MSNBC deal with S. Carolina Dems rankles other media outlets

June 19, 2019 - 5:30 pm

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's Democratic leader says he granted MSNBC exclusive live rights to this weekend's party convention because the network agreed to show speeches from 21 presidential contenders and offered a strong chance to reach black voters.

The coverage arrangement for the event, a stop in a key early primary state and a chance for candidates to make their case before next week's opening debate, angered other media outlets.

C-SPAN says it shuts them out of a previously open political event it has covered live for many years. Journalist Roland Martin, former host at TV One, said the "terrible" decision hurts black-owned media outlets. Fox News Channel lodged a complaint.

"These are the events that should be open to all media," said Steve Scully, political editor at C-SPAN, which spent $13,351 to give out tote bags to attendees of Saturday's session.

State Party Chairman Trav Robertson said Wednesday that MSNBC did not pay for the exclusive arrangement.

"This is a fair and equitable way to get time for every candidate running for office," he said.

Two of MSNBC's African American anchors, Joy Reid and the Rev. Al Sharpton, will be live all day from the event, interviewing each candidate after he or she addresses the convention. The network was chosen in part, Robertson said, because of Reid and Sharpton's appeal to black voters, who make up the majority of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina.

MSNBC's audience is 21% African American during the week but jumps to 30% on the weekend, when Reid and Sharpton have regular shows. The network has received some criticism for a lack of diversity with its all-white weeknight lineup of hosts from 4 p.m. to midnight.

A South Carolina public television station, SCETV, confirmed Wednesday that it will livestream the convention on its YouTube channel and Facebook page. Other outlets may tape Saturday's proceedings, which run all day in the capital city of Columbia, but may not broadcast anything until three hours after its afternoon conclusion.

Scully said he doesn't blame MSNBC for making the deal; journalists always seek exclusivity. But it has made him check with Democratic officials in states like Iowa and New Hampshire to make sure other events won't face similar restrictions.

Robertson said that more than 100 members of the media had been given permission to cover the event, albeit with restrictions, and that no credential request had been denied.

"We understand that any time we try to do something new or different, we're going to take criticism," he said.

The deal further solidifies MSNBC, which is simulcasting next week's debate with NBC News, as a friendly forum for Democrats. While it will show live speeches from 21 Democratic candidates this weekend, the network aired none of Republican President Donald Trump's campaign kickoff in Florida on Tuesday night.

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Bauder reported from New York.