“The Difficult Crossroads of Political and News Events” – Sunday Political Brunch - February 2, 2020


CHARLESTON, W. Va. – The news business is a fickle mistress. What reporters love at a given moment can be gone in a split second. We’re an industry that could properly be diagnosed with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. We’ll focus like a laser beam on one issue, and moments later we are lost in another news event. It’s fleeting – and that can have good and bad consequences. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Week That Was” – We’re a nation looking back at the first week of the impeachment trial, and we’re looking ahead to the Super Bowl, and the Iowa Caucuses. And then in the middle, there is the sudden, jarring, unexpected crash, and basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others are dead. Many in the public were brokenhearted, and all eyes of the nation were averted. We get information overload from so many directions, and it’s almost too much to bear. There’s no right or wrong here. So much of our attention span is driven by human nature and curiosity, amidst so many other distractions. It’s hard to keep up.

“People Vote with Their Eyeballs” – I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan of the Nielsen TV Ratings system. I think it’s horribly imprecise, prone to inaccuracy, and only gives us a quantitative, but not qualitative measure of the audience. In short, it tells us what people watched but does not explain why. I say all this because viewership in the impeachment trial plummeted within days. According to Reuters, 11 million people tuned in on Tuesday, January 21st, but dropped to 8.9 million Wednesday, and then to 7.8 million on Thursday. That’s an overall drop of 29 percent. The public, by and large, is tuning out. On the other hand, Fox News viewership jumped to 4.2 million viewers on Saturday, which was the first day of President Trump’s defense, more than double its audience from the day before.

“Why is That?” – I’m not suggesting that people don’t care about the impeachment, or don’t think it’s important. But we do have a finite amount of time where we vote with our viewing habits. Let’s face it, a 4-hour Super Bowl game and halftime show rivets our attention more so than a seesaw, and often tedious, legal and constitutional debate that happens over the course of two weeks. And we have the anticipation of what’s to come on Monday, February 3rd, when the first voters in the nation get to cast presidential ballots. Look, I’ve worked in radio and TV for 43 years. I get it. We all have interests, distractions, choices, and alternatives. Attention spans can be short and fleeting.

“So, What Is Happening in Iowa?” – Well, it’s down to the wire. We had a debate two weeks ago, and most of the candidates have been crisscrossing the state since then stumping for votes. But, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennett, have been stuck in Washington, DC at the impeachment trial, freezing them out of the last-minute voter push. The latest Real Clear Politics composite poll has a new leader this week, with Senator Bernie Sanders back on top with 24 percent, with former Vice President Joe Biden at 21 percent, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 16.8 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren at 14.7 percent and Senator Amy Klobuchar at 9.2 percent. The poll numbers are trending up for Sanders, and Buttigieg, but are going down for Biden, Warren and Klobuchar.

“As Iowa Goes, So NOT Goes New Hampshire” – Look, these two states are fiercely independent, and what happens in one is in no way a predictor of what happens in the other. Just Google Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee and John McCain. The latest Real Clear Politics composite poll has Sanders 24 percent (down 5 points), Biden 16 percent (down 6 points), Buttigieg at 14.8 percent (up 4.8 percent), Warren 13 percent (down 3 points), and Klobuchar at 7 percent (up 2 points). But maybe momentum can swing between February 3rd in Iowa and February 11 in New Hampshire. We’ll see.

“In Other News: A Story to Keep Your Eyes On” – It has been big news in West Virginia since August. Someone has been killing U.S. military veterans who’ve sought treatment at the VA Hospital in Clarksburg. I’ve been investigating this for six months, and now we've learned a federal grand jury has been empaneled in Clarksburg to hear evidence. Congress and the State Legislature have been pressing for answers. When word came of the grand jury probe, State Senator William Ihlenfeld said of the crimes, “It is death penalty eligible. And so, this person, whoever it might be, if convicted of this crime, could face the death penalty.” Ihlenfeld is the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia which oversees the case.

Who are you supporting for president, and has your allegiance switched? Just click the comment button and let us know why!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for The White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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