The biggest sports battles of the fall usually take place in NFL stadiums on Sundays. But Monday night football this week is likely to be overshadowed by the first of three presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a high stakes showdown at Hofstra University that could set TV viewing records.
This is the politics version of the playoffs, where not only the voters but also the media has the opportunity to scorecard the candidates at the same time in the same place. Meanwhile, news outlets are staked out for the possibility that the debate firmly tips the presidential election in favor of one candidate or another.
Just like the Super Bowl, the build-up coverage offers a variety of angles, from history and analysis based on past performances, to the emerging details of tactical approaches for both sides. Check out this juxtaposition of stories heading into the final days before the debate.
Reuters sets the stage with “Trump vs. Clinton: Debate will mark biggest moment of election.” While the headline is powerful, it conveniently gets ahead of election day, when the campaign will actually be decided. “A moment that could be the most consequential yet” walks back that position in the lede.
Much of the reporting in recent weeks has been centered around Clinton’s extensive preparation compared to Trump, who nonetheless was the centerpiece of every Republican debate during the primaries. Clinton is acknowledged as the debate favorite while the Republican National Committee appears to have embraced Trump’s role as the underdog. A leaked RNC memo “gave Clinton’s debate experience rave reviews,” says USA Today, a strategy meant to lower expectations for Trump.
But with only a slim margin in the polls, Democrats aren’t sure how to handle the clear frontrunner status projected upon Clinton when it comes to the debates, and some news outlets aren’t so sure either. After all, Trump continues to dominate the news cycle. The disconnect is reflected in CNN’s headline, “Why Democrats are anxious,” which is followed by reporting on the continued fallout from Trump’s reversal on the “birther” controversy.
Just like two football teams headed to the big stage, both party camps are keenly aware of the need to keep cool. While the Democrats are anxious, the AP reports, “Advisers warn Trump not to get riled.” As it often happens in sports, rising to the occasion and executing the game plan will have a lot to do with who prevails in the first round of this heavyweight bout.