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News is the Only Thing Missing From Election Coverage

The first thought I had when I heard NBC had hired Ronna McDaniel as a commentator for $300,000 a year was to wonder how many actual journalists they could have hired for that money. Then, I recalled that NBC had laid off dozens of news staffers just a few months ago. Then, I remembered that I had just recently written a column decrying news organizations throwing pretty much anybody on the air as a “pundit” and this….

This was worse. It’s one thing to grab some rando who happened to be a minor functionary for the Executive Branch. It’s another to hire someone whose job was to promote election denialism and pretend that her opinion is something valuable for viewers. And, yes, it’s just as ridiculous when news organizations hire former presidential press secretaries (that’s you, Jen Psaki and Sean Spicer), their very jobs were to spin everything in their bosses’ favor and now you’re going to pay them big salaries for, um, what? Because they “have a name” or you’re afraid someone else will snap them up? Why them?

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The McDaniel deal lasted five days, one completely unilluminating interview, and one unexpected Chuck Todd spine-growing outburst, so it’ll all blow over soon enough. The problem is, though, the part about having fired several news staffers, and what it means in an election year on both the national and local levels. If you have the money to hire an alleged pundit – any alleged pundit – you have the money to hire reporters, and I don’t mean anchors or opinion show hosts.

Coverage of the election is, as we’ve discussed, still very horse-race-centric, and there’s been, of course, coverage of the various Trump court cases, but where is the coverage of exactly what the candidates plan to do if elected? Who’s probing Project 2025 and why isn’t it front-page, first-segment news? Who’s pressing the Biden administration on Gaza? Is anyone reporting on the candidates’ record on climate change?

Beyond prescription drug prices, is anyone digging into the broken healthcare system and demanding answers from the candidates about what they’ll do to fix it (and not letting Trump get away with “I’ll have a better plan, a beautiful plan” without a single specific detail, like they did in 2016)? Why didn’t anyone focus on, for example, the GOP candidate for governor of North Carolina and his incendiary past comments well before the primary?

Pundits are not going to do the legwork on the issues; they’ll just talk about swing states while John King and Steve Kornacki point at their touchscreen maps. We need reporting on the things that matter (and can affect that horse race, even if most people have made up their minds). It shouldn’t just be Pro Publica and scattered independent journalists doing the dirty work.

Honestly, I don’t want to hear the complaints about the quality of the candidates or how this is a rerun or any of that. (We’ll leave that to The New York Times.) We are a horribly underinformed electorate and we got the horse race we deserve. It might just be idealists like me who think that, just maybe, the news media can play a role in educating the public and bursting the bubbles and echo chambers. This country has survived and prospered for a few centuries with the press shining a light on injustice and corruption.

Now, when we need that most, they’re more concerned with what they think will bring them ratings and money (although someone will have to explain to me who thought having Ronna McDaniel as a paid commentator would draw a single viewer to NBC).

Here’s a thought: Don’t lay off reporters, especially in an election year.  Assign them to dig deep on issues that matter to the voters.

Let the pundits talk about that.

Perry Michael Simon
Perry Michael Simon
Perry Michael Simon is a weekly news media columnist for Barrett Media. He previously served as VP and Editor/News-Talk-Sports/Podcast for Prior to joining the industry trade publication, Perry spent years in radio working as a Program Director and Operations Manager for KLSX and KLYY in Los Angeles and New Jersey 101.5 in Trenton. He can be found on X (formerly Twitter) @PMSimon.

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