and streaming services to follow live events.

Credit…Chris Creese for The New York Times

President Trump’s 70-minute acceptance speech on Thursday was seen by about 23.8 million live viewers, falling short of Joseph R. Biden’s remarks last week, which reached 24.6 million — a comparison likely to irritate the ratings-conscious president.

Neither candidate attracted the number of viewers who tuned in four years ago for Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech (32.2 million) or Hillary Clinton’s (29.8 million).

Because Nielsen excludes streaming views — which are difficult to credibly capture — its ratings reflect the habits of an older slice of the population that still watches traditional TV. Some political analysts argue that Nielsen ratings are an irrelevant indicator, given the role of social media and other online platforms in the country’s media ecosystem.

Still, Americans’ TV habits over the past two weeks offer a glimpse of a cross-section of likely voters.

Fox News’s dominance during the Republican convention was striking. Its audience on Thursday, for Mr. Trump’s climactic speech, was nearly 9.2 million, close to a prime-time record for the network. That was more viewers than watched ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC combined.

For the Democratic convention, the picture was sharply reversed.

MSNBC clocked its highest-rated prime-time week in the network’s 24-year history, with a 10 p.m. average of 5.7 million viewers. Fox News’s viewership fell far below its usual prime-time average.

“What we saw in the last presidential election was that Clinton supporters distributed their attention much more evenly among a broader range of outlets, and Trump supporters concentrated much more heavily on Fox News,” said Yochai Benkler, a co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.

“The fact you have such a high proportion of viewers of the Democratic convention on MSNBC does suggest, to some extent, a gravitation on the Democratic side toward a more partisan, viewpoint-reinforcing network,” Mr. Benkler said.

For Mr. Axelrod, an architect of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns who helped oversee Democratic conventions in 2008 and 2012, the Nielsen trends speak to a wider development in the years since.

“We are more polarized than we were in 2012 and 2008,” he said. “The elasticity in the electorate is even less. It wasn’t great then; it’s even less now.”

Mr. Benkler wondered how many truly undecided voters had tuned into the conventions in the first place.

“It’s just a very, very small slice of the American public who have not yet made up its mind to go for Trump or not,” he said. “They aren’t going to be the news junkies that spend their time on 24-hour cable news channels.”

He said he was surprised to hear Fox News’s proportion of network viewership of Mr. Trump’s convention.

“Forty-five percent?” Mr. Benkler said. “I would have thought it would be even higher.”

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The TV Divide: Convention Ratings Surge on MSNBC as Fox News Dips

This week’s Democratic National Convention attracted an average nightly television audience of 21.6 million viewers, down roughly 18 percent from 2016 but still a respectable number given how many Americans have turned away from traditional TV sets in favor of online video and streams.

An examination of TV viewing patterns reveals a nation that remains deeply divided, politically and culturally. And it raises questions about which voters chose to focus on the convention and which voters tuned it out.

MSNBC, home of liberal favorites like Rachel Maddow and Nicolle Wallace, had the highest-rated prime-time week in its 24-year history. The channel’s mostly unfiltered coverage of the four-day Democratic jamboree easily ranked ahead of every other TV network on every night.

Fox News, the cable home of Trump cheerleaders like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, devoted its 10 p.m. hour to convention coverage. The network recorded its lowest average viewership in the time slot since the start of the year.

Over all, live TV viewership fell 17.6 percent from 2016, according to the ratings agency Nielsen. Thursday’s broadcast, when former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. accepted the nomination in Wilmington, Del., drew 24.6 million viewers, the week’s biggest television crowd.

Still, the ratings picture underscored concerns about a choose-your-own-news dynamic that is increasingly prevalent around the country, as Americans head into a high-stakes election reliant on information sources that can affirm pre-existing points of view.

The divide was not exactly unexpected. Fox News, the No. 1-rated cable news channel — and, this summer, the top-rated network in all of prime-time television — typically lags behind its rivals during the week of a Democratic convention.

Even so, Fox News drew a bigger audience on Thursday than CBS or NBC, including among younger viewers, a notable win over two broadcast networks that are available in more American households. Fox News’s coverage outranked CBS every night of the convention.

Few viewers — or Democratic officials, for that matter — knew quite what to expect.

With the coronavirus preventing the usual TV tropes of patriotic crowds and airdropped balloons, Democrats put on an entirely virtual show, mixing taped video feeds with celebrities on a Los Angeles soundstage and Mr. Biden speaking to a mostly deserted exhibit hall in a Delaware events center.

Glitches were few, to the great relief of the Democrats’ production team, which oversaw the event from a pair of control rooms in Wilmington and Milwaukee, the original site of the convention before its in-person elements were canceled. The convention had an interactive element, as well, with at least one viewer: President Trump, who reacted in real time, often angrily, to the events unfolding on his screen.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump opted to have his own say on the matter, phoning into Fox News for a live interview on “Hannity” — a breach of past protocol. Presidents have typically deferred to their electoral rivals on the week of a convention.

About 4.6 million people watched Mr. Trump’s half-hour appearance. After he hung up, and the network’s convention coverage began, the Fox News audience fell 36 percent.

Nielsen figures do not capture the entire universe of this week’s viewers, including those who watched on internet livestreams, a number that is difficult to credibly calculate.

As they did during the conventions in 2016, cable channels beat the Big Three broadcast networks. CNN won the week among viewers ages 25 to 54, the most important demographic in the TV news industry, beating even MSNBC. ABC had the highest ratings of the Big Three broadcasters.

The broadcast networks also suffered from weaker lead-ins than in past convention years: Live sports have been curtailed because of the coronavirus, and many TV productions are halted, leaving viewers with reruns and other less appealing fare.

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Joy Reid Takes Nightly Anchor Slot at MSNBC

Joy Reid, who rose to television fame as a sharp critic of President Trump and commentator on liberal politics and race, will become the host of a new nightly show on MSNBC, the network announced on Thursday, placing her among a handful of Black women to anchor an American evening news program.

Ms. Reid, 51, who has hosted the MSNBC weekend talk show “AM Joy” since 2016, will move to the 7 p.m. hour on July 20. Her show, “The ReidOut,” succeeds “Hardball” and its host, Chris Matthews, who was forced to resign in March after a series of on-air gaffes and accusations of sexist behavior in the workplace.

Ms. Reid’s promotion is a significant programming move by Cesar Conde, the new chairman of NBC’s news networks. Black women, including Gayle King of CBS and Robin Roberts of ABC, hold leading roles in morning and daytime television, but none currently host a nightly evening show on a major network. The last to do so was Gwen Ifill, who co-anchored “PBS NewsHour” until shortly before her death in 2016.

In an interview on Wednesday from her home in Harlem, Ms. Reid cited Ms. Ifill and two other Black anchors, Deborah Roberts and Carole Simpson, as role models.

“Evening and prime-time news has been a universe of white men really since I was growing up,” Ms. Reid said. “For somebody who grew up as a nerdy kid obsessed with news, watching ‘Nightline’ and ‘Meet the Press,’ the idea of being a part of that family has always just been kind of overwhelming.”

“The ReidOut” will be based in Washington and focus on political analysis and punditry, but Ms. Reid said she also planned to address race, class, policing and other “cataclysmic social issues we need to reckon with.”

“I am a Black mom, a Black woman, a Black daughter,” said Ms. Reid, who is married with three children. “I am also a journalist who can conceptualize that pain from a unique point of view. Every day I’m in this job, I’m very conscious of that responsibility to make that collective voice heard. It’s unique to do that as a Black woman.”

Executives at MSNBC are hopeful that Ms. Reid will attract a younger audience at 7, where Mr. Matthews’s ratings lagged behind Fox News and CNN. Ms. Reid has a big online fan base — search the hashtag #reiders — and interacts with critics and supporters on Twitter, a realm where Mr. Matthews rarely engaged.

Her progressive bona fides, however, were called into question in 2017 when homophobic posts and comments from “The Reid Report,” a blog she wrote in the mid- to late 2000s, resurfaced on social media.

Ms. Reid apologized for writing mocking claims that Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor, was gay. But additional offensive posts emerged. Along with opposing gay marriage, she opined that “most straight people cringe at the sight of two men kissing” and that “a lot of heterosexuals, especially men, find the idea of homosexual sex to be … well … gross.” She said Rachel Maddow, who was not yet her colleague, held views “at the left-most end of the political spectrum.”

Ms. Reid initially claimed those posts had been fabricated and inserted into the archives of her blog by hackers intending to defame her. She even hired a cybersecurity expert. Later, she acknowledged that there was little evidence that the posts had been faked.

“I genuinely do not believe I wrote those hateful things because they are completely alien to me,” she told viewers in April 2018 in a lengthy apology, saying she had grown up “in a household that, like many in America, had conservative views on L.G.B.T.Q. issues.”

“The person I am now is not the person I was then,” Ms. Reid told viewers. Many liberal pundits defended her, including Jonathan Capehart, Jeffrey Toobin and Joan Walsh.

Asked on Wednesday if she still believed she had not written the posts, Ms. Reid said: “It’s two years ago, so I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about that old blog. What I genuinely believe is that I truly care about the L.G.B.T. people in my own life. I care about being a good ally, a good person, and making sure that my voice is authentic, that I can make a difference.”

NBC has pledged to improve its diversity, an area where its news networks have struggled. Mr. Conde, a former chairman of Telemundo who succeeded NBC News’s previous chairman, Andrew Lack, in May, said this week that he wanted a work force that was 50 percent nonwhite, with employees split evenly by gender.

“AM Joy” was created after a previous weekend host, Melissa Harris-Perry, left MSNBC, accusing the network of sidelining her. “I am not a token, mammy or little brown bobble head,” Ms. Harris-Perry, who is Black, wrote in an email to NBC staff at the time.

Another prominent Black anchor at NBC, Tamron Hall, who hosted a popular hour of the “Today” show, parted ways with the network in 2017 after her contract expired. The former Fox News host Megyn Kelly replaced her, briefly, at 9 a.m.

In an interview, Ms. Maddow said Ms. Reid’s promotion “feels like such a good decision by the network.”

“African-American journalists, African-American women in particular, are woefully underrepresented on TV in all hours of the day,” Ms. Maddow said. “But particularly in prime time, it’s just a desert. Joy more than deserves this time slot and this kind of national platform.”

Harris Faulkner of Fox News, who hosts an afternoon talk show, is the only Black woman who solo anchors a weekday program on the three major cable news networks. In moving to 7 p.m., Ms. Reid will go up against another newcomer to the time slot: Shepard Smith, the former Fox News anchor, who on Wednesday said he would lead a new newscast starting in the fall on another NBCUniversal network, CNBC.

Ms. Reid’s replacement of Mr. Matthews means that the 7 p.m. hour on MSNBC is likely to tilt farther left, mirroring the network’s liberal-leaning prime-time lineup. Mr. Matthews was a political moderate who wrote nostalgically about the bipartisan friendship between President Ronald Reagan and Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., the Democratic speaker of the House.

But his barking style was increasingly out of step with the mores of modern politics and cable news. He apologized in February after comparing Senator Bernie Sanders’s victory in the Nevada caucuses to the Nazi takeover of France in World War II. And a journalist, Laura Bassett, said Mr. Matthews had made inappropriate comments about her appearance.

Born in Brooklyn to immigrant parents, Ms. Reid grew up in Denver, and now splits her time between New York and Washington. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in film, she worked her way up the competitive Florida media market, where she hosted TV and talk-radio shows and wrote a column for The Miami Herald. She has also taken time away from journalism, including a position on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

She later served as managing editor of, a news and opinion site geared toward Black readers. With a growing national reputation, she joined MSNBC as a contributor in 2011 and, in 2014, began hosting a daily talk show, “The Reid Report.” It was canceled after a year, but she remained at the network as a correspondent.

Away from the anchor desk, Ms. Reid has written two books, including “Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons, and the Racial Divide.”

Credit…Gary He/EPA, via Shutterstock

In the interview on Wednesday, Ms. Reid was asked about the reaction to the offensive blog posts that surfaced in 2018. She called the episode “a pretty rough experience,” and said she had sought candid discussions with friends, colleagues and her daughter, who is gay.

“My job in that moment was to listen,” she said, adding, “The L.G.B.T. community in this country has a resiliency and a core kindness.”

Ms. Maddow praised Ms. Reid for her 2018 apology. “We judge people on their judgment, but also on their capacity to grow and correct,” she said.

“She also reached out to me personally and directly,” Ms. Maddow said, “in case, as a gay colleague, I had been hurt personally by what had arisen at the time. And that was a stand-up thing to do, and something I won’t forget.”

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Newsrooms Are in Revolt. The Bosses Are in Their Country Houses.

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — Real estate out here is too expensive for a working person, so the East Hampton Golf Club usually provides shared houses for its caddies. But Covid-19 means no boardinghouses, and no boarding means no caddies, and no caddies means that the media moguls who pay more than $400,000 to join (putting it in the middle range for initiation fees in the Hamptons) now must pull their own clubs around, which they’ve been telling one another reminds them of their youth, and which is just the kind of sacrifice that the coronavirus has brought to East Hampton.

That’s not all. The parties and attendant deals are off, and executives face a summer without tiki-torch-lit pathways leading to raw bar spreads on the beach, catered for tens of thousands of dollars for a few dozen friends. Parents are growing desperate: “With no camps being open, they’re looking for things to do,” said Boomer Jousma, a yacht broker, who has met that need by selling twice as many yachts as usual, including four of the $1 million-plus Vanquish brand in the last two weeks.

There’s also not so much Instagram. Everyone saw what happened when their neighbor, David Geffen, who paid $70 million for his spread on Lily Pond Lane in 2016, posted a picture of a sunset over his $590 million superyacht in late March and shared that he was “isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus,” provoking a wave of public shaming. Out here, they’re being careful to avoid both the disease and the anger seething out of New York City, where much of the working media is both exhausted from covering the story of their lives and in open revolt.

“People’s antennae are up higher than they have been before to what they say, and how it can be interpreted, and recognizing the unintended consequences of our actions,” said the Discovery executive Henry Schleiff, a mainstay in the mansion-dotted hamlet of Water Mill, who said he thought the shift toward less conspicuous consumption was for the better. “Not only are our actions and our worlds being filtered, but we’re listening more.”

(I spent a few days last week on the stretch between Sag Harbor and Montauk on assignment to see how the other media half was living, and found most media executives extremely cautious once they learned what I was writing about. “Now there’s an IQ test,” said another prominent Hamptons media figure. “I’d have to be insane to let you quote me.”)

New York’s media business appears to be in endless decline, but it is still one of America’s most visible stages for cultural conflict, drama and change. Top figures at Bon Appétit, Refinery 29, Variety, ABC News and The New York Times have been forced to resign or take leave this month, as were lower-profile executives, like the editor of Indy Week in North Carolina.

The ousters were driven, in many cases, by employees who believe the companies’ internal cultures don’t mirror the progressive and anti-racist values they sell. And while the immediate spur is the wave of protests against anti-black racism and police violence set off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the New York-based media had already been activated by something else: The clarity with which the onset of Covid-19 revealed who could afford to get out of town, who might be OK if they lost their job, who had money or family to fall back on. The backgrounds of Zoom calls, your colleagues’ Instagrams and casual Slack references revealed who was trying to get the air-conditioner in their Crown Heights studio working, and who was opening up the pool.

“People are scared and they’re seeing other people’s safety nets at a time when everything is uncertainty and they don’t have one, and everybody else’s safety nets are in their faces,” said Ashley Ford, 33 and living in Flatbush, who has written for outlets including Refinery29 and Marie Claire, and has a memoir due out next spring. “Not only are people mad, but they have time to talk about it.”

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

The coronavirus crisis forced America to look directly at its deep inequalities, and the media industry’s are no different. And even as media power has shifted somewhat from New York to Los Angeles, East Hampton remains a hub for executives, dealmakers and stars. When the lockdown arrived, most who could get out of New York did so — to the Hamptons for the old elite, to the Hudson Valley for the second tier.

The CNN president, Jeff Zucker, who is also the chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, is in East Hampton, where he is among the caddy-less golfers, as is the Discovery C.E.O. David Zaslav. The president of MSNBC, Phil Griffin, is in Hampton Bays. (Fox News’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, is still going into the Sixth Avenue office.) At the embattled magazine company Condé Nast, Roger Lynch, the chief executive, has been in mountainous Lake Arrowhead, outside Los Angeles; the artistic director Anna Wintour is weathering the crisis in Mastic, just west of the Hamptons. Troy Young, the president of Hearst Magazines, is on Shelter Island. A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, is in the Hudson Valley; the executive editor, Dean Baquet, has remained in his Greenwich Village apartment.

Their employees have made an art of deducing their surroundings from details of Zoom backdrops. One new media executive told me he issued specific instruction to his executives to be careful about what gets into the Zoom frame: no pool, no ocean, no nanny. At a recent WarnerMedia town hall, employees listening to an executive speak about his experience with police also took note of the hot tub over his shoulder.

Many of the most passionate hours of cable news are also produced from out of town, though the miracles of green-screen backgrounds conceal a host’s whereabouts. Sean Hannity has been working from the North Shore of Long Island since before the crisis, and Tucker Carlson’s show is produced near his homes in Florida and Maine. Chris Cuomo made his Hamptons basement famous. (Don Lemon, who has been living in Sag Harbor, is commuting most nights to CNN’s studio in Hudson Yards.) MSNBC’s progressive hosts went north: Chris Hayes to the Hudson Valley, Rachel Maddow to Western Massachusetts.

It’s reasonable to wonder whether this has affected the tone of coverage of the crises in New York. Were media leaders in the right place to cover the horror of the early days of the outbreak, when they weren’t being kept awake by sirens? And did they overplay the violent fringes of protests, when they’ve been overwhelmingly peaceful and the city’s broader mood has been a kind of revolutionary good cheer? Walking with a television executive past boutiques on Newtown Lane in East Hampton last week, I tried to convince him that his teenage children would be fine walking around their native Upper East Side unaccompanied. During the protests, the city could look terrifying on television, and reporters on the scene faced violence, mostly from police; but the mood away from the police billy clubs was not exactly the Reign of Terror. (Though stay tuned: When The New York Times forced out the opinion editor James Bennet over a controversial column a week ago, two employees reacted in Slack with a slackmoji of the word “guillotine,” prompting internal complaints, a Times reporter said. “We encourage constructive, honest dialogue among our colleagues but there are lines that can be crossed, and this was one of them,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said in response.)


Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

It’s not clear, of course, that staying in their country houses influences executives’ approach to coverage. After all, we’re all remote now, and both Mr. Zucker and Mr. Griffin feel as present as anyone else to their employees. The big stories are being driven by frontline journalists who have been taking personal risks — and, sometimes, contracting the coronavirus, to cover the dual crises in American cities. So the clearest effect of the exodus has been to highlight internal class divisions, which are boiling over in private Slacks and Zoom chats largely invisible to executives. There, employees are sometimes organizing to change their internal cultures, and sometimes challenging rules that had previously seemed sacred.

At The Times, some of that debate is playing out among employees. Some people active with the company’s union, the NewsGuild, compiled a Google document of articles they found objectionable to present to editors, two Times employees told me — but after an internal debate, they abandoned the project. On Saturday, The Washington Post’s union sent management 11 proposals, signed by 454 employees, to address discrimination and inequality in retention and promotion, require bias training, and update the stylebook on questions of race, gender and other aspects of identity.

At The Intercept, founded in 2014 by radical believers in free expression, the union’s diversity subcommittee challenged that central priority in an email to management: “Free speech is an important principle at The Intercept, but unit members are concerned that this commitment to free speech has detracted from a commitment to anti-racism in our coverage and in our workplace,” they wrote. The editor in chief, Betsy Reed, questioned that suggestion, and wrote in response that “we should also consider the question of whether, in the name of anti-racism, there has been pressure to suppress non-racist ideas that do not align with the dominant view of how the movement should seek to achieve its aims or what those aims should be.”

At Bloomberg, which is wedded to a culture of absolute neutrality, frustrated employees asked if they couldn’t, at least, tweet Bloomberg editorials supporting protesters. On a video call with reporters in Europe and Asia, the chief content officer for the regions, Heather Harris, replied that she would “be careful about only tweeting that and perhaps not tweeting something else from the other side.” (Ms. Harris said, through a spokeswoman, that she was “referring to political viewpoints in the interest of maintaining objectivity.”)

Underlying much of this tension is a sense — in media as in the rest of American society — of just how deep the gaps can be. I felt that sting last week when I saw a tweet from Amber Jamieson raging about rich New Yorkers who fled the coronavirus, leaving behind spacious houses and apartments that would have made for a relatively easy quarantine. “Genuinely hope they feel deep shame their whole lives,” she wrote.


Credit…Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

I was Ms. Jamieson’s editor at BuzzFeed News until earlier this year, and I couldn’t help thinking this was about me, since I headed up to Columbia County, N.Y., in early March, and so I called Ms. Jamieson, 34, an Australian native who lives in a studio in Bedford-Stuyvesant, to ask her what she meant.

“The biggest story in the world came to your front door and you left — that to me is insane,” she said, adding that her experience — the woman who works the front desk of her gym died, and she wrote about a funeral procession for another neighbor — has been essential to her reporting. “You left for your own personal safety and because it made you stressed and anxious.”

She paused.

“I feel bad that I feel like everybody should feel absolutely self-loathing and shame,” she said.

I asked Ms. Jamieson if what she was feeling was rooted in a desire for justice, or for better journalism, or just free-floating, Australian-inflected rage.

“All of those things,” she said.

Nothing personal, of course. Ms. Jamieson has reporter friends who left a small apartment for a place in Aspen; she understands that people have children, parents, health conditions. “They wanted more space for their kids, or to care for an elderly relative, OK, everyone has a reason,” she said. But she thinks that the bosses, and journalists, have a special obligation to stay: “Being a leader means staying with your people and seeing what they see.”

But Ms. Jamieson said it had been an eye-opening experience.

“It revealed the money in journalism — who has cash and who doesn’t and how much this industry is from people with trust funds or well-connected parents and they could stay in the Hamptons or the Catskills,” she said. (On that note, I should disclose again that I don’t extensively cover BuzzFeed, which I left in February, in this column because I have yet to divest my stock options in the company, as required by The Times.)

Those of us who have left the city, or (as in my case) have the luxury of coming back and forth, with a detour on assignment to Montauk, can take the heat. Here in the Hamptons, caddies aside, it’s really not so bad. Those who don’t have space to house a chef are relying on deliveries from the gourmet wholesaler Baldor, whose familiar white-and-black-logo trucks are circulating the island. The private school Avenues is opening a Hamptons branch for those parents who do not wish to return to the city in the fall.

Some executives are beginning to commute again, so the helicopter company Blade has started its seven-day service earlier than usual. Without day-trippers or middle-class vacationers and their crowded sublets, it has been, for the lucky few, “the summer we had long wanted, busy, but not too much so, and quiet enough to hear the birdsong,” according to The East Hampton Star.

The golfers will be OK too. The East Hampton Golf Club, a member told me, has changed its rules to permit autonomous robot caddies, which follow you silently through the greens.


Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

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Record Ratings and Record Chaos on Cable News

Last week, Fox News’s anchors competed for President Trump’s ear about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Tucker Carlson denounced the unrest as “riots.” Sean Hannity unexpectedly took a civil rights angle, speaking “as a person that has now been trained in mixed martial arts for seven straight years” to cast doubt on Officer Derek Chauvin’s actions.

In the midnight hour on Friday, a rerun of Mr. Carlson’s show appears to have grabbed hold of the president’s brainstem, as Mr. Carlson intoned that “rioters are continuing to destroy one of this country’s great cities, unimpeded.” A little after 12:50 a.m., the show panned to a Minneapolis in flames, and at 12:53 a.m., Mr. Trump tweeted that he “can’t stand back & watch this happen.” He concluded, echoing an utterance in 1967 from a bigoted Miami police chief, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

If Twitter is the twisted heart of America’s public conversation, cable news is its aorta, carrying fear and anger, as the rapper and activist Killer Mike put it last week, into the body politic. The coronavirus pandemic and the new urban crisis have made it impossible to look away, and journalists have at times become targets for the police. In this extraordinary news moment, the primacy of this supposedly dying medium has never been clearer, its ratings higher than ever.

But behind the scenes, chaos and uncertainty are also reaching record highs. I spent last week speaking to homebound executives, producers and on-air talent at the three cable news networks and found them wrestling in wildly different ways with an exceptional news moment that does not fit into cable’s familiar boxes: the coronavirus story, the economic crisis, and the protests and fires in the streets of American cities.


The power, and the stress, are clearest at Fox News, by far the most-watched American news channel but one that has been in a rolling corporate crisis since its founder, Roger Ailes, was forced to resign amid sexual harassment allegations almost four years ago. Fox News now occupies a strange position in a shrunken Fox Corporation, whose chairman, Lachlan Murdoch, has sought to pull off an acrobatic feat: collect the abundant profits from the channel while skirting the blame for its missteps in the early days of the pandemic.

Quietly, Mr. Murdoch and his main deputy Viet Dinh, a former Bush administration official, have begun taking a more aggressive approach. Last summer, they hired Raj Shah, a former Trump White House official who led opposition research against Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Committee. And this year, I recently learned, Mr. Shah has begun to build a secret operation, hiring two former reporters for the conservative Washington Free Beacon, Elliott Schwartz and Alex Griswold. (Mr. Schwartz had also run Jeb Bush’s campaign “war room.”) Their job is to defend Fox from criticism from progressive outlets like Media Matters and Sleeping Giants on social media, protect advertising dollars and discredit critics, three people familiar with the work said. (The two former reporters have conspicuously omitted Fox from their Twitter bios.)

The team has also pushed the narrative that the rest of the media played down the threat of coronavirus as egregiously as Fox did, two journalists who have spoken to them said. A Fox spokeswoman, Megan Klein, declined to comment on the new operation. Mr. Griswold said “no comment” and hung up on me before I could ask him a question, and Mr. Schwartz didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Fox News, Irena Briganti, said the chief executive, Suzanne Scott, wouldn’t be available for an interview.

Fox shifted over the weekend into round-the-clock protest coverage. But Mr. Shah’s new team suggests that the criticism of its coronavirus coverage has stung hosts and alienated advertisers. But it also seems a kind of ineffectual, corporate re-enactment of Mr. Ailes’s once-feared opposition-research tactics, which included private detectives, aggressive hunts for leaks and smear campaigns against reporters. The new Fox executive team shares Mr. Ailes’s ambitions, but doesn’t seem to have the stomach for his tactics.

MSNBC has been scrambling in a different way. The channel thrived from 2017 until earlier this year, lifted by its nonstop coverage of the Trump-Russia story and the story’s denouement in impeachment. It signed up former spies and prosecutors as contributors, and dangled the hope that Robert Mueller would end Mr. Trump’s presidency. But the Russia show came to a disappointing conclusion for its audience with Mr. Trump’s acquittal on Feb. 5, and ratings plummeted.

“We didn’t lose viewers,” MSNBC’s president, Phil Griffin, insisted in an interview. “They may have taken a few days off from watching out of, ‘Oh boy, I’ve got to regroup.’”

MSNBC’s audience numbers did rebound with the coronavirus story, but the network’s DNA is politics, and Covid-19 is not at its heart a political story. Rachel Maddow, the network’s star, saw her audience in the 25-to-54 demographic, the one most prized by advertisers, fall below CNN’s Chris Cuomo for the first time.

“We’re using the same muscles that we use to cover politics covering this pandemic and how the country’s reacting,” Mr. Griffin said.


Credit…Jesus Aranguren/Associated Press

Behind the scenes, NBC’s corporate dramas continue to unsettle its scattered staff. The new chairman of NBCUniversal’s news group, Cesar Conde, hasn’t described his vision for news. He made his name with an insufficiently covered television coup, Telemundo’s rise against Univision on the back of sexy “narconovelas.” Now, news executives — Mr. Griffin; the NBC News president, Noah Oppenheim, who was conspicuously passed over for the top job; and the senior vice president, Rashida Jones — are waiting to learn what his plan is, and whom Mr. Conde will elevate to carry it out. While they wait, they sought to impose a 3 percent salary cut on the remaining contracts of NBC’s producers and stars, only to face a revolt from the nation’s restive talent agents. They settled for a voluntary 3 percent reduction that its journalists can reverse at any time.

Mr. Conde’s boss, the new NBCUniversal chief executive, Jeff Shell, has suggested in private conversation that he wants to make a more dramatic change at the company’s other cable news network, CNBC, two NBCUniversal executives said. Mr. Shell, the two executives said, is considering turning the network’s prime-time hours, currently occupied by “Shark Tank” reruns and business-focused reality programming like “The Profit,” over to right-wing talk shows. A similar plan was floated years ago — a development executive even met with the talk-radio flamethrower Mark Levin, a CNBC executive said. But it could allow Comcast to extend an olive branch to Mr. Trump and his avid supporters.

CNN once positioned itself between MSNBC and Fox on the political spectrum. But during Mr. Trump’s tenure, the network concluded that there was no profitable middle ground with a president who seeks confrontation with the media. The channel adopted an increasingly political focus, hosting dozens of Democratic primary town halls and debates. It also competes more directly with MSNBC than ever before for audience, offering Don Lemon and Mr. Cuomo as a more emotional, less cerebral alternative to Chris Hayes and Ms. Maddow.

And as much as MSNBC seemed thrown off by the coronavirus, CNN was ready, flexing its still-supple muscles for covering all-consuming news stories. Now it focuses primarily on the coronavirus, interlaced with impassioned and often viral monologues denouncing President Trump.

CNN remains a network identified with and defined by one man, Jeff Zucker, the chairman for news and sports at WarnerMedia as well as CNN’s president since 2013. He runs the 9 a.m. news calls, and his refrain has been to stay on the coronavirus. His fingerprints are all over the programming, and CNN’s confidence tackling the dangerous, physical scrum of breaking news paid off in its vivid coverage of Mr. Floyd’s death and the aftermath. He has been telling his staff for months that the pandemic is the central story, and he told me he anticipated it to dominate the rest of the year.

“Between now and November, there’s no chance it’s a normal political year,” he said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “That’s just not conceivable between now and the end of the year.” And while the network is now focused intensely on the crisis in America’s cities, coronavirus “is still the principal story of our time,” he said.

Lurking in the background for all the networks, though, is the question: How long can this last? Cable news appeared, like much of linear television, to be in terminal decline before Donald Trump turned it into the greatest, most terrifying show on earth.

CNN, the original cable news network that turns 40 on Monday, is at the heart of that question. Its commitment to on-the-scene reporting produced the riveting coverage, and arrest, of its correspondent Omar Jimenez on Friday morning. Its iconic status drew protesters on Friday night to its Atlanta headquarters, where they vandalized its globally recognized logo and defaced the building, putting CNN where it has often found itself in the Zucker years — right in the center of the story.

“They are telling our stories, and you are disgracing their building,” Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, told demonstrators. But Killer Mike, whose real name is Michael Render, spoke for a nation exhausted by the endless adrenaline shots of news and conflict when he told the network to “stop feeding fear and anger every day. Stop making people feel so fearful. Give them hope.” A CNN spokeswoman declined to respond to his comments.

Mr. Zucker, the signature television executive of the Trump era, has more than anyone shaped that always-on, always-breaking, hyper-charged way that news — including politics — is covered nowadays. He has always been a hands-on leader. But now it seems Mr. Zucker may want to drive events even more directly.

Four years ago, he told me he was considering a future in politics. On Thursday, I asked him whether he was interested in the most obvious role, which will be open next year in a city aching for leadership: mayor of New York.

He paused, and said he didn’t want his answer to cause a storm of news.

Then, he said, “New York City is going to need a very strong mayor in the aftermath of this, and I always like a challenge.”

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Andrew Lack Is Out as the Head of NBC News After a Stormy Tenure

The chairman of NBC News, Andrew Lack, will depart his role at the end of May, NBC Universal said on Monday, an abrupt end to the tenure of an executive whose tenacity and ability to withstand turmoil made for a long career in the fickle television news business.

The announcement brings to a close Mr. Lack’s tumultuous time at the helm of NBC News, during which he oversaw a turnaround in marquee properties like the “Today” show and the cable channel MSNBC while grappling with a cascading series of controversies, including the toppling of the star anchor Matt Lauer in a sexual harassment scandal and questions over the network’s coverage of Harvey Weinstein.

Cesar Conde, the chairman of Telemundo, will effectively replace Mr. Lack. As the chairman of the NBC Universal News Group, a newly created position, Mr. Conde will have oversight of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC.

Mr. Conde, 46, has impressed NBC Universal’s chief executive, Jeff Shell, with his stewardship of Telemundo, the Spanish-language network that has made strides under his leadership in catching up with its chief rival, Univision.

The president of NBC News, Noah Oppenheim, and the MSNBC president Phil Griffin will both report to Mr. Conde, who will relocate to New York from the Telemundo office in Miami.

Mr. Lack had been widely expected to leave NBC News by the end of the year, though rumors of his imminent exit have swirled for years. Change at the top of NBC Universal’s corporate hierarchy may have prompted his exit.

Mr. Shell took over NBC Universal as its chief executive at the beginning of the year, replacing Stephen B. Burke, who had resolutely backed Mr. Lack, even as controversies mounted. Mr. Shell was more inclined to make a quicker change at NBC News, according to two people with knowledge with his thinking.

Mr. Shell made other changes on Monday, including appointing Mark Lazarus as the head of the company’s entertainment properties, as well as its new streaming service Peacock. NBC Universal, which controls theme parks and a large advertising business, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and Mr. Shell suggested last week that the company was looking at cost-cutting

When Mr. Lack was brought back to NBC News in 2015 — he ran its news division in the 1990s before decamping to a job in the music industry and at Bloomberg News — his brief was simple. Fix MSNBC. Fix the “Today” show. Fix “Meet the Press.” And find an elegant way to push out or resurrect Brian Williams, the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” who had been suspended after fabricating stories about his time in the field.

In many ways, Mr. Lack succeeded. MSNBC had the highest ratings in its history, benefiting from a surge of interest in cable news during the Trump administration. “Today” and “Meet the Press” have stabilized. And Mr. Williams has served as the host of election night specials and “The 11th Hour,” a popular MSNBC late night show.

But Mr. Lack’s stormy tenure is likely to be defined more by its controversies than its successes.

Since the evening in 2017 when Mr. Lack traveled to Mr. Lauer’s Manhattan apartment and told the “Today” anchor he had been fired, Mr. Lack has had to confront questions over what he and other NBC News bosses knew about the anchor’s alleged history of sexual misconduct. (Mr. Lauer has denied the allegations against him.)

Mr. Lack has repeatedly said that he knew nothing of Mr. Lauer’s allegedly inappropriate workplace behavior, and said that he fired Mr. Lauer immediately upon first learning of an assault allegation against him in November 2017, just as the #MeToo movement was gaining steam.

A subsequent internal NBC Universal investigation exonerated Mr. Lack’s handling of the matter. But the company has been harshly criticized for declining to hire an outside law firm to conduct the review. Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s biggest star, went so far as to question the credibility of the review in an on-air monologue.

Mr. Lack also faced withering criticism for why the network allowed Ronan Farrow, a onetime reporter for NBC News, to take his Harvey Weinstein sexual assault reporting to The New Yorker, even though he had been working on the story for months at NBC. Mr. Farrow would go on to share a Pulitzer Prize for his work in the prestigious public service category.

Rich McHugh, Mr. Farrow’s producer at NBC, told The New York Times in 2018 that he had been instructed to stop reporting on Mr. Weinstein, and that the order came from “the very highest levels of NBC.”

Mr. Lack and Mr. Oppenheim, the NBC News president, repeatedly denied that they tried to quash Mr. Farrow’s reporting, arguing that what he had while reporting for NBC News was substantially different from what he ended up with at The New Yorker.

When Mr. Farrow’s book, “Catch & Kill,” was released last year, it brought his experience at NBC to the fore. Ms. Maddow was among the people at the network’s news division who were publicly critical of Mr. Lack and the NBC News leadership team.

“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in this company since I’ve been here,” Ms. Maddow said on the air in October, before she invited Mr. Farrow on as a guest. “It would be impossible for me to overstate the amount of consternation inside the building around this issue.”

On Monday, Mr. Farrow tweeted, “Andrew Lack is stepping down, after public protests calling for leadership change and a unionization effort within the company demanding more transparency about harassment issues there. Grateful to the sources who spoke.”

Before the Weinstein controversy, Mr. Lack was questioned for his decision to hire Megyn Kelly away from Fox News. He created a Sunday evening showcase for the anchor and gave her in a prominent role on “Today.” Ms. Kelly was eventually forced out of the network after an embarrassing on-air gaffe.

NBC also faced questions in 2016 about why it did not break the story of the “Access Hollywood” audio recording that showed Donald J. Trump, then a candidate for president, making vulgar comments about women. “Access Hollywood” was part of the NBC Universal family, and NBC News had access to the tape, but declined to go with the story before The Washington Post beat the network to it.

Through a representative, Mr. Lack declined to comment.

The future of Mr. Oppenheim, the NBC News president, is likely to rest on his new relationship with Mr. Conde, who will take over as the chairman of the NBC Universal news group immediately. Mr. Oppenheim signed a new multiyear contract with the network last year.

Mr. Lack published a story on the NBC News website last week trumpeting the importance of journalism amid a pandemic, when the news media is under attack.

“During times like these, as millions of people turn to the news for answers, the choices we make about what to air and how to report it can make the difference between panic or persistence, and even life or death,” he wrote. “Humbled by the responsibility we bear, we try our damnedest to serve our audience.”

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Why Won’t TV News Book Tara Reade?

There were good reasons to be skeptical of her 20-year-old allegations: She’d changed her story and said some weird stuff, and even denied the whole thing under oath.

And while the candidate had his flaws, he’d never been accused of sexual assault.

So not everybody believed Juanita Broaddrick’s claim that Bill Clinton raped her.

“You cannot blame them,” Ms. Broaddrick told me on the phone Wednesday. “Here I had lied in the Paula Jones suit, and that naturally threw very harsh criticism toward me, rightfully.”

You don’t have to believe Mr. Clinton assaulted Juanita Broaddrick in 1978. If you’re a journalist, it doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you report what you know. But the handling of Ms. Broaddrick’s story was one of the most damaging media mistakes of the Clinton years. And the treatment of Mr. Clinton’s accusers by the Democratic Party and the media alike is one of the original sins that led to today’s divided, partisan news environment.

The mainstream American media in 1999, for reasons that are hard to explain or excuse today, got cold feet on a credible allegation of rape against the president. And after NBC News sat for weeks on an exclusive interview, Ms. Broaddrick went to the only people who would listen to her, Mr. Clinton’s partisan enemies at The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. That move helped turn her straightforward allegation into a weaponized political story. And while Americans watching at home could make up their own minds about Ms. Broaddrick’s credibility, they were left with new reasons to shake their heads at the media.

The same thing is about to happen again. A former Senate aide for Joseph R. Biden Jr., Tara Reade, has accused the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee of sexually assaulting her in 1993. Reporters have found other accounts that indicate that she has been telling her version of events for a long time. There are, as with Ms. Broaddrick, reasons to doubt her story; there aren’t good reasons not to hear her out. As The Times’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, told me in an interview two week ago, Ms. Reade has “standing.”

And yet, Ms. Reade told me Wednesday that the only offers she’s had to appear on television have come from Fox News, including a call from the prime time host Sean Hannity. She has so far turned them down.

“I’ve been trying to just kind of wait to get someone in the middle,” she said in a phone interview. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a progressive, I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a Trump supporter.”

CNN, NBC and MSNBC, whose DNA — even in a pandemic — is politics, have covered her on their websites and on air but haven’t put her on camera.

“They’re not offering to put me on TV — they’re just doing stories,” Ms. Reade told me. “No anchors, no nothing like that.” She’d most like to tell her story to a network television anchor she admires — CBS’s Gayle King is one, she said — but they haven’t called.

So she’s planning to accept Fox News’s offer for an interview to air this weekend, she said, with “someone a little more up the middle.” She declined to say who, but a person who has spoken to her said Ms. Reade is in talks with Chris Wallace.

The booking would be a coup for the conservative network, and give its on-air hosts a club with which to beat a mainstream media that can’t quite explain why it won’t book Ms. Reade, while Julie Swetnick, a woman with a shaky claim against a Supreme Court nominee, got airtime during a prime time evening broadcast.

Some of the reasons this story seems muffled right now are fairly straightforward: The global coronavirus pandemic has eclipsed almost everything else. There’s also the way Ms. Reade first tried getting attention, mostly on Twitter, “stumbling forward with no PR person and no attorney,” she said. (“I emailed Ronan Farrow like four times to the point of stalking and I didn’t hear back,” she added. “Now of course he’s one of the investigative reporters on this.”)

Then she found partisans willing to hear her out. First it was among supporters of Bernie Sanders, like the podcast host Katie Halper, who put Ms. Reade on her show. Then The Intercept, a news website whose enmity for Mr. Biden is a powerfully motivating force, reported that a friend and brother of Ms. Reade’s recalled her describing the incident.

The traditional media, including The Times reporters Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember, waded in carefully. Then the fast-moving news site Business Insider reported other details that gave further weight to Ms. Reade’s story. The reporter, Rich McHugh, had taken the story to Vanity Fair first, which declined to publish it, a spokesperson for Vanity Fair confirmed. The broadcast television networks, CNN, and MSNBC, have covered the story on their websites, while Fox News has covered developments breathlessly on air and online.

There’s still no clear explanation, however, for why Ms. Reade hasn’t been on mainstream TV. Representatives for CNN and MSNBC declined to explain why they haven’t booked a woman who is, whether you believe her or not, one of the few newsmakers right now who could cut through the pandemic.

Their posture is all the more strange because, at this point, it’s essentially symbolic. In 1999, you could argue that NBC’s decision to hold back Lisa Myers’s interview with Ms. Broaddrick had real political consequences: Taped in January, as the Senate took up impeachment charges against Mr. Clinton, it did not air until after the Senate voted not to convict the president in February. (Curiously, the only version online now is on the website of a conservative group.) Back then, the only way Americans were going to hear her voice was on television.

But these days, if you want to judge Ms. Reade’s story you can listen to her original podcast interview with Katie Halper, or watch her on the populist Hill.TV online show Rising, or the leftist news program Democracy Now!

So the decisions by networks of how and whether to cover her have fewer consequences for how she’s viewed, or even how Mr. Biden is viewed, than they do for how Americans view the media.

“Typically, in a situation like this, media outlets would be competing intensely for the first major on-camera interview, yet the only network calling Reade is Fox News,” said Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for The Intercept, who has championed Ms. Reade’s story. “That the media isn’t more concerned about the image ignoring this story creates, and the fodder it gives to cynical actors like Donald Trump Jr., gleefully parading the media’s hypocrisy, suggests a potentially destructive lack of self-awareness.”

There’s still time for the biggest American outlets to own the story, as some print and digital organizations have begun to. They could investigate and break news that supports or undermines Ms. Reade’s account, they could interview Mr. Biden directly or they could give Ms. Reade herself a hearing.

The alternative scenario is that Ms. Reade’s allegation will become like Ms. Broaddrick’s. “The rest of the mainstream media either ignored, dismissed or misrepresented her story, which was shameful,” Ms. Myers, now retired from NBC, told me in a direct message on Twitter. “Many things have damaged the credibility of the mainstream media, but the obvious double standard in coverage of sexual misconduct allegations against politicians is high on the list.”

Ms. Broaddrick’s name vanished into the right-wing media and out of the official narrative — then boomeranged back hard during the 2016 election, against the Clintons and against the media. Ms. Broaddrick embraced Donald J. Trump as a vehicle for her retribution. She showed up at a presidential debate, ironically as a kind of a shield against well-reported allegations that Mr. Trump had assaulted women.

On Wednesday, Ms. Broaddrick, now 77, told me that she has been talking and texting with Ms. Reade, warning her that this is going to be hard.

“It’s the same stuff all over again,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Arkansas. “People have got to learn that it doesn’t matter who somebody supports — if they can be vetted and investigated and we find that it’s credible allegations then it doesn’t matter what their political preference is.”

As for Ms. Reade, she says she knows many people won’t believe her, or even really give her a hearing.

“I think there are people who are hard-wired to not believe it and that’s OK — they need to be able to justify their vote, and I have sympathy for that,” she said.

Others, of course, will believe her reflexively.

Journalists cannot predict how viewers might react to television interviews with Ms. Reade, or where their reporting on her claims will lead. They don’t have to. They should just make sure their audience knows they’re reporting hard, and doing the work with an open mind.

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Democrats Set a TV Ratings Record at Their Las Vegas Debate

The Democratic presidential candidates smashed a ratings record on Wednesday night, drawing a combined audience of 19.7 million to the latest primary debate, Nielsen said on Thursday.

Shown on NBC and MSNBC from the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, the broadcast was the most watched in the history of Democratic presidential primary debates. It beat the previous record-holder from June, when 18.1 million viewers tuned in to NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo for the second Democratic debate of the current election cycle.

Before the Wednesday debate, viewers’ interest in the Democratic matchups had seemed to level off. Since October, an average of roughly six million to eight million people tuned in for the last five contests, according to the Nielsen ratings.

For some context: Last night’s viewership totals across the two networks outperformed two other live prime-time events this year, the Grammy Awards (18.7 million viewers on CBS) and the Golden Globes (18.3 million on NBC).

The Wednesday debate may have generated interest thanks to the addition of a newcomer: Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on television commercials and online ads since entering the race in November.

Mr. Bloomberg is not on the ballot for the next contest — Saturday’s Nevada caucuses — but rival television executives signaled before Wednesday’s debate that viewer interest would be stoked by the prospect of watching the billionaire mix it up with five Democratic rivals.

Mr. Bloomberg seemed sluggish as he tried to fend off frequent attacks from his competitors, most notably by Senator Elizabeth Warren. Nearly eight months after the current cycle’s first Democratic presidential debate, the Las Vegas edition was the most energetic, freewheeling and ferocious so far.

The moderators were Lester Holt and Chuck Todd of NBC, Hallie Jackson of NBC and MSNBC, Vanessa Hauc of Noticias Telemundo and Jon Ralston of The Nevada Independent. Ms. Hauc had a tense face-off with Senator Amy Klobuchar after pressing her on her failure to name the president of Mexico during an interview on Telemundo this week.

The great majority of viewers did not turn away as the two-hour debate went on. In the first hour, which started at 9 p.m. Eastern time, the average combined audience for NBC and MSNBC stood at 19.9 million. In the second hour, 19.4 million were watching, according to Nielsen.

The debate took place at a critical juncture of primary season: After voters in Iowa and New Hampshire had winnowed the field, but before key contests in Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday states.

The first Republican debate from August 2015 — Donald J. Trump’s debut on the debate stage — remains the most watched of primary debates. That broadcast, on Fox News, drew 24 million viewers.

Viewers will not have to wait long for the next episode. CBS is scheduled to broadcast a debate on Tuesday from South Carolina. The moderators will be led by the “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell and the “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King.

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After Another Year of Trump Attacks, ‘Ominous Signs’ for the American Press

On Twitter, President Trump deployed the phrase “fake news” 273 times this year — 50 percent more often than he did in 2018. He demanded “retribution” over a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, declared that Washington Post reporters “shouldn’t even be allowed on the grounds of the White House,” and accused The New York Times of “Treason.”

Four American journalists were barred from covering the president’s dinner with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. The administration argued in court that it had the right to ban a reporter from the White House. The daily White House briefing ceased to exist. And a new press secretary rarely spoke in public outside of Fox News.

Mr. Trump’s vilification of the news media is a hallmark of his tenure and a jagged break from the norms of his predecessors: Once a global champion for the free press, the presidency has become an inspiration to autocrats and dictators who ape Mr. Trump’s cry of “fake news.”

For those who wondered if Mr. Trump might heed the concerns of historians and First Amendment advocates — who say his actions have eroded public trust in journalism, and perhaps the very concept of empirical facts — 2019 provided a grim answer.

“Intimidation and vilification of the press is now a global phenomenon,” the former Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, who quit the network this year after disagreements about its Trump coverage, said at a gala last month. “We don’t have to look far for evidence of that.”

Few presidents have affected the perception of journalism like this one. A Pew survey this month found that Americans’ confidence in news coverage is closely correlated to their opinion of Mr. Trump. Forty percent of Republicans who strongly approve of the president’s job performance said that journalists have “very low” ethical standards, versus only 5 percent of Democrats.

Mr. Trump has long oscillated between taunting, cajoling, criticizing, and manipulating the journalists who cover him. Asked by The Times in January about his views of the free press, Mr. Trump replied in contradictory ways, deeming the news media “important,” “beautiful,” “so bad,” and “unfair.”

And when he was confronted by the publisher of The Times, A.G. Sulzberger, about a rise in threats against reporters since he took office, Mr. Trump declared, “I don’t like that,” before quickly returning to his grievances. “When you get really bad stories, where it’s not true, then you sort of say, ‘That’s unfair.’”

By year’s end, Mr. Trump had referred to the press on Twitter as “the enemy of the people” in 21 tweets, up from 16 tweets in 2018.

To Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, these rhetorical attacks have rippled outward. Globally, Mr. Simon said in an interview, at least 30 journalists were jailed in 2019 under charges of reporting false news in 2019.

“We view that as governments around the world taking advantage of the Trump ‘fake news’ framing and using that as a pretext of imprisoning journalists,” Mr. Simon said. “The dissemination of that rhetoric has only increased in the last 12 months. It’s having a very negative effect.”

Domestically, journalists in Washington say Mr. Trump’s behavior this year has only deepened their unease.

Jonathan Karl, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, cited the attempt by the administration to ban a journalist — Brian Karem of Playboy magazine — from the White House grounds. The episode mirrored an incident in 2018 where Trump aides revoked the credentials of a CNN correspondent, Jim Acosta, and falsely accused him of “placing his hands” on an intern. (Both journalists’ passes were restored by the courts.)

For Mr. Karl, who reports for ABC News, the year’s “most chilling moment” came when a video that depicted Mr. Trump as a mass murderer, shooting and stabbing members of the press, was screened at a retreat for the president’s supporters at the Trump National Doral Miami resort.

“There are ominous signs,” Mr. Karl said.

The violent video, concocted by right-wing provocateurs, was later disavowed by the White House. But the administration has presided over more subtle rebukes of the press.

The daily White House press briefing was once a ritual of Washington life and, viewed abroad, a potent symbol of accountability in government. In 2017, the Trump administration held about 100 formal briefings; in 2018, that number dropped by roughly half.

Two briefings took place in 2019.

The first, on Jan. 28, began with a barbed greeting from the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders — “Missed you guys,” she said dryly — and the second, on March 11, ended with shouted questions about Mr. Trump’s involvement with payoffs to a pornographic film star who had alleged an extramarital affair. Ms. Sanders referred to outside counsel and cut the queries short.

“Thanks so much, guys,” she said. No more questions.

In reality, Mr. Trump remained more directly accessible to journalists than several of his recent predecessors. He routinely fields questions during photo-ops and has made a habit of jousting with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House while the presidential helicopter whirs in the background.

But the arrangement is stacked in Mr. Trump’s favor. The noise lets him ignore questions he dislikes. And the events are entirely at Mr. Trump’s discretion, as opposed to a regular briefing where officials must answer for the news of the day.

Ms. Sanders departed the White House in June, signing on as a commentator at Fox News. Her successor, Stephanie Grisham, has yet to hold a White House briefing. For the first five and a half months of her tenure, she granted interviews only to Fox News, Fox Business and the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a regional network that had required its affiliates to broadcast pro-Trump editorials. Ms. Grisham appeared on ABC and CBS for the first time in December, after Mr. Trump was impeached.

Fox News remained Mr. Trump’s news venue of choice, despite the president’s occasional carping about the channel’s insufficient loyalty. Of Mr. Trump’s roughly 70 interviews in 2019, 23 took place on Fox News, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS News reporter and the unofficial statistician of the White House press corps. (Fox Business interviewed Mr. Trump an additional four times.)

Sean Hannity, the Fox News star, interviewed the president on seven occasions. ABC, CBS, and NBC each had one interview; CNN was shut out. The Times had one formal interview with Mr. Trump, and he spoke with The Post twice. Mr. Trump’s bookings ranged widely, from C-Span to Telemundo to right-wing stalwarts like Breitbart News and The Daily Caller. He also spoke with Bill O’Reilly, the former Fox News host who was fired after numerous revelations of workplace harassment.

In the ratings, Fox News ended 2019 far ahead of its competition. Not only did the channel beat its cable rivals, MSNBC and CNN — it was also the highest-rated network on television outside of the traditional Big 4 broadcasters (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox). Mr. Hannity’s show drew an average of 3.3 million viewers a night, making it the No. 1 program in cable news.

Mr. Smith’s abrupt exit in October shocked his colleagues and offered a glimpse at strains inside the network, where pro-Trump morning and evening programming often clashed with the sometimes critical reporting included as part of its daytime news coverage. The impeachment hearings underscored the divide, with anchors like Chris Wallace acknowledging the damaging testimony against Mr. Trump, even as Mr. Hannity dismissed the process as a “revolting charade.”

Impeachment offered some answers to a question media executives are asking themselves as a new year begins: Will a news-saturated public continue to tune into the Trump Show?

There are early signs of news fatigue. Ratings for the televised impeachment hearings were solid, but they fell short of political spectacles like James B. Comey’s testimony in 2017. Television audiences for the Democratic primary debates dwindled over the course of the year. Over all, cable news viewership was down slightly in 2019, despite all the political drama.

At one point in 2019, even Mr. Trump suggested that he might tune out the news, too. After yet another perceived slight, he conspicuously canceled the White House subscriptions to The Post and The Times.

Like many Americans, though, the president could not bear to look away. Days later, he was back to complaining about the coverage in the papers that he had claimed he would not read.


NYT > Business