NEW YORK (AP) — By airing the fourth Republican presidential primary debate scheduled for Wednesday — again, minus Donald Trump — the young NewsNation television network will almost certainly reach the largest audience in its history.
Yet with two of the three debate moderators associated with conservative media and not NewsNation, including podcast star Megyn Kelly, the event threatens to be at odds with the centrist image the network is trying to cultivate.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity and allows us to have more people fully sample the network and see who we are and what we’re doing,” said Cherie Grzech, NewsNation’s senior vice president of news and politics.
Her advice to those who have doubts about how NewsNation can pull it off: Just watch.
A NETWORK STILL SEEKING AN AUDIENCE
The debate is to air from 8 to 10 p.m. ET and will also be shown on the CW network, which like NewsNation is owned by the Nexstar Media Group. The CW will show it live in the eastern half of the country, and tape-delayed out West.
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NewsNation took over for the old WGN America network in late 2020 and has tried to establish itself with personalities who made names for themselves elsewhere: Chris Cuomo from CNN, Dan Abrams of ABC News, Ashleigh Banfield from MSNBC and former Fox News host Leland Vittert.
Ratings suggest it’s still looking for an audience — and has a way to go. NewsNation averaged 99,000 viewers in prime time in November, compared to Fox News Channel’s 1.73 million, MSNBC’s 1.14 million, CNN’s 540,000 and Newsmax’s 207,000, the Nielsen company said.
The network bills itself as an unbiased alternative to competitors with more hardened partisan images. Abrams told the Hollywood Reporter that NewsNation’s sweet spot is the “marginalized moderate majority who don’t want hyper-partisan outlets.”
Critics, like the liberal media watchdog Media Matters, suggest NewsNation leans more right than down the middle. A Daily Beast writer who watched the network for a week this fall, Joe Berkowitz, had a similar view, writing that “left-leaning voices are heard on NewsNation rarely, briefly and cursorily — as if to tick a box.”
The network’s ranks include several Fox News alums, including Grzech and Chris Stirewalt, its politics editor. Former Fox executive Bill Shine is a consultant.
Grzech suggested that those critics haven’t watched NewsNation much. “I don’t see that. and it isn’t the experience I’ve had here at all,” she said.
A HIGH-PROFILE DEBATE HEADLINER
In awarding the rights to televise Wednesday’s debate, the Republican National Committee chose the debate moderators. The one with NewsNation ties is Elizabeth Vargas, formerly of ABC News, who hosts an evening newscast on the network. Eliana Johnson of the conservative site Washington Free Beacon was also selected.
The headliner, though, is Kelly. Working with Kelly is a throwback for Grzech; they did debate prep together when both were at Fox. Kelly’s experience working debates during the 2016 Republican presidential nominating process shot her to fame through her feud with Trump.
Kelly signed a big free agent contract with NBC News but that didn’t work out, and she negotiated an exit when her 2018 suggestion that it was OK for white people to wear blackface on Halloween caused a furor.
She’s since remade herself as a podcast and radio star, much more publicly opinionated than before, and is taking a role as a debate moderator that has traditionally been filled by impartial journalists.
It’s not like Kelly hasn’t done it before. But, in her new job, she hasn’t been shy about offering opinions on the people who will be debating.
She’s criticized Ron DeSantis for taking on the Walt Disney Corp. in Florida and said of him during a debate in September on social media, “Seriously, Ron DeSantis, you do not need to smile the whole debate. Whoever told you that misled you.”
It’s time for the fourth Republican presidential debate.
- What time is the debate? The two-hour debate will start at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
- Where is the debate? The debate will be held at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
- Will Trump be there? Donald Trump is yet again skipping the debate, holding a fundraiser in Florida instead.
Here’s more on what to expect, and how you can watch.
Kelly called Nikki Haley’s announcement of her presidential candidacy “cringy.” On X, formerly Twitter, she posted: “Is it just me, or has (Chris) Christie lost a little off his fastball?” She posted “you’ve got to be kidding me” in response to one of Vivek Ramaswamy’s X messages in October.
And during one of the debates on Fox, she posted, “I’m bored.”
“I think there’s an argument to be had about whether she’s a journalist anymore,” said Tom Jones, senior media writer at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank. “My concern if I was NewsNation is that Megyn Kelly is going to come in with her own agenda and turn this debate upside down.”
Jones said he admired how Kelly has remade her career, “but I don’t know if the job she does now necessarily qualifies her to be a moderator for a debate.”
Kelly, through a representative, declined an interview request.
It is a Republican debate, and there’s an argument to be made that figures in the conservative media would be more attuned to what potential GOP primary voters want to hear about. But could that also mean avoiding legitimate topics because they might make a Republican audience uncomfortable? To that end, Grzech said that questions about Trump, the missing debater and leader in the polls, are legitimate.
How NewsNation handles its moment in the spotlight becomes clear Wednesday night.
David Bauder writes about media for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/dbauder
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In the provided article, the focus is on the upcoming Republican presidential primary debate and the network airing it, NewsNation. The article discusses the potential challenges faced by NewsNation in maintaining its centrist image while having debate moderators associated with conservative media. It also highlights the network's efforts to establish itself as an unbiased alternative to partisan outlets.
To address the concepts mentioned in the article, let's break them down into sections:
NewsNation and its Audience
NewsNation is a television network that took over for the old WGN America network in late 2020. It has tried to establish itself as an unbiased alternative to partisan outlets, targeting the "marginalized moderate majority" who seek news without hyper-partisanship . However, the network is still seeking a larger audience, as its ratings in November averaged 99,000 viewers in prime time compared to other news channels like Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.
Debate Moderators and Network Image
The upcoming Republican presidential primary debate, which will be aired by NewsNation, has two of its three moderators associated with conservative media. One of the moderators is Megyn Kelly, a podcast star and former Fox News host The article suggests that this may pose a challenge to NewsNation's centrist image.
Megyn Kelly's Background and Role
Megyn Kelly gained fame through her feud with Donald Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential nominating process She has since remade herself as a podcast and radio star, becoming more publicly opinionated than before. Kelly's role as a debate moderator has traditionally been filled by impartial journalists, and there are concerns about her potential agenda and its impact on the debate.
Republican National Committee's Choice
The Republican National Committee chose the debate moderators for the upcoming debate. Elizabeth Vargas, formerly of ABC News and currently hosting an evening newscast on NewsNation, has ties to the network and will be one of the moderators. Eliana Johnson of the conservative site Washington Free Beacon was also selected.
Time and Location of the Debate
The debate is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday and will be held at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa .
Donald Trump's Absence
Donald Trump will not be participating in the debate and will instead be holding a fundraiser in Florida.
In summary, the article discusses the upcoming Republican presidential primary debate, the network airing it (NewsNation), and the challenges faced by the network in maintaining its centrist image. It also highlights the background of the debate moderators, including Megyn Kelly, and raises concerns about her potential impact on the debate. The debate is scheduled to take place at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Donald Trump will not be participating.