But when President Trump was shown on the video board between the third and fourth innings, the game produced a newsworthy event, both inside sports and beyond. The home crowd booed lustily. In some pockets of Nationals Park, chants of “Lock him up” were heard.
The moment immediately trended on Twitter, national news outlets rushed to publish stories about the incident and by Monday morning the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” were among those chastising fans for their behavior.
Viewers at home watching Fox’s telecast, though, did not hear about the boos when the broadcast returned from a commercial break, with one of the biggest stories of the night instead spreading across social media and news before landing on cable news shows.
Fox showed President Trump ahead of the third inning, when the camera panned to his party. “It’s the World Series,” Fox play-by-play announcer Joe Buck said. “The president and first lady of the United States, Donald J. Trump and Melania Trump, are here at the game tonight in their suite. Wounded Warriors joining them for the festivities here at Nationals Park.”
Should Fox have broadcast or otherwise noted the reaction given to Trump?
“It’s news, which makes it a dereliction of duty not to show it,” said Kevin Robbins, the associate director of the Center for Sports Communication and Media at the University of Texas. “This isn’t political. It’s not whether you agree with it. It’s just telling you what happened.”
The complications of showing the moment are several-fold. The boos happened while the broadcast was on a commercial break, which meant the broadcast would have been showing a replay or commenting not in real time. Then, of course, there are the polarized politics of the moment, particularly when Trump is involved.
“But if you’re obligated to show the president, then you’re obligated to show the crowd reaction,” Robbins said.
That was not a unanimous opinion. J.A. Adande, the director of sports journalism at Northwestern and a former reporter at The Washington Post and ESPN, said to hold a telecast to the standards of journalism was unfair.
“When they showed the president earlier in the broadcast, do they have to mention he’s the subject of an impeachment inquiry?” he asked. “I think the phrase ‘stick to sports’ is loathsome, but a broadcast isn’t journalism. When you’re broadcasting the World Series, you’re doing it as a partner of baseball. I think it is important to remember that. You’re not there as a representative of the news division of your network.”
He added: “If there were protests outside the stadium against Trump, I think that goes in the Metro section of The Washington Post. It’s a separate story.”
“I’m not sure what you want Fox to do,” said Andy Billings, the director of the University of Alabama’s program in sports communication. “People are going to have different perspectives on the prevalence of cheers to boos. Asking a broadcaster to gauge that on the spot is very difficult.”
Michael Weisman, a former lead producer for Fox baseball coverage who also formerly led NBC’s Olympics coverage, said he thought Fox handled the moment correctly, noting the desire of sports broadcasts to avoid third-rail issues such as politics and religion.
“Anytime you’re dealing with politicians, it’s very sensitive,” he said. “Are they picking their nose? Are they eating a hot dog? Everyone’s got an opinion. Fox was lucky the boos happened during a commercial break because if it happened during the game you have to explain the boos to the audience. But once it was at commercial, I don’t think you have to go back to it."
Weisman noted that the Fox World Series broadcast in 2001, which he was a part of, hosted then-New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in the broadcast booth in the month after 9/11. “If there is a unifying event, then you might want it,” Weisman said. “But is the whole country behind Trump?”
In addition to the boos aimed at Trump, an “Impeach Trump” sign was unfurled in the outfield, and behind home plate two people briefly held up “Veterans for Impeachment” signage, which could be seen on the broadcast.
“The news value point is legitimate,” Weisman said. “There’s no hard and fast rule. But where politics is right now, of course they didn’t want to get involved.”
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