Covering A Non-Victory Victory in Florida

"What will we do? We're the media, right?"

How will reporters tonight and tomorrow cover the Democratic results in Florida, a state that will award no delegates (for now), a state where the leading Democratic candidates (pretty much) did not campaign?

The Clinton campaign, of course, hopes the press will play a Clinton win (polls - ahem! — show her well ahead), delegate-less and uncontested all around though it would be, as a victory nonetheless. The campaign spun as much on a conference call with reporters today, and Clinton will be in Florida tonight after the polls close to reinforce the image of presumed (ahem!) victory. The Obama campaign, in its counter-spin conference call with reporters today, underscored the “no delegates at stake” point.

So, how will the press treat the Democratic results in Florida? Some reporters were asking themselves that very question today.

On MSNBC, anchor Peter Alexander asked Chris Matthews about the Clinton camp’s argument that “we should let [Florida’s] delegates count,” wondering if that is “changing the rules saying in the playoffs that the exhibition games should count?” Chris Matthews’ reply?

MATTHEWS: I’ll tell you, Hillary really wants the national news tomorrow. Look around tomorrow morning and look at the papers that play up a Hillary victory in Florida and you will know who favors Hillary. It is very simple, because it is a great litmus or Rorschach test, and whoever plays up her claim of victory tonight is pro-Hillary. Those who play it down minimally are facing the rules as they’ve been laid out…

A couple of hours later, the refreshingly self-aware-for-a-reporter John Decker of Reuters took a different stance.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC: Hillary Clinton is headed to Florida tonight after the polls close. What do you make of that, and do you think that the media will play up the idea that Hillary wins as Hillary wants the media to do, or do you think that the media will just largely ignore what happens on the Democratic side because the candidates did not campaign here?

JOHN DECKER, REUTERS: Well, we’re the media, right? What will we do? [Hillary’s] going down there. She’s going down to Florida. She most likely will win in the state of Florida by a significant margin, perhaps double digits. We’ll have to wait and see, of course. But a win is a win, regardless of the fact there are no delegates at stake. And I think the Clinton campaign will play this up as a victory and then worry about the fight later on, trying to gain those delegates that were lost to the DNC when they took them away.

SHUSTER: Jon, I think you should set Reuters policy and I should set NBC News policy right here right now. How about that?

DECKER: Good idea, David.

And? Shuster was on to the next thing. We’ll have to wait and see what NBC News’ - and everyone else’s - “policy” turns out to be.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.