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Taking presidential debates out of commission's hands virtually guarantees fewer viewers

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Taking presidential debates out of commission's hands virtually guarantees fewer viewers
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Taking presidential debates out of commission's hands virtually guarantees fewer viewers

2024-05-18 06:36 Last Updated At:06:40

NEW YORK (AP) — The planned presidential debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump that were swiftly organized this week are a coup for CNN and ABC News — but virtually guaranteed to be among the least-watched general election contests ever.

The rival campaigns skirted the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has organized the events for 36 years with a goal of getting them before as many eyes as possible.

CNN said Friday that it will make its debate, scheduled for June 27 with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash as moderators, available for simulcast on any U.S. network with a news division that wants it, and allow free entry to CNN.com to stream it. ABC had said on Wednesday that it would allow networks and streaming services to simulcast its debate, set for Sept. 10 with David Muir and Linsey Davis as moderators.

A debate between Vice President Kamala Harris and whomever former President Trump chooses as his running mate is expected to air this summer on CBS. Fox News said it was seeking a second undercard debate but the Biden campaign signaled it would reject that

Each of the two debates between Biden and Trump in 2020 were carried on at least 16 networks, according to the Nielsen company. The first was seen by 73.1 million viewers, the second by 63 million.

Debates prior to a party's nominating process, which Trump skipped this year, are usually organized and broadcast by individual media organizations. The tradition has been different for those organized by the commission during general election campaigns, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and member of a group of experts Annenberg organized a decade ago that explored ways to increase viewership.

“It's the public's debate,” Jamieson said.

It’s not certain how many other networks will carry the debates even with the opportunity. Only PBS has said that it would; other networks have yet to give a public commitment.

For CNN leaders, there was a great temptation to keep it for themselves. It would have likely been the most-watched event ever on a network that is struggling in ratings. CNN's chief executive, Mark Thompson, made a point in tying the debate to the brand on Wednesday when he announced the agreement to hold it during a sales presentation to advertisers in New York.

“When people have something important to say,” Thompson said, “they say it on CNN.”

CNN said Wednesday the debate would also air live on its international and Spanish-speaking networks, and stream on CNN Max and CNN.com.

The pool of people available to watch on CNN's main television network is dwindling due to cord-cutting of cable and satellite services. CNN was available in 71% of American homes with television in May 2020; this month it's just under 54%, Nielsen said.

Keeping the debate on CNN alone would have run up against stout criticism that it's not the public-spirited thing to do, something ABC moved quickly to avoid.

Political polarization that has spread to the media would also likely cut into viewership if the event was not shared, Jamieson said. Would Fox News viewers, after years of hearing CNN criticized by some of their favorite politicians and media figures, turn to CNN for a debate or skip it entirely?

Some of those executives would have to swallow hard to carry another network's personalities on their air, with the risk some of their regular viewers might like them and switch allegiances. Pressure to carry the debates for public service reasons would be intense, though.

Despite worries about how many people will watch, Jamieson said there's some irony in that there's a lot to like about the proposed ground rules for the event. So far, the plans are to hold them in television studios without an audience.

That's something the Annenberg group had proposed a decade ago, saying an audience that reacts to what the candidates are saying is often a distraction, and that audience is usually packed with partisans on both sides.

If the two campaigns agree to rules where one candidate's microphone would be shut off while his opponent answers a question, it would go a long way to solving what has been a more frequent problem recently with politicians interrupting and talking over an opponent, she said.

“If someone had told me that there was going to be some good news about political discourse this year, I would have told them they were delusional,” she said.

David Bauder writes about media for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/dbauder.

FILE - CNN anchors Jake Tapper, left, and Dana Bash, right, speaking to members of the audience before the start of the CNN Republican presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. The two planned presidential debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump that were swiftly organized this week, Thursday, May 16, 2024, are good news for CNN and ABC News. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE - CNN anchors Jake Tapper, left, and Dana Bash, right, speaking to members of the audience before the start of the CNN Republican presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. The two planned presidential debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump that were swiftly organized this week, Thursday, May 16, 2024, are good news for CNN and ABC News. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE - ABC World News Tonight Anchor David Muir, left, addresses members of the audience while standing with ABC News Live Anchor Linsey Davis, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 in Manchester, N.H. The two planned presidential debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump that were swiftly organized this week, Thursday, May 16, 2024, are good news for CNN and ABC News.(AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

FILE - ABC World News Tonight Anchor David Muir, left, addresses members of the audience while standing with ABC News Live Anchor Linsey Davis, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 in Manchester, N.H. The two planned presidential debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump that were swiftly organized this week, Thursday, May 16, 2024, are good news for CNN and ABC News.(AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The new agreement between Russia and North Korea reached by their leaders at a Pyongyang summit requires both countries to use all available means to provide immediate military assistance in the event of war, North Korean state media said Thursday.

Both North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin had described the deal reached Wednesday as a major upgrade of bilateral relations, covering security, trade, investment, cultural and humanitarian ties. Outside observers said it could mark the strongest connection between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Thursday reported the language of the comprehensive strategic partnership agreement. The agency said Article 4 of the agreement states that if one of the countries gets invaded and is pushed into a state of war, the other must deploy “all means at its disposal without delay” to provide “military and other assistance.” But it also says that such actions must be in accordance with the laws of both countries and Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which recognizes a U.N. member state’s right to self-defense.

The summit between Kim and Putin came as the U.S. and its allies expressed growing concern over a possible arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions for its war in Ukraine, in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

Following their summit, Kim said the two countries had a “fiery friendship,” and that the deal was their “strongest-ever treaty,” putting the relationship at the level of an alliance. He vowed full support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Putin called it a “breakthrough document” reflecting shared desires to move relations to a higher level.

North Korea and the former Soviet Union signed a treaty in 1961, which experts say necessitated Moscow’s military intervention if the North came under attack. The deal was discarded after the collapse of the USSR, replaced by one in 2000 that offered weaker security assurances.

A full day after the summit, South Korean officials said they were still interpreting the results, including what Russia’s response might be if the North comes under attack. Analysts were mixed on whether the agreement obligates Russia to an automatic military invention on behalf of the North in war situations or was carefully worded enough to avoid such a commitment. It also wasn’t immediately clear why the article invokes the U.N. charter.

“We are currently reviewing the specifics of the treaty signed between Russia and North Korea during President Putin’s visit to North Korea. We will announce our government’s position after we are done,” Lim Soosuk, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said during a briefing.

Still, Lim expressed regret that Moscow and Pyongyang signed the agreement while openly talking about military and technology cooperation that would be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“Based on our close analysis and assessment of the results of (Putin’s) visit, including the comprehensive strategic partnership treaty signed between Russia and North Korea, we will work with the international community, including our allies and friends, to take correspondingly stern and decisive measures to any actions that threaten our security,” Lim said.

The deal was made as Putin visited North Korea for the first time in 24 years, a visit that showcased their personal and geopolitical ties with Kim hugging Putin twice at the airport, their motorcade rolling past giant Russian flags and Putin portraits, and a welcoming ceremony at Pyongyang’s main square attended by what appeared to be tens of thousands of spectators.

According to KCNA, the agreement also states that Pyongyang and Moscow must not enter into agreements with third parties if they infringe on the “core interests” of another and must not participate in actions that threaten those interests.

KCNA said the agreements require the countries to take steps to prepare joint measures for the purpose of strengthening their defense capabilities to prevent war and protect regional and global peace and security. The agency didn’t specify what those steps are, or whether they would include combined military training and other cooperation.

The agreement also calls for the countries to actively cooperate in efforts to establish a “just and multipolar new world order,” KCNA said, underscoring how the countries are aligning in face of their separate, escalating confrontations with the Untied States.

Kim in recent months has made Russia his priority as he pushes a foreign policy aimed at expanding relations with countries confronting Washington, embracing the idea of a “new Cold War” and trying to display a united front in Putin’s broader conflicts with the West.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, with the pace of both Kim’s weapons tests and combined military exercises involving the U.S., South Korea and Japan intensifying in a tit-for-tat cycle.

The Koreas also have engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare that involved North Korea dropping tons of trash on the South with balloons, and the South broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda with its loudspeakers.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un stands during the departure ceremony of Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un stands during the departure ceremony of Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, attend a gala concert in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, attend a gala concert in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, rear left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, both are on the podium, attend the official welcome ceremony at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, rear left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, both are on the podium, attend the official welcome ceremony at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov attends the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov attends the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the talks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the talks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un talk to each other during their tete-a-tete meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un talk to each other during their tete-a-tete meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attend a State Reception after their talks in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attend a State Reception after their talks in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In this photo provided Thursday, June 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, center left, review an honor guard during the official welcome ceremony in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency.(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

In this photo provided Thursday, June 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, center left, review an honor guard during the official welcome ceremony in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency.(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo after the official welcome ceremony in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo after the official welcome ceremony in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un exchange documents during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and Kim signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un exchange documents during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and Kim signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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