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Media moments worth remembering in this dark and contentious election year | COMMENTARY

David Horsey editorial cartoon ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, TCN - OUTS **
David Horsey editorial cartoon ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, TCN - OUTS ** (David Horsey)

There was so much outstanding daily coverage of this year’s election compared with 2016 that I started a notebook to keep track of reports, interviews, analyses and story lines. Here are some of the media moments and examples of coverage worth remembering.

CNN’s Ed Lavandera takes to the road in Harris County to expose voter suppression in Texas.

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In early October, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was facing two federal lawsuits over his executive order limiting ballot boxes to one per county. CNN national correspondent Ed Lavandera took viewers on a little road trip to show what the effect of that order was in Harris County, a heavily Democratic area of nearly 1,800 square miles and 2.4 million registered voters.

Starting in the northeast corner of the county, it took him over an hour of driving to get to the one drop box. And that was without heavy traffic or road delays. What would this mean for elderly people or those without access to a car, or one that could handle freeway driving?

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By going the extra mile in trying to report the effects of Mr. Abbott’s order in a visual, practical, personal and compelling way, Mr. Lavandera took an everyday assignment and used it to show viewers the larger truth of how voter suppression was doing its dirty work in 2020.

Jonathan Swan of Axios shows how to interview a president who lies.

What more can be said about Jonathan Swan’s interview that aired on “Axios on HBO” in August? It seems as if everyone wrote about it — and then wrote about it some more. It was that good.

Many of the biggest names in journalism have gone one-on-one with President Trump the last five years and whiffed.

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But Mr. Swan pushed back hard without being rude, and he showed how empty and false many of the president’s claims are.

Answering a question about his handling of the pandemic, Mr. Trump said, “There are those who say you can test too much. You do know that?”

“Who says that?” Mr. Swan asked.

“Oh, just read the manuals, read the books,” Mr. Trump replied.

“Manuals, what manuals?” Mr. Swan asked making no attempt to hide his incredulity at President Trump’s bogus claim.

Chris Wallace, of Fox News, and Lesley Stahl, of “60 Minutes,” conducted tough interviews that exposed Mr. Trump’s lies to some extent, but they were not in Mr. Swan’s league.

MSNBC’s election team of Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid, Nicolle Wallace and Brian Williams brought intelligence and fun to the political anchor desk.

Talking about presentation in a column on the best of political journalism will undoubtedly lead to charges of being superficial. But TV is not just content. It’s content and presentation, and no presentation of the bigger political moments of this election has been more engaging and informative than this team’s. It is not only one of the smartest crews ever assembled on cable TV, it also reminded me of the joy of political journalism in a very dark year.

Speaking of MSNBC’s political coverage, let’s not forget Claire McCaskill, the former Democratic senator from Missouri. Most former elected officials are washouts as political analysts, afraid to offend longtime friends or really take viewers backstage into the political realms they inhabited. Not Ms. McCaskill.

CNN’S White House coverage would not back down.

Jim Acosta has been rightfully praised for his hard-nosed coverage of the Trump White House the last four years. But the reporter who most impressed me the past few months with her tenacity and unwillingness to be cowed by the worst the president’s team could throw at her is 28-year-old Kaitlan Collins. I purposely point out her age because she seems more seasoned than her years.

Her tough questions and ability to stand the blowback from the president and his spokespeople typified CNN’s “won’t back down” coverage of this administration. No TV news organization did a better job of challenging this White House day in and day out the last four years.

There is at least another column worth of examples of journalists holding politicians accountable and elevating the conversation of this election. The forceful moderating of NBC’s Kristen Welker in the final presidential debate heads that list.

The actions described here are those of journalists explaining, illuminating, watch dogging and challenging politicians even as they were sometimes insulted, slandered and threatened. They fulfilled their journalistic mission as envisioned by the founders of the country. They served as honorable representatives of the citizens, not "enemies of the people.”

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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