NBC 10 cancels mayoral debate over use of 'reaction shots'
Philly.com broke the news that NBC10 nixed a debate between Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney and Republican nominee Melissa Murray Bailey. The reason? Kenney's camp delivered a six-page memorandum with over 60 conditions for the televised debate, and NBC10 wouldn’t budge on a few things. Per philly.com:
The document dictated everything from camerawork, the number and size of dressing rooms each campaign would be assigned, and how many bottles of water each candidate would receive (two, for the record).
The point of no compromise for NBC10, however, was Kenney’s prerequisite that there be no “reaction shots." More specifically, according to campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt, they wanted to limit reaction shots to single camera shots rather than split-screen shots that would put Kenney against Bailey. Again, per philly.com:
….Kenney spokesperson Lauren Hitt argued that the campaign wasn’t trying to "forbid" reaction shots, but that NBC10 had refused to compromise on the use of a “split-screen close-up shot that [the Kenney campaign] felt placed theatrics ahead of substance.”
Hitt said by phone Wednesday that the purpose of the memorandum of understanding was to set standards for general election debates after a hodgepodge schedule of candidate events during the Democratic primary that “ranged in quality and format.”
The Kenney camp gave NBC10 two weeks, but no agreement was reached. Anzio Williams, NBC10 vice president of news, told philly.com that Kenney’s demands would compromise the station’s journalistic integrity, and that a political campaign controlling the news station’s editing and camerawork was unacceptable.
It's a process story that has already raised some concern about Kenney’s treatment of the press.
However, Hitt emphasized to AL DÍA over the phone Thursday morning that these “demands” were not demands at all, but suggestions for debate. More importantly, the memorandum was a group effort between Kenney and Bailey.
“It was a jointly drafted memorandum of understanding,” Hitt said. “We spent about a month going back and forth, making sure everything that was important to them and important to us was in there.”
In the Spring, there were over 70 mayoral forums of broadly ranging quality. Kenney and Bailey spoke in the beginning of July about a format that would create a more productive civic debate, which led to the co-drafted memorandum.
Hitt says it may have been perceived as Kenney’s exclusive memorandum because his campaign took the lead on negotiations with large networks like NBC 10. It happened this way simply due to workloads: Bailey’s campaign has raised less money and has far fewer hands on deck than Kenney’s campaign.
“In the interest of getting the debate schedule up sometime before November, I was definitely more active on email and arranging these calls,” Hitt said.
Both campaigns — whose signatures appeared on the memorandum together — agreed to make compromises.
“This was six pages of how to make the great debate,” Hitt said. “I understand it’s much more interesting to write it as six pages of demands...but that’s not what it was. It was a genuine effort on behalf of both campaigns to make the debates in the fall better than those in the spring.”
AL DÍA asked Kenney's camp if they think negotiating with news outlets on how they report — let alone how they use cameras — crosses a line of journalistic integrity.
“No, I don’t,” Hitt said. “It is their imperative to make good TV. I at no point wanted to infringe on their journalistic integrity. I just wanted to make sure that what was being prioritized was journalistic integrity, and not theatrics that were going to raise ratings. I understand that they have to do both, but I wanted to make sure they were doing one over the other.”
Currently, their campaign said they want to return public focus to the issues of education, job creation, poverty reduction, and police-community relations.
Update 1:39 p.m.
WHYY's Mayor Ninety Nine reports that Bailey has taken the opportunity to come down on Kenney.
"Jim Kenney is finally showing his true colors by using career politician tricks to protect his career politician job," Bailey told NinetyNine early Thursday morning. "The people of Philadelphia deserve a real debate on issues, in prime time when they can see it.
"I'm ready, willing and able to face the public and face Jim Kenney. Like Chip Kelley (sic) said, 'We're from Philadelphia and we fight.' I'll fight for everyone in Philadelphia, and stand up to the corrupt political machine. Jim Kenney is a product of that machine, and now he's hiding behind it."
Political consultants suggest that NBC10 and the two candidates might still agree to the debate after further negotiations.