TN Tribune Editorial Director Sandra Long Weaver Blogs about the Final Presidential Debate

Tennessee Tribune Editorial Director Sandra Long Weaver Photo by PJ Fischer
By Sandra Long Weaver
Tribune Editorial Director
Getting ready: Oct. 21, 6 a.m. – I awoke today to stories on
the local news channel about the road closings around
Belmont University and how difficult it is to get around.
In addition, local businesses are struggling because of the
restricted access to the campus. All this because the final
presidential debate will be held at Belmont tomorrow
evening starting at 8 p.m.
This is not good, I thought. I have to get my rapid covid-19
test and pick up my debate credentials. This errand will
take longer than I had hoped.
10 a.m. – Arrived at HCA Building 4. All media covering the
debate have to first take the covid test before they are
allowed entrance on the campus. My husband rode with
me but could not enter the building. We had no problem
parking. There was a short line outside the building to
check in for the test. After checking in, my temperature
was taken and I used hand sanitizer before going into the
building. I was also issued a blue surgical mask that I will
have to wear everywhere on the campus.
10:10 a.m. Allowed entrance to the building and filled out
consent forms for the test. All along the way, there are
stickers on the floor urging you to stand 6 feet away from
the next person in line. Everyone is wearing a mask.
Administrative assistants sit behind plexiglass. Monitors
directed me to each station. I received a folder with
information about the process and then was taken to the
station where the test was administered by a woman in
PPE. She gave me a choice of swabbing my nose myself
or allowing her to do it. I chose her. She put on her gloves
and showed me how far she would have to put the swab in
my nose. Ten seconds of circling in each nostril, she said.
She handed me a tissue that I used because the swab
was inserted less than an inch but it still made my eyes
water.
10:35 Found a seat in the waiting area 6 feet away on all
sides from other members of the media. They called my
assigned number and told me I was clear. It really did take
only about 15 minutes for the results.
I had to put a yellow ribbon around my wrist which tells
everyone that I am coronavirus free. I received a bottle of
hand sanitizer and left for Belmont to pick up my
credentials.
10:55 The drive to the campus was about 15 minutes in
city traffic. The GPS took us on a route that did not run into
any of the closed streets. Yay! I parked in the assigned
garage and walked a block away to the building where
they again took my temperature before I could enter. I only
had to give my name, show my photo ID and I was issued
a badge with my photo and a card explaining how to
access to the wifi. On the way out, I was given a swag bag
with items commemorating the upcoming debate. I am
ready for whatever tomorrow brings. Headed home. The
errands actually took less time than I had anticipated. A
good day!
Noon, Oct. 22 – Headed into Nashville, about 8 hours
before the debate begins. TV reports say even more roads
closed today. And the protesters are out.
12:35 p.m. Almost made it to the garage without running
into closed roads. But one block away from the garage,
the road is closed. Had to circle the block. Took the shuttle
to the media filing center, a vast tent in the middle of the
campus and next to the debate hall. It’s still early so only a
few journalists are here. Seats are blocked off in the
shuttle so no one is sitting in front or in back of you.
It’s 85 degrees outside. And it’s a two-block walk to the
filing center. I’ve had my temperature taken twice.
1:30 p.m. I’m in seat A5, front row. There’s a 50-inch TV
directly in front of me so I should be able to see and hear
everything. So far, the filing center is quiet with few
journalists going in and out. That will change as we get
closer to 8 p.m.
2:45 p.m. Walked around the campus for a bit. I tried to go
into the Debate Hall but my credentials wouldn’t allow me
in. Made as far as getting my temperature checked and
then I was stopped. Only national and local television.
Found the dining hall and the rest rooms.
3:20 p.m. TJ Ducklo, national press secretary for former
Vice President Biden, came into the filing center. Managed
to talk with him for a few minutes. He said the campaign is
“feeling good about where we are.” He said Biden is
looking forward to talking directly to the American people,
he said. There will be a large audience tonight like the first
debate. And people want to hear what’s going to be done
to control the virus. They want someone with experience.
On race relations especially concerning Black Americans,
Ducklo said Biden has rolled out an entire agenda to
improve lives of Black Americans. “He talks about creating
wealth, better housing, health care, “ Ducklo said. “There
is a whole host of reforms that need to happen, a lot
needs to be done and the vice president is ready to do it.”
Waiting: 6 p.m. Plexiglass removed from podiums. Both
candidates tested negative for the coronavirus. For last 20
years, Tennessee has picked the Republican candidate.
7 p.m. Walked out to see the campus at night. Trees lit in
red, white and blue. The debate hall was brightly it as well.
Students, journalists walking around, small groups
interacting. Over 250 students volunteered to work.
7:10 p.m. Security staff began pushing media back toward
the tent or debate hall. Dozens of vehicles were part of the
motorcade that made its way to the debate hall.
Helicopters buzzed steadily overhead.
7:45 p.m. CPD officials came on to explain the rules and
ask candidates to follow so Americans can hear what is
going on and follow the topics that are being discussed.
Tried to set a tone for a civil conversation. Moderator
Kristen Welker also set the tone for debate.
8:03 p.m. The final debate begins.
The Debate:
Making the mike mute at the beginning of each discussion
on a topic set a tone for a much more civil debate than the
Sept. 29 event.
Moderator Kristen Welker had more control of the event
and was able to move the discussion along fairly well.
However, there was a prolonged discussion on covid-19
and how each man would handle it.
There was not a lot of new information about that the
public learned about the candidates.
While President Donald Trump did not continually interrupt
former Vice President Biden there were still points where
he did try to overtake Biden and often did interrupt Welker.
On race relations, Trump again claimed that he was “the
least racist person in the room.” He also pointed out that
he has “done more for Black families than anyone since
Abraham Lincoln.” He rambled on about HBCUs and the
work by Republican Senator Tim Scott but did not answer
the question.
Welker had asked if the candidates understood why
parents fear for their children when they go out in public.
She asked candidates to speak directly to families.
Biden said “I never had to tell my daughter to put your
hands on the steering wheel and answer yes and no.
Black parents have to teach their child when to wear a
hoodie. “There is institutional racism in America, We
have to provide for better education, health care and the
ability to accumulate wealth.”
Trump often did not answer the questions but tried to
make the answers personal and attack Biden’s family. He
again claimed a vaccine is weeks away and the military
will distribute the vaccine. Welker questioned the veracity
of his statement and Trump admitted that will be closer to
the end of the year.
“The mortality rate down 85 percent. There was a spike in
Florida, now gone; in Texas, now gone; spikes and surges
in other places soon to be gone.” He also claimed that he
was now immune after having the virus.
Biden said, “Anyone responsible for that many deaths
should not be president. We expect to have have another
200,000 more dead by end of year. The President still has
no plan. I would move to rapid testing, set up national
standard to open schools, businesses.”
Final Thoughts on the Final Presidential Debate
By Sandra Long Weaver
Where were the Black journalists covering the
nuances final debate?
Looking around the media filing center in which nearly
200 journalists wandered in and out of all day, there were
no other Black journalists and just few people of color.
I know there were Black journalists covering the
debate, many by just watching it on TV. But there’s a lot
more to covering events than just watching them unfold on
television.
Who is bringing the issues and concerns of Black
Americans in this Presidential election to the forefront?
Debate moderator Kristen Welker who is an NBC
anchor and White House correspondent, of course was
the most visible journalist of color. I caught a glimpse of
Juan Williams of the Fox network the day before the
debate getting his covid test.
I did not have media credentials to be in the debate
hall and spent most of the afternoon in the media filing
center, the huge air-conditioned tent on the Belmont
University campus where digital and print journalists were
assigned to work while broadcasters had access to the
debate hall.
I saw one young Black male just as the debate ended
but otherwise there was hardly any diversity among the
people covering the event. Sitting six feet away from me
was a Spanish-speaking journalist and across the aisle, an
Asian journalist.

There were one or two Black reporters from local TV stations doing stand-up

reports outside the campus. I also saw several Black people who worked with

the production crews for the networks but they were not in the filing center or

debate hall either.

But what Black journalists were telling the story of what was said during the debate?

I did not see any other journalists from the Black Press. Of course there were Black

commentators on nearly every network analyzing what was said after the debate.

As one of the founders of the 45-year-old National Association of Black Journalists,

it was disappointing not to see more Black journalists at the final presidential debate,

an event critical for helping people decide who should be our next president.

Advocating for more Black journalists at every level in media is one of the reasons

44 journalists came together. Now 4,000 members strong, NABJ continues to

advocate for diversity of voices at the table.

And that lack of diversity at the debate shows NABJ still has work to do.