You could have a good journalistic debate about how much television coverage a rally for a presidential candidate who comes to your area to essentially repeat his message deserves.
On one side Monday was Channel 4, which apparently thought that the rally at UB’s packed Alumni Arena for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders was important enough to cut into an episode of CBS’ “Supergirl” in prime time.
On the other side was Channel 7, which was the first station to cut out of Sanders’ coverage at 11 p.m. and gave it much less time than Channel 2 and Channel 4.
Clearly, Channel 7 was the minority TV voice in the importance of Sanders coverage.
It is easy to get what both sides in the debate might have been thinking.
Channel 4 and Channel 2 might have been thinking it isn’t too often that a presidential candidate comes to Western New York and when he or she does it deserves maximum “team coverage,” even if the candidate essentially is just repeating a localized version of a stump speech he has given for months in his battle with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
I was out of town last week when Clinton showed up, so I’m not aware if they also gave Sanders six to eight minutes on top of the news as equal time for her visit. (Update: Channel 4 News Director Scott Levy informed me the station also carried Clinton live here Friday afternoon.)
I originally thought that Channel 7 might have been thinking that Sanders wasn’t saying anything new even if it might have been new to the WNY audience. It also might have thought that extensive coverage was, in a sense, just a paid commercial for Sanders. However, I later learned that it had a longer package prepared but was unable to air it because of a technical problem. Interestingly, bailing out of Sanders coverage first didn't hurt its 11p.m. ratings. Channel 4 won as usual at 11 p.m. with a 7.6 rating. Channel 2 was second with a 4.9, but Channel 7 was a closer third than usual with a 4.6.
I most likely would have erred on Channel 4 and Channel 2’s side, if only because it is tough to take anyone arguing for “Supergirl” too seriously. Besides, the rest of the news Monday wasn’t exactly earth-shattering.
Having said that, the stations stream so many things on their websites these days that the Sanders’ rally screamed for promoting that idea in a crawl Monday night instead of bouncing prime time entertainment programs no matter how inconsequential they are by comparison.
The video and the interviews during the coverage illustrated that the majority of people at the rally were college age or younger, which happens to be the demographic least likely to watch TV news.
I could imagine grandma and grandpa watching the 11 p.m. news and saying “look at all those idealistic people who think that 74-year-old man is the answer to all of our problems.”
Here are a few more thoughts about the coverage from dial-switching.
MAD Talking: During Channel 2’s 10 p.m. news, anchor Maryalice Demler said Clinton held a 45-41 advantage in the latest New York State poll when the graphic on the screen said Clinton’s lead was 55-41. The graphic was right.
I was just as confused by the math of Channel 4’s Nalina Shapiro, who seemed to think that the estimate of 12,000 people inside and outside at the rally was dead-on rather than an estimate when explaining that 600 people didn’t use their tickets to come into the 8,800 seat arena.
Sound Bite of the Night: One female college freshman said on Channel 2 that she would be happy to see a female president, before giving the Sanders campaign and the Republicans the line of the night: “Hillary has a history of lying and Bernie is always on the right side of history.” I’m sure the Clinton campaign wished there had been a follow-up question to see if the student could cite examples of Clinton’s history of lying.
An Actual Issue: Channel 2’s Steve Brown actually cornered Sanders for a one-on-one inside the UB locker room to debate the candidate for his call for a carbon tax as part of his fight to save the planet against climate change. Brown kept trying to ask tough questions, but Sanders had all the answers and seemed to suppress his irritation at Brown’s persistence for the most part. Brown gets points for raising an actual issue, but give Sanders the win in that debate.
Viewers Vote for Bernie: Channel 4's decision to bounce "Supergirl" paid off in the ratings from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. It won the very competitive 30 minutes with an average rating of 8.8. NBC's "The Voice" on Channel 2 averaged a 8.3 rating for those 30 minutes and ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" averaged a 6.5 on Channel 7. However, after Channel 4 bolted from Bernie, Channel 4's viewership plummeted to a 3.9 rating when viewers most likely were confused when "Supergirl" was joined in progress.